Drinking Culture

Jun 20 2011 Published by under career issues

This week's topic isn't really a question, but I thought it would be an interesting subject for discussion:

It seems that a lot of people in my field consider drinking beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages an essential part of being an academic. Sometimes at professional meetings during the social hour, beer and wine are the only things available to drink. Groups in my department or at meetings commonly meet in the pub for informal discussions, and so on.

I don't like to drink -- even a little bit makes me feel sick -- but I am comfortable around people who are drinking, and don't disapprove of it at all. Unfortunately, some, maybe even most, people who are drinking are not comfortable around me. When I order a soft drink at a pub, or drink nothing at a wine-only professional society event, I am almost always confronted about it and insulted. Examples, not counting the "Are you pregnant?" question (apparently the only acceptable reason for an adult female not to drink): "Grow up" (said by my department chair!!), "Are you an alcoholic or something?", "Are you too uptight to drink?", "If you don't drink, you should leave". I am a friendly person and would like to enjoy these professional/social events, but I am often made to feel unwelcome.

I should say that of course not everyone is strange and mean about my not drinking. There are some people who have given me a chance, and then tell others that although I don't drink, it's fun to go to the pub with me because I can talk and laugh and argue even without drinking beer. That's nice, but it is sad that so many people think they need alcohol to have a good conversation.

For a long time, I've worried that my not drinking will have a negative effect on my career. I have been at professional dinners where drinking wine was considered an essential part of the experience for everyone, so I have a large repertoire of excuses, from honest ("I just don't like to drink; it makes me feel ill", although that is kind of a downer) to outright lying ("I really wish I could, but I've got some important work to do after this dinner."). Sometimes I don't say anything, I signal the server to just put a bit of wine in my glass, and then I pretend to sip at it during the meal. That doesn't really fool anyone, but at least it puts off a direct conversations about my not drinking.

I feel like I spend a lot of time accommodating the drinkers so that they won't dislike me and exclude me from professional events. This is kind of pathetic, but I don't know what else to do. For example, when the cost of a dinner is split among a group, I never mention that I didn't have any wine or beer, even though this often makes my share of the cost of the meal significantly more than it would be if alcoholic beverages were figured separately.

Anyway, this isn't really a question, more just an expression of anxiety. I really don't need it explained to me why people who are drinking are uncomfortable around people who aren't, but I wish it weren't such a big deal and I wish I didn't have to worry about it negatively affecting my career.

I would go to the pub with you, and we could order a pitcher of a caffeine-laden soft drink and get a little wild and crazy arguing about Science (or whatever). It might not seem like it at times, but there are other non-drinkers in academia, and it is possible to succeed, even in a culture that values the wine-soaked social functions at conferences.

I agree that it is unfair and irrational to expect every adult to want to drink beer, wine etc. at all professional/social events like job interview dinners, professional society events etc. Aside from pregnancy, there are other health issues, religious reasons, and personal preferences for not-drinking, and this should be taken into account when planning any professional event. There should always be an alternative for the non-drinkers in a group, and no one should have to explain why they aren't drinking.

Perhaps some commenters will have suggestions for new additions to the repertoire of Why I Am Not Drinking explanations, to be hauled out when someone is inevitably confronted with questions in socio-professional settings.

It is unlikely that there will ever be an end to the annoying comments from others about those who are not drinking wine etc., but perhaps it will cheer up the non-drinkers to hear one small anecdote that happened to me at a conference years ago. I had just arrived late at a socio-professional event at the conference, and stopped to talk to a group of people, including one of the organizers of the event. I didn't know him and he didn't know me, though I recognized his name as an applicant for an open faculty position in my department; I was on the search committee. I asked him if there was anything besides beer to drink, and he said, loudly, "If you don't like beer, you should get out of here", smirk-sneered, then turned his back on me.

Not long after that conference, he was sitting in my office for a one-on-one meeting during his interview. I tried to be nice and objective and all that, but he was clearly very uncomfortable talking to me. Fortunately, I didn't have to work too hard to be objective about him because no one liked him, and, by the end of his interview, he wasn't considered a viable candidate for the job.

