Friday, October 28, 2011

Lana from Lawrence With a Friday Thirsty About Beer Night.

We all joke about being raging alcoholics. We all joke about needing it to get over our students. Well really maybe some of us are joking. I know I am, because I don’t drink. As a grad student I started to discover that this was a problem for me, and not one I was that willing to solve by starting drinking. I went to a decent school in a large dead north east industrial city for a masters degree and basically all social life was done in the bar a few blocks from school. In some part because it wasn’t a city you really wanted to wander around at night, drunk or sober.

The drinking culture was encouraged by my adviser who often bought the first couple of rounds but never stayed past that. I went to these things because they were fun and I don’t have trouble if other people drink. I’d get something non-alcoholic and stay as long as I liked. I didn’t think this was a problem except it marked me out from his crowd of people and at conferences I was … rarely invited to the bar to meet other professors the way my adviser’s other students were. That might be because my adviser and I always had a good professional relationship but I don’t think I was his idea of someone he’d hang out with. I suspect in part because I didn’t drink. Vicious circle there.

I am now at a top tier PhD program in my field, at a school you have all heard of, in a small town that is often described as having only one other thing to do besides studying underwater basket weaving or hamster fur weaving. Everyone here has a list of the best places in town to get “cheap beer.” I do socialize with my peers here too. I go and I just order something non-alcoholic and don’t make a big deal of it. If someone offers me something of the pitcher on the table I just smile and say I don’t drink but thank them.

Is there a better way to handle this? Am I making myself look like a raging alcoholic or alternating an uptight asshole? It’s simply a matter of preference. I don’t like the taste or the lack of control, and while I wasn’t an alcoholic one of my parents was and I see no appeal in the stuff at all. I do offer to drive people home if they are going to walk home drunk (I’ve never actually seen anyone I thought shouldn’t drive try). I don’t dwell on the matter, and if the subject of my lack of drinking comes up it usually is brought up by someone else with a “well that must be a real handicap here…” Luckily enough my PhD advisers aren’t part of the issue the way my Master’s adviser was.

I honestly enjoy “beer night” or “pub night” when I go. I don’t think that I’m judging anyone. I’d like to continue to be invited.

Q: Is drinking a requirement of these social settings? If you do not drink and do not wish to start, is there a better way of handling it? What did you think of your colleagues or grad students who didn’t drink in these kinds of social situations?


  1. I've always been the (often only) teetotaller in these circumstances. Like you, I ask for a soda and try to otherwise blend in.

    One thing I did do, however, is propose to the grad student group in my program that we could include some non-alcohol-oriented events (picnics, non-strenuous sports-type activities, etc) interspersed between the pub parties, to accommodate non-drinkers/recovering alcoholics/people of non-drinking faiths/etc. This worked out well, and brought some much-needed variety to student events.

  2. While I'm not a teetotal, and sometimes like to go out for a drink, there are also times when, like you, I'm happy to be out with a crowd but without having any alcohol.

    I never had any problem with this is grad school. If I didn't feel like drinking, I just ordered a soda and sat around chatting. It never made me feel self-conscious, and none of my grad student friends ever evinced the slightest concern about whether or not I was drinking alcohol.

    The fact that you don't drink doesn't make you uptight. Just relax, have a good time and no-one will care what you're drinking. The only way you would seem uptight or annoying is if you are ostentatious or excessively pointed about your decision not to drink alcohol. Just act like ordering a soda is a perfectly natural thing to do (which it is), join in the conversation like everyone else, and enjoy yourself. It could be that the people you attend grad school with are judgmental assholes, but I think you're probably reading far too much into this whole situation.

  3. What DA said. I find that being a willing designated driver if anything makes me a little more likely to be asked along to things! And I can get 'buzzed' - relaxed, a little silly, sociable, all the things alcohol is supposed to give you - on good company and a little caffeine and sugar, so I don't feel the need for alcohol nor do i stand out particularly in terms of behaviour...

