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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism

How to Handle Happy Hours When You Don’t Want to Drink

Whether you’re pregnant or you just don’t want to

cheersing drinks at happy hour
Photo courtesy of Drew Beamer

Let’s start this article off by saying: You should never feel like you have to drink at company events or happy hours. You don’t. That is the truth. However, we’re all adults and know that sometimes team culture, for whatever reason, doesn’t uphold that truth. If you work in particularly boozy office, then you might feel pressured to drink to fit in or to keep people from asking why you’re not drinking.

The reason you’re not drinking is technically irrelevant, but here are a few ways to manage those, um, invasive expectations.

What to do when someone asks why you’re not drinking

Keep your cool, even if you want to retort with something like, Why are you drinking, Joan? Easy, throwaway excuses for not drinking at an event include:

I’m on a 30-day detox, and alcohol didn’t make the cut. Have one for me!

My stomach’s a bit off today. I must be coming down with something. I’m just here to say hi and will probably duck out early to get some rest. Bummer, right?

I’ve been super dehydrated all day—have a headache and everything. I’m going to have water now and see how I feel.

I don’t really like alcohol. I saw a (nonalcoholic) mixed drink on the menu that was calling my name, though.

I don't feel like drinking today. Let's order some appetizers!

If you’re secretly pregnant and someone jumps to conclusions because you’re not drinking, laugh it off. Be your charming, witty self by saying something like, Yes, and all the money I’m saving on drinks today is going to my unborn baby’s college fund—or student loans, rather. Insert eye roll. Then change the subject.

Read more: Coffee Meeting? What to Order & Say When You're Avoiding Caffeine

Ask the bartender for a fake drink

When I worked at a particularly ABV-loving company, drinking, sometimes heavily, at events or happy hours was often encouraged—maybe even expected depending on who you talked to. When I didn’t feel like drinking or didn’t feel like drinking that much, I’d ask the bartender to make me a Diet Coke with a lime in a short glass. One of my InHerSight coworkers favors club soda with lemon or lime. Sprite with a maraschino cherry works, too. Yes, that can quickly become a Shirley Temple, and yes, that’s a delicious throwback to your childhood. Who’s the cool kid, now?

Choose an alcohol-free alternative

Thankfully, over the past few years, fun, nonalcoholic drinks have become more and more popular—and socially acceptable. Order a mocktail, either a house special or a virgin cocktail, or ask the bartender to make a creative one for you. When your coworkers ask you what it is, just describe the fruity flavors in it: It tastes like a beach drink—so much pineapple, I can practically feel the sand. I’m in heaven.

You can also look for kombucha on draft (fermented tea that’s safe even if you’re pregnant). It looks like a cider, and most people don’t question its alcohol content. Many breweries also brew house drinks like apple cider or lemonade alongside their drafts.

As for nonalcoholic beer, which seems like the obvious alternative, know that it often contains trace amounts of alcohol, so if you’re pregnant or can’t have alcohol for some reason, you’ll need to keep that in mind. It’s also a bit of a red-flag drink in heavy-drinking offices (ugh). There’s bound to be that one person who comments on it, as unpleasant as that is.

Read more: 20+ After-Hours Networking and Company Events That Aren’t Happy Hour

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