I've never really had a huge issue with this but I've always been uncomfortable with it. I don't drink because of health and personal preference but no matter which company I join (tech industry), I always seem to be surrounded by some form of a drinking culture.

This week I will be joining a much smaller start up and obviously there is mentions of grabbing drinks after work. This would be my 3rd tech job where drinking is mentioned in the first week.

So what do you think guys? How do I break it to the new employer that I don't indulge? I've been told it's not a big deal but I always feel left out when it's brought it. It's almost like revealing a taboo.

  • 18
    they should be respectful of you. but you should still go out with them at least for an hour or so and drink whatever you want. don't isolate yourself and make everyone feel that you are a robot.
    – Tasos
    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:56
  • 78
    Would you still want to go with them and, say, order a non-alcoholic beverage? Believe me, if you do that, no one will care. Going out for drinks is less about the drinks and more about the going out.
    – Brandin
    Mar 15, 2016 at 9:10
  • 4
    Look out for descriptions to avoid like 'cultural fit', 'young team' etc and instead go for roles with more family/health-orientated benefits
    – user46586
    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:31
  • 17
    "I'll have a coke please, I don't drink alcohol."
    – Sarima
    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:39
  • 5
    @Joshpbarron Coke? the OP doesn't drink because of health!
    – komodosp
    Mar 15, 2016 at 11:23

8 Answers 8


Short answer: Don't make a big deal of it, just drink what you feel comfortable with!

I don't drink either, and all I do is to just buy a non-alcoholic drink instead if I happen to be involved in work social settings. I don't make any big deal of it beforehand, I just buy what I want to drink.

If anyone asks, simply tell them that you don't drink. If pressed further, respond that you just prefer not to and continue to repeat that as necessary. There's nowhere they can go with that.

Honestly though, having non drinkers is really no big deal in most organisations. They'll probably look at you as being the designated driver though :)

  • 54
    Great advice - lots of people dont drink. People driving, pregnent women, people with things to do next morning. Just don't be holy about it - noone wants a lecture :)
    – Thorst
    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:22
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    @Lasse: OTOH I feel like if they press you too much then maybe it's a good time to become holy about it!
    – user541686
    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:49
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    Keep in mind that this is highly dependent on the culture. In China, for example, it's not so simple to just buy a non-alcoholic drink for yourself, since people don't buy individual drinks; everybody's cup is filled from a common source. Also, everybody is expected to drink at the same time, and people will notice if you don't drink or don't drink as much as everybody else. Mar 15, 2016 at 8:26
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    @PeterOlson Then what would you suggest in that instance? Whatever situation there is, there must be a graceful way to handle it.
    – Brandin
    Mar 15, 2016 at 9:11
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    @Brandin I usually say that I have to drive a car (that's the only excuse I've found to work for me, since nobody believes I'm pregnant), but as I said before, it depends on the culture, so it'd be better to ask on the Travel Stack Exchange site (related question). Mar 15, 2016 at 9:40

I am allergic to shrimp. However, I have never needed to tell an employer or colleague this, never mind "break it to them." When we go somewhere and shrimp is on the menu, I don't order it. In the same vein, there is no need for you to announce to anyone at work that you don't drink. When you go "out for drinks" with the gang, order a club soda with a lime wedge. Or a sugared pop if you like that, or a coffee or an iced tea. Whatever. If someone points at you and says "beer?" you can say "no, thanks."

It might happen that someone will straight out demand to know why you are not ordering alcohol on this occasion or ever. Non answers such as "I'd rather not, thanks" or "I don't want to" are perfectly acceptable. If you feel like providing more information, you can, but I would advise you not to - it just opens up a line of argument.

In closing, I'm sure you've heard that old joke

How can you tell your new colleague is vegan? - Don't worry, he'll tell you.

Keep that in mind when considering "breaking the news" to a workplace that you don't drink. Honestly, most people don't care and don't want to hear it. Just don't drink, without having to announce or declare or avow anything.

  • Just be careful when ordering that iced tea; if you're a teetotaller you won't want the Long Island version!
    – GreenMatt
    Mar 15, 2016 at 13:32
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    "Non answers such as 'I'd rather not, thanks' or 'I don't want to' are perfectly acceptable." I would argue that these aren't even non-answers - they are literally THE answer as far as the person demanding is concerned. Same as if the waiter demands to know why you ordered the pasta rather than the steak. "Ummm, because I just don't want a steak tonight? I want some freaking pasta." It doesn't need defending.
    – loneboat
    Mar 15, 2016 at 14:17
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    They are non-answers because they provide no new information. If I ask "why are you wearing a sweater?" and you say "I'm cold" or "it's going to be cold later" or "I spilled coffee on my shirt and need to hide the stain" I have learned something. If you say "I decided to put it on" that's not really an answer to "why are you wearing a sweater" and in some contexts, it would be rude. In this context, it's not, because it's simply stating your preference and declining to elaborate. Mar 15, 2016 at 14:21
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    I get what you're saying with the Shrimp analogy, but "going out for drinks" is like going to a restaurant that only sells shrimp and bread, and for some reason, you're the only one that only eats bread. People are going to ask what's up. I don't drink either, and people always ask. People will also assume you're probably Mormon or something similar. You're right about what to say tho - "No thanks" or "I don't drink" has always worked for me.
    – JPhi1618
    Mar 15, 2016 at 14:22

Just be upfront about it. I don't drink and I just tell people that. I still go to all the work functions, I just leave early before people start getting drunk. Nowadays I even buy the drinks for staff members to get drunk on, I just don't partake.