Of course he should have been more polite whether or not I was on the search committee, and whether or not I wanted to drink a beer at the conference event, but I hope that incident put an end to his "drink or get out" mindset.

I am hoping that there will be comments that help assuage the anxiety of the non-drinking academic, but it would also be useful to hear from those who admit to being uncomfortable around non-drinkers: why is that? what can you and the non-drinkers of the world do to get past that discomfort in professional situations?

93 responses so far

  • I'm a fairly light drinker myself, although I seem to be drinking more red wine in my encroaching middle age. :) But I'm perfectly happy downing a soda or water on days I just don't feel like having alcohol. So I have also experienced this phenomenon, although with slightly less rude comments directed at me. And yanno, sometimes I just don't feel like drinking, either, and I don't think any of us who make that choice need to defend ourselves from insecure boors.

    I do think it comes down to insecurity, and/or a sense that by not drinking, we are somehow passing some kind of moral judgement on the drinkers, which makes them defensive (or downright belligerent, in your anecdote). It seems to be human nature to want to enforce social conformity; apparently scientists are not immune to this tendency. :)

    Would also love to hear from folks who are uncomfortable around non-drinkers. But I'm not holding my breath...

  • tweety says:

    I too don't drink, at all. Just never liked the taste of alcohol. (I'm also a vegetarian, and I used to run marathons and triathlons competitively and still at the semi elite level so I have an aversion to putting unhealthy substances in my body).

    And yes my lack of alcohol consumption has impacted my science career. When I was a postdoc, many of my male postdoc peers would go drinking with the advisor and other faculty, it was their bonding experience. So not only was I excluded for being female but also for not drinking. At conferences and meetings, same thing. Now in my present job as a senior staff scientist at a national lab, same thing. Awkward.

    But over the years I've become used to this exclusion. I also have made friends with other people at work who are into competitive running/cycling/triathloning too, and we go running or cycling or swimming or weight training after work together, when the others are going to the bar. (of course, some of them do still go to the bar after the workout, but not the ones who are also competitive racers). then there are those scientists who are simply shy and introverted or who have crazy home commitments (parents of young children or who have demanding spouses) and don't go socializing with their colleagues after work for any reason unrelated to alcohol preferences. So I don't feel alone in opting out.

    in short, yes I have found it negatively impacts my career. But, in the grand scheme of things it's still a minor issue. It has far less impact on my career than, say, the actual quality of my work. Or so I would like to believe. I do know - and have witnessed many times - other people (namely men) who don't have much of a solid track record get ahead based on their Old Boys Club connections, and drinking and socializing at the pub after work or at conferences plays a huge role. So I do think that there are certainly scientists for whom socializing over alcohol plays a huge role in their career advancement. But it's not how I want to live my life.

  • tweety says:

    Me again. In response to the question FSP posed "Perhaps some commenters will have suggestions for new additions to the repertoire of Why I Am Not Drinking explanations, to be hauled out when someone is inevitably confronted with questions in socio-professional settings."

    Personally for me, my reason used to be that I was a competitive runner and triathlete. That's why I am not drinking. This would usually shuts people up. But some times they would instead give me the attitude of "so not only are you abstaining from alcohol but you're also physically torturing your body? why are you such a weird masochist?" and I would find that irksome. Some people just don't get it. Usually it's the fat guys - the ones who are rabid sports fans but couldn't run a mile or do a pull up if their life depended on it - who would give me that attitude.

  • Kristin says:

    I am also a non-drinker and would like to say that you are not alone! I'm a little upset that people would respond in such a way. Why judge another's life choices if you are not judging theirs?

    I admit that when I first was going to places that served alcohol I was a little intimidated by what people would say and would stutter through my reasons. However, I noticed that once I gained confidence and acted (and later believed) it wasn't a big deal people responded in kind. I now usually don't even supply a reason unless asked. I'm sorry if that doesn't give much comfort.