    If I am somewhere where people are drinking and an obvious soft drink might look a bit out of place or make me feel a little self-conscious (e.g. conference bar) I order a small glass of sparkling water or soda water with ice and and a slice of lime, and sip it - it looks like I'm drinking a vodka and tonic or gin and tonic, and doesn't 'stand out' like a fruit juice, a coffee or a pint of cola would so makes me feel less self-conscious - and if someone insists on buying a round and I ask for a soft drink, and they're a bit funny about it (some can be. Some academics do NOT like to drink alone, or have guilty consciences about their drinking!), I tell them I'm alternating rounds because I have a paper to give or a meeting to go to very early the next morning and I'm a bit of a light weight, or that I'm taking the antibiotics that, mixed with alcohol, are a powerful emetic - sort of lies, yes, but easy social grease. To be honest, I usually DO have an early morning meeting... with myself at least, since I like to get up and take some time to settle into the day, go for a walk to get some fresh air or do a little writing before things get busy. I am also on anti-depressants which don't mix with alcohol... but those things are MY business and I don't choose to share them with someone who has the cheek to question my preference for St Clements, lime-and-soda or a hot chocolate over beer, wine or colourful mixed drinks.

  4. Lana, as a fellow PhD student, I can totally relate - almost everyone in my department drinks. Faculty have parties at their house with tons of booze. While I do drink, I try to limit myself because a night of drinking usually means I'll waste the next day recovering. I've found that a good excuse to get out of drinking is to offer to be the DD from the outset (if you're going somewhere not in walking distance). The one department grad student (to my knowledge) that doesn't drink does so because of calories; her addiction of choice is marijuana. So in addition to the pressure to drink, there is pressure from some to smoke marijuana within my department. Anyways, this student handles the no-drinking well... if we stay out until 5am she'll do it too and we don't even notice she's not drinking. She joins in the conversation, plays pool with us, etc. After she told us she doesn't drink, some asked why and then everyone moved on.

    Maybe another technique is to just make sure you always have something to drink in your hand, that way no pitcher-booze will be offered to you. Also, maybe in the bar situations, order something that looks like alcohol - add a lime to tonic water or cranberry juice.

    I think that if you ever have another advisor that excludes you, then you will need to say something to that person.

  5. I know lying's not something everyone is comfortable doing but I'm with Grumpy Academic on this issue: lying is worthwhile "social grease."

    My spouse is allergic to alcohol, and when drinkers discover that she chooses not to drink because of it, they react with sympathy and caring. (It involves a certain enzyme and breaking down histamine, so if you're with a science crowd, do some research.)

    If you then follow the very good advice above about being the Designated Driver, you offer a reason for the drinkers to want you along.

    It's horrible that alcohol remains a social problem as we discussed in the comments to the How not to run a campus visit.

  6. I enjoy drinking. I enjoy when my colleagues drink. I was part of the drinking crowd in grad school and it helped me make some professional contacts.

    After I graduated and was talking with another former grad student, I learned that there was also "the jogging club." I had no idea such a think existed. It was a group of nondrinking faculty and students who liked moderate amounts of exercise. I realize now that I would have benefited more from that group, professionally and otherwise.

  7. Midway through my MA, I developed a very bad case of GERD. I had to quit drinking (and eating fast food, and drinking coffee) entirely--for a long, long time. I didn't really miss it, and my friends and colleagues understood. As DA suggests, being the DD made me even more popular than I had been when I was able to go out and drink.

    I am also the adult child of an alcoholic, so I am super-conscious of what it does. I drink socially now, but I'm a lightweight, and no one seems to mind. At monthly gatherings with my colleagues, nobody notices whether someone is drinking or not. I think you may be self-conscious about it given the previous experience you describe, but I don't think you need to be.

    That said, you can lie about a medical condition, and no one is going to be asshole enough to suggest that you drink anyway. I give you full permission to use my story as your cover.

  8. I have developed a weird reaction to alcohol -- feeling as if I were hit by a truck the next day, even if I have only a sip or two, so I just say I can't drink for medical reasons. The hardest time is at dinner, where your wine glass gets filled against your will, but I just leave it untouched. Impressing other people isn't worth the misery.

  9. The first time I went to a bar in grad school with my friends, everyone ordered a beer. I ordered cream of crab soup. It wasn't a political statement, and I do drink alcohol on occasion--the soup just seemed like a more delicious way to spend my $5.

    Yes, my classmates made fun of me, but just a little, because it was grad school and we were all dorks in our own way. I told them that the soup looked delicious, and that was what I wanted, not a beer. They got over it.

