Susan Laurie’s four top tips to help you adjust at work when you’re newly alcohol-free

Susan Laurie | April 2024 | 8 minutes

As well as being part of the Training and Consultancy Team, Susan is also Alcohol Change UK’s expert by experience. She uses her experience of working in an industry with a heavy drinking culture, as well as her own past dependency, to powerfully tell her story and work to better educate employers on how to support their staff when it comes to alcohol.

Congratulations! You’ve joined us here in Sober Spring to explore the many benefits of an alcohol-free life. Feeling healthier, sleeping better, having more energy and a clearer mind are all powerful motivators as you journey into Sober Spring, and this exploratory period should be a very positive and exciting time.

However, for some people, shifting to an alcohol-free lifestyle can present new challenges if they have a workplace with a strong drinking culture. Navigating the many workplace ‘firsts’ that may be centred around alcohol can be daunting. From after work social gatherings, client meetings, work trips, leaving parties, or simply celebrating successes - alcohol can often take centre stage. But with a bit of thought, pre-planning, and a supportive network, you can join in and remain a valuable member of the team without the drink.

Mindset is everything!

When you decide not to drink, preparation – and this includes mental preparation - is key to successfully navigating social situations that involve alcohol. Always remind yourself before an event of why you are doing this – think of all the benefits that you have been experiencing since you stopped drinking, and how good this makes you feel.

Try to mentally prepare yourself for potential challenges. Visualise yourself confidently declining alcohol or confidently ordering an alcohol-free alternative. Empower yourself by believing that you will be able to stay true to yourself. Don’t forget that you always have a choice.

Instead of feeling apprehensive, try to view these occasions as opportunities to be proud of yourself and of the courage you demonstrate when you stick to what is best for you, in spite of what others are doing.

Have a plan!

If you can, try to be proactive and plan ahead. Anticipate questions or comments from colleagues, and have a rehearsed response ready for the question: “Why aren’t you drinking?”. Don’t be caught off guard, as this can lead to you saying, “Oh, go on then!” without thinking through the decision. Anticipate that question, and maybe even some peer pressure or sober shaming, and have your responses ready at hand. Practise saying your responses out loud so it feels more natural. You can even tell a little white lie. Remember, no one should feel pressured to drink!

On a more practical level, if you are going to a restaurant or pub, why not contact them ahead or check their drinks menu online, so that you know which alcohol-free drinks are available? That way, you aren’t left feeling under pressure when asked what you would like. If the event is in the office or someone’s home, consider bringing your own non-alcoholic beverages – this isn’t rude, it is putting yourself first.

If you feel that you aren’t ready to explain why you aren’t drinking or to deal with people who may pressure you, you can always offer to be the designated driver. No one can argue with that!

Confide in a trusted colleague

If you are concerned that the expectation to drink may be too much, or you are feeling anxious about pressure from certain colleagues, it can be reassuring to have a trusted colleague that you can confide in and who will support you. Someone that you know will have your back at an event, to diffuse or challenge any sober shaming, or remind you of your own good intentions if they see you are struggling.

If you don’t feel close enough to any one individual, seek out like-minded colleagues within your workplace. You might be surprised by how many people want to make similar changes, and forming connections with colleagues can create a workplace support network, which could make all the difference. You could even navigate Sober Spring together and celebrate each other’s successes along the way.

Have an exit strategy

If all else fails, it can be handy to have an escape plan up your sleeve. Despite your best efforts, there may be occasions where the social environment becomes too challenging to navigate. In such instances, when you know that your most sensible option is to leave, having an exit strategy in place can provide a graceful way out of the situation. You may find people may not even notice you are leaving, because they are too busy drinking themselves.

Further down the line, you may feel ready to suggest alternative activities to colleagues that don’t include alcohol. Perhaps, after flexing your alcohol-free muscles at a few upcoming work events, you’ll start feeling confident enough to suggest to anyone organising an event, that a good alcohol-free drinks selection is provided. In the meantime, give yourself the best chance possible, by cultivating a strong support network of colleagues, friends, family and fellow Sober Spring enthusiasts, who can offer support and encouragement. Join groups of like-minded people, read blogs, listen to podcasts – there are so many positive resources available that will reinforce what a fantastic thing you are doing.

And always remember that, like everything in life, it gets easier with time and it is worth the initial challenges!

Related content