    When I am asked for my reason I say that I do not like the idea of having something mess with my brain and support it with how I rarely drink caffeine for the same reason. However, I try my best to say it in a way that doesn't make me seem to judge their own choices (which I'm not). This is my own personal preference of how I conduct my own life, others' choices are just that their own.

  • Anon says:

    I totally commiserate with the author, and have been through all the same folderol. However, I would also say this to him or her:

    Earlier in my career, I spent a lot of time and mental energy worrying about the injustice of it all -- I have more than one colleague whose careers have been clearly advanced by their social/political/drinking skills, despite fairly apparent scientific limitations.

    Ultimately, I came to realize that they were devoting considerable resources to these social games, which I loathe, and that I could advance just as well if I devoted the same hours to science, which I enjoy. So it all works out in the end.

  • Steven says:

    As one of those drinkers when I was in graduate school, I find it amazing to hear that you would get such bad reactions to not drinking. I only have my personal experience to go off of, but the non drinkers I knew weren't interrogated or had rude comments made to them. The conversations usually went something along lines of
    "Do you want some beer?"

    "No thanks, I don't drink"

    "Oh, ok"

    And then, often later on, when the people got to know each other better the topic of why they didn't drink might come up and you would find out why.

    I can speak a bit to why some people may feel uncomfortable drinking around non drinkers, or at least why I have, on occasion felt that way. It had nothing to do with the fact that the person didn't drink, but with the personality of the non drinker. I have known some non drinkers who I enjoy drinking around, but others who are very judgmental are not fun to drink around. But there are those types of people who act that way about anything, such as growing up in a lower class up bringing than them. In my experience, the people who I am uncomfortable drinking around are the same I am uncomfortable around in other types of situations.

    These are only my anecdotal stories though, and my not be similar to other people's experience.

  • moom says:

    I find these comments to be really weird. I'm pretty used to seeing people not drinking at drinking oriented events whether it is because they are a Muslim or need to drive a car, on a diet etc. My wife is very sensitive to alcohol and can drink very little. Sounds like the person you mentioned. I have noticed people who get disturbed on the occasions that I'm not eating and everyone else is. So maybe this is similar for some people.

  • Anne says:

    I always just say allergies. For some alcoholic beverages, that is actually true (I'm allergic to wheat...) but I don't get many follow up questions after I say that. I worked on an experiment based in France for a while and man was it hard to get by without drinking....

  • Manuel says:

    I'm a male student, which leads most people to the conclusion, that I like to drink (a lot). But unfortunately (or not) this is not the case.

    I share your experience of always having to explain, why it is that I don't drink (I don't like the taste).
    Depending on my mood, my answers to "Why don't you drink?" range from "I just don't" (pro: the discussion is over before it really started, downside: some people might try to figure out, what horrible thing has happened in my past, to make me this way :) ) , to "I don't like the taste" (pro: It is much more polite, downside: some people respond with naming half a dozen drinks in order to help me to find something I might not have tried yet, while others have a hart time understanding that you can "not like alcohol", just like they don't like Chinese food, Beethoven or math (which in return I can't understand (especially the math part)).

    But beside an occasional weird look, most people tend to accept it rather quickly. Insults like the one you get have been the exception.

    • Manuel says:

      Forgot one: "I prefer to have a clear head" (not sure whether one can use this expression in English), is also an answer most people I meet accept, with the downside of sounding rather arrogant.

  • SS says:

    It makes me sick to think how people who dont drink are discriminated against. Some years, there is not even a single non-drinker on the short list of TT candidates! At most conferences, the key speakers are all white males who drink. I feel like going up to the organisers and shaking them and asking: Could you not find a single...even token...non drinker to be on the list of speakers? Some affirmative action is immediately necessary to break the stranglehold of drinking clubs on academia.

  • AnEngrGradStudent says:

    I don't drink, and have thus far received only curiosity from anyone worth being around. However, I have not had to deal with this in a professional environment with superiors.

    Regarding splitting bills: If you don't want to bring up the inequity, I'd advise you to regularly order lobster, or the most expensive item available that you actually want to eat. You could call this passive-agressive, but I prefer "non-confrontationally fair".

