Alcohol, Career Growth, and Getting Home

In 2011, when I was arrested for my first and only-ever DUI, I was driving home from a professional networking event. That’s not an excuse, it’s just that most people assume people arrested for DUIs are out partying it up club hopping or taking shots, which isn’t the case. I had one too many glasses of wine, waited probably about a half hour too short of getting in my car to drive, and clocked over the legal limit. Luckily, I didn’t hurt anyone but my ego and bank account. I learned my lesson.

That’s why at 8:08pm I’m sitting in the food court of a deserted mall listening to “Love Potion Number 9” play over the loud speaker when I really should be at home doing a thousand other things I have to do. My company had a team gathering tonight and part of that gathering involved drinking. I didn’t go overboard — I had one glass of wine early in the night and cut myself off. But at the end of the evening my new boss, a fine wine connoisseur, pulled out a bottle of vintage bubbly, and it of the few members remaining at the table it was clearly rude to resist. And, I’ll admit, I wanted to try a sip or two — who am I to refuse the few tastes of luxury that are poured my way?

Of course after the one glass, I couldn’t drive, so instead of heading home, I headed into the nearby mall, where I wandered aimlessly for a while, found a shady nail salon, got my nails done, and then wandered into a food court where I now reside writing this blog post. I’ll jump to some work projects in a few and head home in a half hour when the mall closes, as by then the alcohol should be completely out of my system. With the DUI I can’t have ANY alcohol in my system when I drive for three years but honestly I never want to drive after drinking anything again. That makes networking and being in professional environments challenging. It’s not so bad if there’s a way home by public transportation, but often there isn’t. This event today was in the suburbs. Yes, I could have taken a bus to a bus to a bus home, but it would have taken three hours. And I wasn’t sure how to get here without my car without explaining to a new coworker that I have a DUI on my record and that I planned to take a three hour bus ride home later.

Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with drinking – or not drinking – in professional networking environments? It seems so part of the culture that it’s hard not to have a drink in hand at all times. It’s pretty easy to have a glass of sparkling water when no one knows what you are drinking, but when someone offers a pour of something special they brought or ordered it seems very rude to turn it down (and who would want to give up the opportunity to try something that’s clearly selected by an expert?)

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7 comments

  1. I’ll weigh in as a drop-dead sober person / recovered alcoholic –> Stop caring so much. The one socially uncomfortable moment where you turn down a drink comes and goes immediately. It’s your life, your body, your choices. I’ve quickly learned that anyone that has an issue with me NOT drinking likely has a drinking problem of their own. It’s not about us.

  2. One More Knight says:

    People shouldn’t have a problem with you having a policy not to drink and drive. They should understand. My company has a policy not to drink and work, which is really the same – any situation where impairment is unwise. Legal limits are irrelevant. I’ve never had a DUI but I won’t touch a drop if I know I’m driving later.

    My policy normally gets respect, and I’ve never (to my knowledge) been considered judgmental of others looser approach.

  3. Money Beagle says:

    I think in the situation you described where it was a special bottle and you wanted to have some, I would have probably just asked to have a half glass poured. Saying “I better watch it, I have to drive” is a perfectly valid reason.

  4. Leigh says:

    I just don’t drink at work outings unless I can walk or cheaply cab home. I don’t care that I work with men who can drink more. If they don’t understand me not drinking, that’s their problem. I haven’t had a DUI, but that’s my MO. I never have more than one drink anyway and I don’t drive within 24 hours of having a drink, just to be safe.

    I usually just go and hang out, have some sodas/lemonades and appetizers or whatever and just explain that I have a low enough alcohol tolerance that I can’t drive if I drink and that’s always worked for me. It does help though that I do live and work in the city. One of my rules is that I won’t change who I am in order to fit in with the guys.

  5. alwaysconservative says:

    I have a liver disease and absolutely cannot have any alcohol. I never drank before the illness and found it easy to resist the offer of a drink. But now, I am very upfront and forthright about not drinking. Even at my son’s wedding, I just held the glass of champagne during the toast and then handed it to my husband to drink. So if you want to use my excuse, tell them you have liver disease and if you drink it will kill you.

    1. hereverycentcounts ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Of course it’s possible to call a cab. But just a few key points —

      1) It looks strange when your coworkers are all heading to their cars and you’re heading into a cab after 1-2 beers. (I felt strange telling my coworker I was heading into the mall to walk off one glass of champagne vs going straight to my car.) If we were in a city this wouldn’t be weird but in the burbs this is weird.

      2) A cab to and from to an event in the burbs would be pricey, I think, probably about $100. I’d rather just wait until the alcohol is out of my system and try not to drink that much.

      3) It’s hard because the culture — esp working with mostly men who can drink a lot more without being effected — is to have a few beers and drive, no biggie. It’s hard to fit in and socialize, especially in a new work environment, without drinking. My new company is MUCH LESS about the alcohol socializing than my last one (thank god) but it’s still part of team outings.

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