Even when I did drink I was the same, I always tried not to get drunk with work colleagues or at work functions, and especially not when I'm invited to clients functions. Just excuse yourself politely, no one should take it badly.

  • Buying a round of drinks definitely helps overcome any objections. It may feel less unfair if you think of it as contributing to funding the event instead. May not be necessary, but something to keep in mind.
    – keshlam
    Mar 15, 2016 at 9:59

I notice a commonality in many of these answers - 'go to the function anyway, and just don't get an alcoholic drink'.

Which is fine if your issue is just not wanting to drink alcohol - near as I can tell it is, so if that's your only issue then disregard this answer entirely.

For me personally, I really don't care for the 'drink-after-work' culture, or really the heavy-drinking culture, at all. It just doesn't mesh with who I am and what I want to do after work.

And what you need to remember, if this also applies to you, is that you absolutely do not need to mix work with pleasure. Unless your work requires you to hold conferences at bars to bring in clients, or in some other way requires you to meet at events with alcohol, you and alcohol do not need to mix.

It is enough to politely decline offers to join such gatherings when and if they are offered to you - most workplaces will not, and cannot, pressure you into any social interaction outside of work (this may be particular to different cultures), and as long as your work output is good, most people won't judge you any more harshly for it. As in all things when you are conversing with co-workers, be firm but polite about your needs.

Now, you could also see if there are other co-workers that feel the same way, and maybe start an after-work coffee club if that is more your thing, or whatever you and your co-workers enjoy together. But again, it is not strictly required. Unless you desperately need to create social links with your co-workers, you can always decline a social outing.

Again, this advice is for if you don't like gatherings with alcohol as a whole - if you DO want to socialize, and just don't like alcohol, refer to any of the other answers provided.

  • 1
    +1 to this. I do drink, but I can't stand crowded, noisy bars, especially after work when I'm tired, so I always beg off the company outings.
    – Torisuda
    Mar 15, 2016 at 15:31
  • While I do agree with this (and it's mostly what I do) there is a social and networking side of socializing with your colleagues that may be missed out on if you just never go to these things. It helps them think well of you, and if they think well on you then that helps you do your job and advance your career. I don't recommend just avoiding every external event, just try and pick (or suggest) ones you'll enjoy more than others to go to.
    – Tim B
    Mar 15, 2016 at 15:53
  • @TimB This is very much what I'm advocating in my answer - there are fields where it's not quite as important to 'network' that much, but social links can be vital, and if you are in a field that requires it, picking or suggesting other outings is an ideal way of getting that interaction.
    – Zibbobz
    Mar 15, 2016 at 16:52
  • As a family man I rarely have time to go to the after work events. Occasionally I'll hear something happened, but it's usually something embarrassing and I let it pass. So strike a healthy balance. I usually try and go to events where there is a lot of people socializing (end of summer party etc.) and pass on a lot of the happy hour gatherings. Mar 15, 2016 at 18:10
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    @tsleyson: Exactly. I enjoy a beer or hard cider after a hard day's hiking or riding (bikes or horses), but having to spend time in crowded places where popular 'music' is played at deafening volume is, to me, almost a foretaste of Hell. So I've never quite figured out how to socialize with co-workers when their ideas of fun are my idea of unpleasant - and vice versa, often enough :-(
    – jamesqf
    Mar 15, 2016 at 20:46

As a non-drinker myself, I've struggled with this. My 21st birthday involved a 24 case of Mountain Dew and 40k honor on WoW (back when that was a lot...)

For a long time, I simply went and had pop. I never got any flack for it - turns out, for the most part, adults don't really mind.

In time, I found I was a fan of Mike's Hard Lemonade because the alcohol content is low, it tastes kinda like pop anyway, and I didn't mind it. Not that I'd encourage you to give in to peer pressure, but I'd also point out that moderate peer pressure isn't always bad.

The best thing, though - be yourself, don't be afraid to stand up, but also don't be afraid to join them. Have a good time! People are very adaptable and for the most part respectful.