  • Some Guy says:

    Oh Come'on, some people are fat and cant fit in a small chair, others have a loud laugh, some have a paricularly quite voice and have trouble interjecting in conversations, others are just plain ugly. All of these things are challenges that you simply have to deal with, they put you at a disadvantage. It blows my mind that you expect to be coddled for this non-issue. Deal with it.

  • William says:

    I don't drink, and I find the attention that people put on it in academic circles to be kind of strange. So far I haven't had any negative comments, but someone almost always notices that I'm not drinking and asks why, and if I drink in general. I never know what to say in response. I don't have a good reason not to drink, just a bunch of personal things that add up to a preference against it. I tend to either lie, and say that I do drink, just not at the moment, or pretend that one of my personal things is a real reason not to drink. Lying seems to work the best.

  • It is such a relief to hear that other people have these sorts of things happening to them! I am also a non-drinker. My mother was an alcoholic when I was in high school and it was a very unpleasant experience, so I choose not to drink. However, if I tell people this when I'm at a bar with them, most people in the group start apologizing for drinking in front of me or trying to pressure me into drinking in spite of my objections. It doesn't matter how many times I tell them that I don't care if they drink around me. If I say I don't like alcohol, I am pressured to try something new because I "just haven't found the right drink yet." I also don't want anyone to waste money buying a drink for me, so I sometimes have to really put my foot down when people offer to buy, and that leaves everyone uncomfortable.

    I eventually settled on telling people that they should consider themselves lucky to have me out with them because I am ALWAYS the DD and none of the drinkers have to give up their fun! I find this lightens the mood a bit and makes it clear that although I will not drink, I don't care that everyone else does - and everyone knows they've got someone looking out for them out if they overindulge too. Being willing to have someone's back when they're drunk goes a long way toward their acceptance of your non-drinking!

    What I don't recommend is what a colleague of mine did when he was interviewing to join the grad program I'm in: he loudly accused several people of being alcoholics when they had two drinks over an entire evening and hassled them every time they took a sip. People actually mentioned his rabid anti-drinking stance in their comments to the graduate admissions committee (I was on it as the student rep at the time and the committee did discuss it) and it made everyone VERY uncomfortable when he became a student and started going to bars with the rest of us. He's since eased up, though he still doesn't drink, and he and the people around him are all happier because of it.

    I still haven't figured out how to deal with the conference issue though. I'm shy to begin with, so when you add in the ostracism that accompanies being a non-drinker at those events, I find them nearly unbearable...

  • The meetings I go to, there is always plenty of drinking, even to excess. But there are also plenty of non-drinkers, and I have never heard anyone ever say anything to any of them that would ever make them uncomfortable about their abstinence.

    • Anon says:

      Then you must have been too drunk to notice, because such comments are ubiquitous. Given your online antics, I would wager that you are amongst the worst offenders.

    • really? says:

      On the subject of misogynist & racist comments and harassment, you (quite rightfully) say that just because one is not aware of it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Does that logic not apply here for some reason?

    • gerty-z says:

      There is always plenty of drinking at the meetings I go to, as well. But I am regularly in groups with people that are not drinking. Never once have I seen this sort of behavior. And I was not too drunk to notice. That's not to say that it doesn't happen, but I hope that folks that don't drink will continue to go to these events. The "informal" part of meetings can be the most useful part and it makes no sense to shun them because there is alcohol.

  • grrlscientist says:

    that is totally bizarro ... why would anyone ask/cajole/demand anyone else to drink alcohol at a social function? and why would a social function not provide any alcohol-free alternatives? this sort of peer pressure is unacceptable in the extreme.

  • I'm a non-drinker, for purely personal reasons that I don't feel are any of my colleagues' business. Yet I do get the third degree every once in a while, and the sense that people think I'm a little weird, possibly prudish, possibly judgmental, certainly difficult, and blah blah blah. And certainly everyone has to ask "why?"

