Sober at Work: How to Navigate Business Drinking Culture

Alcohol is so deeply embedded into the culture that you’re likely to encounter drinking in a wide variety of situations — including at work.

If you’re (newly) sober, whether for purely personal reasons or because you’re an alcoholic, a workplace drinking culture can be especially challenging to navigate. People network over drinks in some fields and commiserate with alcohol in others. In some cases, alcohol may even play a vital role in important negotiations.

How can you cope with a business drinking culture with your reputation and sobriety intact? This article shares some options.

How to Explain Your Sobriety

You don’t owe anyone an explanation — but there may be situations where you want to give one anyway. You have a few options.

“No, Thanks!”

When a colleague, business partner, or your boss offers you a drink, one option is to reply with any of the countless variations of the “No, thanks!” theme. “I’ll have a club soda” and “I’m good, thanks” are two more options.

If you’re in recovery, you may worry that the people drinking at your work event will read all sorts of things into that simple “No, Thanks!,” but chances are they won’t give it a second thought. And if they do, that’s their business.

“No, Thanks, I Don’t Drink”

Here’s an option that might permanently stop anyone you know from work from offering you alcohol.

People might have assumed anyone turning drinks down was either a sober alcoholic or religious not too long ago, but that’s changing quickly. Gen Z, which is now entering the workforce in massive numbers, drinks less than any other generation. Few people will question your commitment to sobriety if your workplace leans young.

“No, Thanks, I’m Driving”

This one works, too. If you’re carpooling, offer yourself up as the designated sober person every time. Not only won’t people question your motives, but they’ll be thankful for your service. Even if you’re just driving yourself home, “I’m driving” is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

“No Thanks, I’m on a Diet”

Saying you’re on a strict diet and want to avoid the extra calories alcohol contains is a surprisingly effective choice. Few people will question you, but you’ll have to stick to water or tea (because sugary drinks aren’t diet-friendly, either.)

“No, Thanks, I’m in Recovery”

Why not? Your sobriety is a real accomplishment you can be proud of. If you assess that it’s more likely to earn you respect than scorn, go ahead and share. This can be especially helpful during the early stages of recovery when every temptation is a serious risk.

How to Hide Your Sobriety

Business drinking culture can sometimes place you in a room (or, more likely, at a bar) with business partners you don’t know very well. If you believe your reputation depends on the appearance of drinking alcohol, you can certainly make that happen.

Volunteer to order drinks and order a mocktail, non-alcoholic beer, grape juice, or Sprite. If you need to, get the bartender in on the deal at the beginning and explain that you’re sober but don’t want to advertise it. That way, you can let people think you’re drinking.

Meanwhile, focus on the conversation at hand rather than your drink, and you’ll probably blend in without problems.

Preparing for Work Events Where You’ll Be Expected to Drink

Participating in the social culture at work may play a crucial role in your reputation, future career prospects, and ability to bond with your colleagues. Are your colleagues getting together for drinks on the daily? Do they host weekend barbecues where alcohol is served? Do they hold drunken holiday office parties?

You can choose to handle this in several different ways.

Suggest alcohol-free alternatives like working lunches, family-friendly sports events, or coffee meetings. Others may welcome these ideas — and the prospect of getting their evenings back. That would be an ideal scenario, as drunk folks aren’t much fun for the sober crowd.

If you’re in a field where business partners use drinks to build mutual trust, you could even bring your sobriety up with the HR department (if there is one). It may be possible to exclude you from events where heavy drinking happens, or your HR department may have other practical solutions.

Should you have to attend work-related events where a lot of heavy drinking goes on regularly, you may develop a different approach. Especially if you feel yourself wondering if you should accept a drink, it can help to ask someone to be your accountability partner.

That person can help you avoid drinking and cover for you when someone else brings your sobriety up. They can even slip you non-alcoholic drinks that look like alcohol.

When Things Get Challenging

Do workplace drinking events regularly cause you to question your sobriety or lead you to temptation? Always place your sobriety in first place. Make a quick exit and attend a meeting if you have to, or reach out to your accountability partner for extra support.

In the worst-case scenario, where not drinking with colleagues and business partners seriously impacts your career and the HR department doesn’t do anything to help, you wouldn’t be the first person to look for a different job.

Yes, your job is your livelihood — but, if you’re in recovery from alcohol use disorder, your sobriety is your life.

A Final Word

You may want to keep your recovery private. That’s understandable. Most people will respect someone who explains they don’t drink and get used to the situation in no time, so don’t discount the option of being open about your struggles.

“No thanks, five years sober!” shows the strength of your character. Who wouldn’t want to work with a tenacious person who’s shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from one of the most challenging addictions in the world?

Sobriety shouldn’t have to be a secret. It should be a point of pride. In many cases, others will see it the way you do if you let go of the shame around your alcohol use.

Category: Articles
Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.