More than ever before, people are making the decision to stop drinking or significantly cut back their alcohol consumption. Many folks are choosing to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol in order to address health concerns, reduce anxiety, and improve their personal or professional life, among many other reasons.
If you’re on a sobriety or moderation journey, that’s something to be incredibly proud of. Sharing your decision to become sober with others can be a great way to foster support and accountability along the way. At the same time, it can also feel uncomfortable or unnecessary in certain situations. Deciding whether to tell your workplace and co-workers can be especially stressful. Here are several tips to help you decide if and how to tell your coworkers you’ve stopped drinking.
Should I Tell My Boss and Coworkers that I Stopped Drinking?
Ultimately, with whom and when you share your sobriety is up to you. However, there are several steps you can take to help determine if and when to tell your workplace.
Reflect on how alcohol shows up at work
One helpful step is to reflect on your workplace’s culture and attitude toward drinking. How present is alcohol at formal and informal events? Is it likely that your decision not to drink will come up? If so, assess what would feel most supportive to you and your goals. Would disclosing your choice not to drink help you maintain strong boundaries around alcohol with others? Or would it feel more empowering to keep your sobriety private, and say no to alcohol at events in other ways? (or skip them all together…there’s no shame in putting your sobriety first!)
Consider your professional relationships
It can also be helpful to think about your current relationship with your boss and coworkers, and assess if this is something you want to disclose. You may find that your colleagues can provide encouragement and accountability on your journey. It’s likely you have colleagues who also abstain from drinking too. If you feel comfortable and close with your coworker, it may provide relief to share more about your goals and daily routines. Alternatively, depending on the dynamic, it may feel too personal to share with them. It’s important to remember that you’re not required to provide any more information than what you’re comfortable with. This decision is about you and what will best help you achieve your sobriety or moderation goal while navigating your professional life.
Get expert support
Navigating who to share your choices with, and how to tell them, can be overwhelming, especially in early sobriety. Working with a specialized therapist in an alcohol therapy program can help you identify who in your social and professional circles to reach out to, learn how to start these conversations, and get guidance as you navigate any challenges that may arise.
Ways to Discuss Your Sobriety with Coworkers
If you do decide to disclose your choice to stop drinking to your coworkers, that’s great. Here are three ways to have the conversation on your own terms.
Take your time
First, remember that there’s no rush in having the conversation, and you can let it evolve organically. If you have a few trusted coworkers, you can begin by sharing your sobriety goals with them first. Alternatively, you could start by sharing that you’re taking a break from alcohol, and slowly share more about your ‘why’ and your long-term goals if and when you feel comfortable. Try to find a time and environment that feels calm and comfortable for both you and your coworkers to have this conversation.
Focus on you
Second, don’t be discouraged if other people don’t embrace your journey right away. Most likely, your colleagues will be encouraging and supportive of your decision to put your health first. If you do experience any discouraging comments or criticisms, remember that someone else’s reaction to your decision is likely more about them and their own relationship with alcohol than you. While it can be challenging, try not to take any negative feedback personally. For example, if someone responds with something along the lines of “So you’re not going to be fun anymore?!,” it may be a reflection of their own associations with alcohol and fear of socializing without it.
Reach out to Human Resources
And third, your Human Resources department can be a great resource throughout your journey. HR professionals often have expertise and training around supporting an employee in recovery. Plus, you can speak confidentially with your HR representative about ways to make your office more sober-friendly. Alcohol-free team building events and non-alcoholic beverage tastings can bring all of the fun of a happy hour, with even more authentic connection (and less hangxiety).
What to Do in a Workplace that Encourages Drinking
Some workplaces have a culture that often centers alcohol, both in the workplace and after hours. At these jobs, alcohol tends to flow freely at events, and it’s normal to feel nervous about being the only one who isn’t drinking. (Though you’re likely not alone!)
The good news is it may be easier to avoid alcohol than you think. One way to do this is to roleplay with a friend or therapist before an event so that you’re comfortable with what you are going to say when offered a drink, and how you may react to either subtle or overt peer pressure. Remember, no is a full sentence, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Another tip is to order an alcohol-free cocktail at the bar and keep that in your hands as you navigate the event. Most people won’t realize that you’re holding a non-alcoholic drink, which can help you avoid conversations you may not be comfortable having yet.
By experiencing the many benefits of sobriety, like increased energy and reduced anxiety, most people report increased productivity and greater professional success. In some situations, however, alcohol is so embedded into a company’s culture that sober people may find it triggering to be surrounded by alcohol constantly, or start to feel that their choice not to drink is affecting their sense of belonging in the company. Over time, if your workplace is unable to respect and uplift your decision not to drink, it may be time to consider a shift in employment if possible.
How to Socialize with Coworkers without Drinking
Socializing with coworkers can be great for your mental health, and it can also be an exceptional way to build your network and career connections. Unfortunately, our culture often places alcohol at the center of these bonding opportunities. That said, there are still many meaningful ways to socialize without alcohol.
Companies are growing increasingly savvy at fostering team culture without relying on the classic “happy hour.” For example, many HR departments organize team-building activities like a yoga class, ropes course, or hike. Some companies also host book clubs in the office or game nights. You can also propose ideas to your HR department. It’s likely that many of your colleagues will be eager to participate in the fun sober activity you’re most passionate about.
Managing your drinking post-quarantine
Choosing Sobriety Should Be Empowering
No matter how you decide to navigate sobriety in the workplace, changing your relationship with alcohol is an amazing act of self-care. And while it’s not always easy, it will be worth it. You also have a tremendous support network waiting for you outside the workplace. You can join Monument and ask questions in our therapist-moderated alcohol support groups and 24/7 anonymous community chat. You are not alone.
- Journal of Studies on Alcohol. “Prevalence and Distribution of Alcohol Use and Impairment in the Workplace: A U.S. National Survey, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16536139/.” Accessed Jun, 14. 2022.