    I do feel marginalized at times. But it could be much worse. Still, if anyone has a snappy comeback -- I like the funny ones that get a good laugh while making the point that it's a question you don't intend to answer. For example, I had a friend who, in her 20s, was a cutter, and in her 30s, after years of therapy, had finally gotten past it, but everyone wanted the story on her scars. We decided that her best response should be "paper cut."

    Something like that would be nice.

    • BBBShrewHarpy says:

      As an answer to the 'Why are you not drinking?' question, 'Paper cut' might work quite well to discourage further prying.

  • MM says:

    While I do drink, I am a vegetarian, so I can extrapolate how uncomfortable many non-drinkers can feel from some meat-eaters comments to me. Luckily, at the conferences I've been to, both not eating meat and not drinking appears to be getting to be less and less of an issue. I even got one guy into a beer pong game after pointing out that no one cares if he played drinking water, not beer.

    I am curious why people choose not to drink, and ask people I've gotten to know why they don't drink. Reading this post, I hope I haven't offended anyone...

    • Not "offend," necessarily. But consider the possible true answers to that question:

      "Because I grew up with alcoholic parents."
      "Because I just found out I'm pregnant, and I lost the last baby."
      "Because it immediately makes me vomit."
      "Because I'm a recovering addict."
      "Because I'm a member of a religious tradition that forbids alcohol."

      Any of these answers might be true. But would they make anyone in that conversation happier?

    • Change says:

      Talk about getting flak for being both--non-drinker and vegetarian. I became a vegetarian about a year ago. Even before then, I was never big on meat. Based on my skin color, name and accent, most people assume that I'm Hindu (I'm actually atheist) and hence don't drink nor eat meat.

      I also don't drink coffee and don't smoke. So my lame excuse for not drinking is that I am narcoleptic, and caffeine, alcohol and nicotine mess me up badly, which is sort-of true. In all honesty though, I really don't have a specific reason for not drinking other than that I didn't grow up in a drinking culture and I don't see the appeal of it. That saying, some of my most memorable times in grad school were in bars with my labmates and friends.

      • Change says:

        Coming to think of it, there are so many ways I am an odd ball in my research group that I feel I just don't fit in how much ever I try. I can't wait to get out of here.

  • malte says:

    I think in most european and american countries as well as russia alcoholism is a given. So I quit it for some time to see how much it affected me and how other people respond to that. What works for me is getting pseudodrunk in the presence of drunks. I don't do it really on purpose, but it's the same your language adapts to the person(s) you are conversing with. I just stop caring.

    Other tricks, which don't help at wine-parties, but are a _really_ helpful in similar situations is getting drinks, which look like they might contain alcohol, the easiest being grabbing an empty bottle (the darker the glass the better) of beer and filling it up at the toilet sink (this one is really the best, it's the perfect disguise), the other would be ordering a plain tonic water with ice, where you will get asked what you are drinking and you can answer "Tonic" - "Which one?" - "Whatever Tonic", which works quite okay, too.

    In the case of the person who is quoted in the post, when being drunk (without drinking) doesn't help, I would just say that it is medical or for medical reasons; because it is -- and then crack a dirty joke ("I can't, my cancer is pregnant. a ha ha ha ha ha.").

    In the end it's all about the question if you want to get along with assholes. I know, that I want to be able to, but I also know, that I couldn't care less, if they want to(o) or not.

  • katie says:

    I find that if you say anything about "it's a medical thing" people leave it alone. It's true that a lot of drugs interact poorly with alcohol, and most people are tactful enough not to pry into your medical history.

  • Nicole says:

    I don't have a problem with drinking at conferences-- there isn't really a heavily prevalent drinking culture in my field (especially since not everybody gets reimbursed for alcohol!). But I am sick and tired of a couple of my senior colleagues lecturing me on my not drinking when we have a job market candidate out. It's not that I'm pregnant (which they then lecture me I should be trying to do) or that I don't drink at all, but that after a full day of teaching and meetings and trying to squeeze some research in, if I drank something I would get into a car accident on the way home. Oddly there's a male associate professor who actually doesn't drink and even as they're hassling me, they never hassle him.

