Navigating networking events as a person who doesn’t drink

“Are you positive you simply need a Weight-reduction plan Coke?,” a colleague says to me virtually each time we’re at a networking occasion, motioning towards the bartender or glancing on the glass of wine of their hand. This routine is pretty frequent to me: Seize a water or a Weight-reduction plan Coke, chit-chat with somebody I haven’t seen in a whereas, after which inevitably be requested why I’m not consuming alcohol. 

I wish to be in management in skilled settings, and I don’t essentially get pleasure from consuming alcohol the way in which some others do, however I don’t disclose this to my colleagues. Social conditions are irritating sufficient for me due to my autism: They’re loud, crowded, and infrequently overwhelming. They’re additionally inaccessible at instances. I’ll refuse to drink at them as a result of I’m nervous that I’d say one thing out of flip, violate some social norm, or by accident say one thing inappropriate if my judgment and coping expertise are impaired by alcohol. I even have security considerations. I’d moderately be absolutely conscious of any potential awkward or harmful interactions. 

I’d moderately be absolutely conscious of any potential awkward or harmful interactions.

However I don’t need to inform my colleagues the way in which that my incapacity would possibly work together with alcohol or the strain I face to be included socially and professionally at instances. Autistic individuals already will masks or attempt to go as neurotypical in work conditions; we’re traditionally underemployed or unemployed, can typically be bullied or harassed at work, and naturally talk otherwise. Even after I smile and say “No thanks,” nonetheless clutching my soda or water, there’s virtually all the time a silent judgment or quick follow-up query in regards to the nonalcoholic beverage in my hand. 

The echoes of “Come on, it’s only one drink,” or “Why don’t you will have a beer or a glass of wine with us?” usually comply with me from dialog to dialog, as I shake fingers and provides out enterprise playing cards. Networking is already sufficient of a realized ability and outdoors of my consolation zone, separate from the truth that I’m habitually violating this anticipated norm.

Folks don’t drink at skilled events for a number of causes, most associated to incapacity. Some, like me, fear about highlighting pre-existing social deficits. Others may be taking drugs to handle signs like continual ache, despair, or anxiousness, and these medications don’t mix well with alcohol and will trigger a critical medical emergency. Explaining the drugs you are taking or disclosing a incapacity may be a delicate matter relying on the person and state of affairs, and maybe a networking occasion isn’t the fitting place or time to say having a continual situation. Some could also be pregnant and never able to share the information but. Somebody might need alcohol use disorder and be in restoration. Or a person would possibly drink for ethical or spiritual causes. 

Even supposing a third of workers would prefer not to drink in professional settings, many networking events are nonetheless stubbornly centered round alcohol. There may be a distinct strain to drink, even when you will have a incapacity. There may be a want to slot in, to keep away from the tough questions, slot in, or impress somebody who has affect in your trade. It’s particularly obvious to me, as somebody who usually goes to events within the authorized trade, the place alcohol culture is prevalent.

Whereas it might be good for occasion planners to offer loads of enjoyable nonalcoholic choices and for individuals to know that their “curiosity” about somebody’s relationship with alcohol is just not all the time smart (or skilled) to deliver up, the onus sadly usually falls on the person abstaining from consuming.

The factor is, you don’t owe anybody your medical historical past or incapacity standing.

Everybody has completely different coping mechanisms for dealing with judgment and curious questions. Some persons are very open about sobriety journeys, their psychological well being, or the drugs they’re taking. Some individuals really feel high-quality simply saying a drink can have an effect on their temper and well being in a manner they’re not snug with. The factor is, you don’t owe anybody your medical historical past or incapacity standing. 

With individuals I simply meet, I simply shrug and say I’m good, thanks. With somebody I’m extra snug with, I may be prepared to share extra about how I desire to really feel socially conscious and higher capable of gauge how different individuals could also be pondering and feeling, although I don’t need the interplay to middle my autism. (I’d typically moderately not instantly spotlight the issues which are tough or much less pure to me, together with neurotypical social cues). Different instances I’m okay with it, primarily as a result of I principally do neurodiversity consulting and it’s a pure segway to the dialog about my profession trajectory. 

For others, a easy “I don’t drink” suffices, since they’re ready to close down the pure inclination for a follow-up query asking why, understanding both the straightforward response is sweet sufficient or they don’t really feel obligated to offer particulars. Typically the toughest half is simply being calm and picked up, avoiding sounding too defensive, and swiftly transitioning the dialog to one thing else you’d moderately be speaking about. 

For those who’re shy, the traditional trick of what my buddies in school used to do can turn out to be useful: Order an alcoholic drink, however simply maintain onto it with out ever taking a sip. For my autistic self, this may be a fast pinch resolution, particularly if there aren’t any different nonalcoholic possibilitys. This may be harder in the event you’re in restoration and the temptation is there, however for these with different causes for his or her sobriety, that is a straightforward option to keep away from the awkwardness and curiosity altogether. 

Whereas I nonetheless discover myself smiling and avoiding the vulnerability of speaking about my autism and the way it impacts me after I’m in networking conditions, I’ll proudly order a Weight-reduction plan Coke on the bar. It’s my favourite drink anyway, and I do know I’m honoring what’s finest for my mind and physique whereas permitting myself to really feel secure and assured. 


Haley Moss is an autistic legal professional, creator, and neurodiversity advocate.