  • 15
    Adults really don't mind, yeah. It's one of the signs that a teenager is turning into an adult :D That said, "adultness" is not a function of age. I know plenty of people who never reached adulthood, regardless of their age - including some of the people I worked for in the past. And of course, settings where peer pressure is very important to culture - like small cities and especially villages :D
    – Luaan
    Mar 15, 2016 at 8:57
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    I don't drink either but I think I'd rather drink alcohol than mountain dew ;)
    – enderland
    Mar 15, 2016 at 12:15
  • @enderland you are no longer welcome in The Whiteboard until you repent and embrace whiskey :-)
    – user16626
    Mar 15, 2016 at 17:49

The only place this will be an issue is in a culture where "rounds" are bought - for example, UK drinking culture.

In the US, everyone buys and pays for themselves. In the UK, at least where you go up to a bar to order (not in restaurants etc), it's normal that one person takes everyone's drinks order and goes to the bar to buy a round for everyone in the group. With large groups, this can get super expensive very fast, and if there're only a few rounds, not everyone gets to buy a round each time people go out. Instead, there's usually an informal method of remembering who's paid for rounds most recently.

It gets more complicated because some people get cheap drinks, others sit out a round, others get super-expensive fancy-pants drinks, others drink soft drinks or even water: to simplify things, each of these is counted as "a drink" regardless.

In these cultures, when you're asked what you want, you say "just a coke, please" or "nothing this round, thanks". When it's your turn to buy a round, (you can tell by people saying "it's your round" and looking at you expectantly) you bite the bullet, take everyone's order, and buy the drinks, and don't kick up any kind of a fuss about it. Some people make a game of trying to dodge their rounds, hitting the bathroom when they see people's glasses getting empty and such. Don't be that guy.

UK drinking culture is one of the things I'm very glad to have left behind by moving to the US, where instead it seems there's an eating culture, where everyone goes out for a meal together, and not drinking is the norm because you have to drive to get anywhere.

UK drink culture involves far too many drunk people yelling at each other over loud music for my tastes. It's got a bit less unbearable since smoking indoors was banned, but still not the way I'd rather spend my evenings. So I'd usually stay for a couple of rounds then make my excuses and leave - I was usually not the only one, either.

If some immature CEO or similar tries to press you to drink, it's considered OK and even admirable by almost everyone to say "No thanks, I'm driving" or just "No thanks, I don't drink". Generally people don't press into the "why"; the assumption is that you'd have said why if you felt they needed to know.

If they do ask why, pretty much any reason is acceptable and will be respected, whether it's religious, "doctor's orders", or something else. Only the response "personal preference" could be taken by some as being judgemental and affecting "team fit". If it is taken that way, then yes, it's a poor team fit, and you might want to find a better team, because you probably wouldn't want to fit with that team.


My standard answer, for what it's worth, is that I've found I don't react well to alcohol beyond minimal one-drink-an-hour levels, really don't like the taste of beer (with a vanishingly few exceptions, mostly friends' homebrews), and find stimulants -- caffeine and/or sugars -- a lot more enjoyable. (I've got a story about why if anyone enquires; it's true though a bit outdated.) If you're a complete non-imbiber you'd have to adjust this a bit, but as others have said adults will generally accept "thanks, not for me, but don't let that stop you."

If necessary, I could resort to the fact that I'm on a medication which can react badly with too much alcohol -- they compete for the same liver enzymes -- but I've never had to do so.

If you're there for an extended time, it is worth considering buying a round even if you don't drink, as your contribution to funding the gathering. Obviously if you have religious objections that may not be an option, but an appetizer/snack order could serve the same general purpose and would be something you could participate in.

It's also worth remembering that there are some non-alcoholic bar drinks that are interesting/complicated enough to be worth considering. If you find one of those that you actually like, it may justify bar prices and if obscure or historic might actually impress folks who are snobbish about their drinking habits.

When I was a student, I went out to bars with friends every now and then, ordering cola (my poison of choice)... and found I could be as silly as any of them, and enjoy myself as much, without needing alcohol as an excuse. Admittedly my friends weren't heavy drinkers... but there aren't that many of those at most after-work gatherings either, in my experience with my culture.

Solutions exist, unless the whole idea turns you off completely. In that case you might consider something like hosting a cookout some weekend, or something of that sort, as a social event you are comfortable with. Just be aware that some folks will bring alcohol as a contribution to the event, unless explicitly asked not to.


The current answers give a lot of good advice on what you should do. I would like to add a word of caution against a certain tactic I've seen used that never goes well.

Don't say, "I just don't like how alcoholic drinks taste". That will invite every person within earshot to suggest drinks that they think you will like, which frequently leads to peer pressure to try their favorite drinks. Phrases like, "I know of a cocktail that doesn't taste like it has any alcohol in it" or "Well my favorite drink is delicious, let me buy you one so you can try it", will be likely, and you will then be in an even worse position than you started in.

Basically, giving them a problem to solve (in this case that you haven't found a drink you like), encourages them to try and "fix" the problem, but saying something more to the actual point like, "I just don't like drinking" doesn't leave room for them to try and fix that problem (at least not if they are mature adults).

I know it can be intimidating to make choices that are counter to the culture around you, but things will be much better in the long run if you confront them directly and not try to skirt the issue with half-truths.

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