    On the job market we were recommended to order a glass of wine but then not actually drink it. Thus giving the illusion of being part of the group but not losing our mental facilities. One department I interviewed at, the chair was obviously an alcoholic, reeking of alcohol whenever he picked me up (including the morning), ordering an alcoholic beverage at breakfast before leaving without getting food... I feared for my life at many points during that stay and wish I'd ordered a cab instead of being drunk driven back to the hotel by another professor the last night.

    Anyhow, no advice.

  • Alex says:

    I never drink, and just say "Oh, no thanks" and order a diet soda. If asked, I just say "Oh, I don't drink" and leave it at that. It seems to work.

    If somebody bugs you about it, just repeat "No, I don't drink. Personal thing." If they keep bugging you, the problem is with them, and the best response is "As I said, I don't drink, and I can repeat this as many times as you deem necessary."

  • I've never encountered people with a problem if I don't drink at a function, however on announcing a pregnancy I have had people say "oh I thought so because you didn't drink when we were at conference X". This is fine when it is people who know me well (because I have in the past been partial to a few glasses of alcohol) but not when I have only met them on the occasion that I wasn't drinking!

    I think alcohol is one of the issues, but there are others - for a while I was significantly disadvantaged because I don't play golf......

  • Anonymous says:

    We non-drinkers are no fun. Everyone knows that. If we can't lighten up and have just one drink, we are obviously uptight and a drag and who needs us. Or we are all secretly pregnant, and not serious scientists, and never should have been hired. Or we're muslim. Or we're on medication. Or, or, or.... The bottom line: it's just one more way in which you may not fit in. Whether or not this is a big deal depends on the department, your rank, etc etc etc. Before I had tenure, I faked it.

  • Vera says:

    Hello original anxiety-questioner.
    I'm still in grad school, but I've encountered this kind of thing many times. I have IBD, so pretty much everything makes me sick to my stomach, and drinking is one of the worse-I get sick before I get buzzed, due to medicine interactions. That really sucks.

    In college and at the beginning of grad school I dealt with this by doing shots and getting trashed as quickly as possible, but I still had to deal with stomach issues for the next few days.

    Nobody acts uncomfortable about me personally, but I really hate when people say "Oh, this prospective student doesn't drink, we don't want him/her in the lab because that means he's no fun" So I guess I'm no fun. One of my friends who says this kind of thing always offers me a beer, then when I say no, offers whatever else, so it's not weird one-on-one.

    Another thing is that I recently had to stop caffeine - upset stomach and headaches. That was a real bummer. I never liked alcohol but I love coffee. Now when I don't drink coffee (the other beverage available at conferences) people say, "Well, at least that's not as weird as an X-ologist not drinking beer." Um... I don't drink that either.

    I tend to think that people who are overly pushy about alcohol know they have a problem and are trying to deny it. But that doesn't really help feeling left out. (For the coffee, people tend to say they wish they could quit too if we really discuss)

    It feels like alcohol is sophisticated. There are all these fancy glasses, and little olives or whatever. I feel like a child sometimes. I'm not quite comfortable around people who drink, because I'm still quite jealous. Fortunately as I said, nobody has directly said anything directly negative, yet. Occasionally there is "oh, that's water? Good. I thought you were just chugging vodka." And I've ordered milk at bars-which is very odd, but I'm often hungry when the socialization time is happening, and milk helps with that.

    If/when I get pregnant, I'm going to ask waiters and bartenders to pour me juice in a wine glass, so that when people are being nasty to me I can be all offended. I'm not sure if I'll tell them its juice or not, but definitely that it's not their business what I choose to drink.

    • Cherish says:

      I have medical issues that prevent me from drinking, too. I find it's just easier to tell people that drinking it makes me sick. If they don't believe me and keep pushing it, then I go into great detail about all of the things I can't eat and drink (and why) until their eyes glaze over and they leave me alone. Seems to work with even the most pushy people.

