The Washington Post

@Work Advice: A non-drinker feels left out during office happy hours

(Deb Lindsey)

Reader: At my current job, I made it clear early on when invited to happy hours that I do not drink. My body can’t tolerate alcohol; it is not within my control. It then became clear that this was a problem for the other employees and supervisors. Now, I don’t get invited out at all, and many of the other employees at my level get assignments from the drinking supervisors that I don’t get, get cut tons more slack and are treated more favorably. I am purposely left off the e-mails, or not asked along even when I am sitting in the office as they are getting ready to go. I only know what is going on because one of the other associates, whom I get along with, has told me. That, and it is all over their Facebook pages.

I know all business requires some level of this type of socializing, and I love to go out, talk, go to happy hours — I just don’t want to drink. Throughout my career, this has always been a problem, and I feel it has held me back. What should I do?

Karla: In certain professions and cultures, boozing is a bonding rite, and I’m unfortunately not aware of any discrimination protections for teetotalers. But I wouldn’t say “all business” requires you to get soused to get ahead; otherwise, there would be a lot more 25-year-old CEOs with gout.

My first impulse is to wonder how you’ve “made” your abstinence “clear” to your co-workers. An abrupt “I don’t drink” sends a different message from a low-key “I can’t drink” — and if you have a gussied-up soda in hand, words should be unnecessary.

If someone is trying to shove a beer into your other hand and not taking “Thanks, but I’m good” for an answer, there are ways to demur without being labeled Captain Buzzkill: “I’m driving” or “I’m cutting back.” I’m not normally a fan of subterfuge, but such responses work well for recovering alcoholics and secretly pregnant women when full honesty would be irrelevant and potentially disruptive.

But none of that will fool your current co-workers, who know all too well that you Do Not Drink. So, see if that friendly associate can get you invited past the velvet rope. Once your colleagues realize that you are not judging them (right?) and want to socialize, they may start inviting you — especially if you’re occasionally willing to play designated driver.

If your sobriety continues to be a handicap, perhaps your workplace is suffering from a maturity deficit (party pictures plastered on Facebook) or you’re in the wrong line of business (“Throughout my career, this has always been a problem”). A change of scene may be worth a shot.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.

E-mail us at

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at
Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.