    Given the option, if I only had $5, I'd order the soup again.

  10. I'd say don't worry about it. If there's someone there who holds you in contempt for not drinking, that person isn't worth knowing anyway.

    Personally, I feel there's a bigger gap between wine snobs and beer snobs than there is between drinkers and non-drinkers.

  11. In the case of pub nights with the friends and colleagues, just drink whatever floats your boat. One fellow in my grad school department didn't drink for the longest time because he was on medications that wouldn't allow it; after he went off the meds and started drinking socially with us, several people expressed the wish that he'd stayed a teetotaler.

    As a related note, a student I once suffered through worked as a bartender, and he told me about serving Jimmy Carter, who is a non-drinker for religious reasons, at a non-governmental celebrity function. The story is that Carter asked for a small glass of sherry at the evening's beginning, carried it around all night, raised it to his lips during the many rounds of toasts, and returned the whole thing at going-home-time.

    The moral of the story is that as long as you've got something in your hand, you're fulfilling the social contract.

  12. "Having a drink in your hand" is exactly right. I don't drink at all and most of my colleagues don't appear to ever even have noticed; at least, a couple of them have expressed surprise that I'm not drinking and when I tell them I don't they say "don't you?" - not apparently having noticed that they have NEVER seen me with an alcoholic drink in my hand.

    When I go out I will order something "special", that makes me feel as if I'm being festive. I like cranberry juice and soda because it's a pretty colour. Or Rose's Lime Cordial & soda, because I never seem to have any at home.

    If anyone does comment - and they almost never do - depending on the company I will tell them I don't like the taste, or shrug and say "a medical thing", or say I'm driving, or just "I don't deal with it well". Or "it's a family issue" if I know them a bit better. The fact is that it's none of their business why I don't drink, but it's also true that I want to enjoy the evening and I want them to enjoy it too, so giving them a reason they can accept and forget about quickly so we can get on with enjoying ourselves.

    It can be tricky if you're in an environment where every single social outing centres on booze. A former student of mine is at a school now where there's a lot of drinking, and she is a lightweight and would really prefer not to be expected to get drunk every time she goes out with the department. She has taken to not going out to many social occasions because she just doesn't enjoy it. Suggesting that departmental social activities be broadened to include non-alcoholic events would be a good plan, but it takes someone with confidence or a position of authority to suggest it. However, cranberry juice & soda water has always worked fine forme.

  13. My partner doesn't drink. He isn't sick, he isn't a recovering alcoholic, he wasn't raised mormon. Just prefers to stay in control and not make an ass of himself. And not to spend $30 on an evening with friends.

    So he just says "Not for me, I'm fine." and people keep walking. Maybe it's the way you turn it down, like it's the most natural thing in the world, but I don't see why everyone has to imbibe to be accepted.

  14. I drink rarely, and when I've been involved in corporate get-togethers with alcohol I've noticed patterns.

    Especially when free beer is involved, there is at least one guy who seems to think it's his duty to make sure the keg leaves empty. Many times this will lead to more sober people having to prevent a fight. The higher-ups notice this, and it has been known to affect a career path.

    I've also noticed that having a sober person in the group makes drunks very nervous. I'm guessing they take it as an indictment of their lack of self-control.

    As for me, three words are sufficient. "I'm good, thanks.", repeated as often as necessary for it to penetrate booze-infused neurons.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Gary - that's very true. You don't know who's watching. A friend of mine, an adjunct, got falling-down drunk one night out pubbing with grad students after a department party and had to be poured into a cab and escorted home by a couple of students. There weren't any faculty there, but when a permanent job came up in his field at that school the following year, he didn't get an interview. And maybe that's not why. . Maybe no one on faculty ever heard about that night. But he'd have been a lot happier if he hadn't had to wonder..

  17. Here in the physics department, we're all so socially maladjusted, it's perfectly OK to turn down booze. What's the matter, haven't you ever seen "The Big Bang Theory"? It's a wonder anyone ever gets hired.

  18. Now I do all of my drinking at home. It solves a lot of problems. I have also reached an Advanced Age (35) where I can invite other people to my house and use the 'hostess' excuse not to drink if I want to. I've got the dirt on everybody.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.