      My advice is to make up a diagnosis and stick with it. :-)

    • Postdoc says:

      Vera, I have a very similar problem. As of 2 years ago I suddenly had to give up almost all drinking of alcohol and caffeine. I'm in a field that prides itself on its drinking culture. No one has been too nasty about it, but almost every time I'm out with people from my department I get questioned about my lack of beer or my lack of speed in drinking beer if I decide to get some. I don't think that anyone has completely written me off for this yet, but I'm in the same department where I did my PhD so people know me and probably remember me having gone out drinking in the past. Since I actually wish that I could drink, I usually just play the sympathy card and say 'I'd love to have a beer, but I'll feel ill for the next 2 days if I do. And you know it must be bad if I'm turning down beer.' There are others in my department who don't drink though, are still fun to go out with, and people are accepting. But it is more awkward at conferences when people often seem to want to go out and get really trashed, and I just can't bring myself to be very interested in joining them for some sort of macho drinking competition.

    • joker says:

      Wouldn't it be awesome to get out some 99% clean ethanol, a syringe and a strap to fix oneself up infront of all the drinkers?

      Getting blurry vision just from the thought of it (;

  • Vera says:

    Wow, that comment was a little longer than I thought it was going to be.

  • Chris says:

    In my field, there is plenty of drinking as well, often it is hard even at meetings with 5000 people to get a non-alcoholic drink. I don't drink, I don't like the effects of alcohol for myself. Often enough even at smaller meetings I had to ask specifically to get non-alcoholic drinks. It can be really a hassle. Often enough I had to pay extra for non-alcoholic drinks compared to the omnipresent free beer.

    People's comments are usually ok, but so much harder to bear for my academic non-drinking husbands. Seems women have a slight advantage there. However, very rarely I will have drink, and people get all excited about me now being cooler and funner. *sigh*

    I am also worried about the impact on my carrier. I do go to pubs and bars, but drinking gets excessive late at night and this is when friendships are formed, personal information is shared more often. Drinking seems to aid the bonding process, especially during meetings with 90% males. I don't want to drink or get drunk just to gain more access, but sometimes I wonder if there is another way.

  • SciencePerson says:

    Once again, I am surprised what kind of experiences people have. I don't drink. Yes, it comes up and I do get asked about it, but this has always been non-confrontational and more based on curiosity. In fact, I often use it at as an opportunity for small talk.

    If somebody asks, I either tell a specific, hopefully entertaining (and true) story or, if I want to end it fast, I just say that I don't like it. Both things work fine. I never felt marginalized. I never felt discriminated against. I certainly was never asked to leave.

    I must be very lucky with the field I am in and/or the people I meet. Or I might live in a different universe than the vast majority of people commenting on FSP's blog posts. Fascinating.

    • akajb says:

      Me too. I'm surprised by these comments. I've been at conferences where there is drinking, but I haven't seen it to excess. But maybe I'm not being invited to the "fun" parties. :P

      Personally, I rarely drink. I'll have the occasional beer. I've never been drunk (which shocks way to many people), and I've never had more than 2 drinks at any occasion. I also don't drink coffee (don't like the smell of it) and rarely drink pop.

      That doesn't mean I judge those who do. It's just who I am. But I've never had a conversation that lasts more than a couple of sentences about it.

      Whenever it is mentioned, I just brush it off. "Eh, I don't feel like it." or "I'm not a big drinker." The second works well if you feel like carrying around a glass for most of the night. If you're constantly changing groups, people won't realize you're not actually drinking it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Why would anyone in their right mind think that other people's drinking habit are any of their business?

  • B says:

    I work in a department where almost no one drinks alcohol and most won't even drink coffee (I did find this a little unsettling at first, having come from a place where alcohol and caffeine were a strong part of the culture). So not all of academia is wedded to the booze. I am fond of wine, but do not always want to drink. Thankfully, I have not been given a hard time on the occasions that I choose not to drink at conferences etc. I am sorry that others have had a different experience. Honestly I think it is utterly bizarre that any individual could be so uncomfortable about someone else not drinking. Seriously? Have you nothing better to concern yourself with.

  • jojo says:

    I think some of these asshole drinkers are probably reacting to themselves being judged for drinking sometime in the past. Maybe they had puritanical parents / friends / religious figures who told them they were evil bad and going to hell for wanting to drink.

    Now that they are grown up and "everyone" drinks they feel like it's their turn to get back at the people that judged them. Of course taking it out on some poor tee-totaling collegue isn't exactly fair or, well, collegial.

    • jojo says:

      Oh, and as an addendum, two colleagues of mine who were rotating in a lab were trashed on to their PI by the other grad students because they were non-drinkers. "I don't think they'll really fit in, we're a fun lab." This at least contributed to them not getting a place in the lab (this PI is a pushover and likely to give in to stuff like this, so maybe they were better off in the end). Still really, really frustrating. People need to grow the fuck up.

    • malte says:

      I rather think it is because they are dishonest people who need the alcohol to be themselves and feel probably misjudged when you don't drink. That you are honest, funny and relaxed just as you are, that thought never crossed their mind because they aren't.

  • Donalbain says:

    OK.. I have to say, this has never happened to me on the occasions I stick to the soft drinks, and I have never seen it happen to other people. At least not the insulting part.. I have had and seen the "Oh go on.. just one" technique, but on those occasions, I just shake my head and claim to be driving either after the even, or the next morning. There is a MUCH bigger stigma attached to drunk driving than to sober socialising.

    • Change says:

      What I've encountered is much like what you said. There were curious questions and a nudge to try this or that, but never a outright "get out of here."

      My assumption is that those folks who are likely to say "get out of here" would not enjoy being there (where alcohol is served) if they weren't supposed to be drinking for whatever reason. I have had some friends of friends question me why I was hanging out with drunk friends at a bar if I wasn't having fun (not drinking = not having fun apparently).

  • Linda says:

    This topic has seen extensive discussion - at least for some of us - when it comes to on-site interviews. My dept retires to the university pub for drinks after a seminar, and for job talks we have taken to having a designated non-alcohol-drinker in the group (not too hard in our dept). The logic? A job candidate who sees that one of the dept members at the pub is not drinking alcohol may find it easier to not drink.

  • chall says:

    In my grad department there were plenty of people who didn't drink after work since they drove a car to and from work (grad land has 0% as a driving limit) and therefore there wasn't as much of a problem....

    As for myself, every time I have a non alcoholic drink I get comments about "are you preggers" ... so nowadays I try and go to the corner of a bar, order a tonic with lime in a real drink glass - and then let people draw their own conclusions. When I want another one, I go to the bar on the way back from "the restrooms" and voila, I can order another one. It might be easier for me sinec I do drink, and have been out on several bar nights, I just like to mix it up.

    I do think that much of the comments stem from the old "regual adults should be able to hold their liquer and not being an alcoholic and/or having a disease so if you don't drink something is different about you". It's almost like when you say "Oh, I'm not drinking since I have to get up early tomorrow morning and do a long run in prep for my marathon training". They think you're sllightly off base then too since you are trying to be "better than them".

    In short, people who comment are more concerned about themselves and don't feel comfortable since they "want" the drink, whereas you as a nondrinker show them that you have more "control". THat's what my rationalisation tell me anyway...

  • DoctorTonic says:

    I have had prospective grad students decide not to work with my group because so many of my grads and postdocs like to go out to the pub in the evenings, and these prospectives feared that they would not fit in. On the one hand, I am glad my group is social and likes to go out and talk science (and perhaps some non-science) in the pub, but it worries me if someone feels they wouldn't belong if they won't want to do that. If I knew about these anxieties in advance, we could discuss it directly, but I usually hear about it after the fact. Perhaps it should be part of general discussions anyway? It keeps coming up as an issue.

  • Anon says:

    I do drink. But sometimes I don't feel like drinking. I have occasionally been hassled about not drinking at academic events. But anyone who makes a big deal of it is being rude and I go on the offensive and point that out. Like Alex, if anyone makes a curiosity-driven query into my not drinking, I say something vague ("I'm not drinking" or "I don't want to drink right now") and change the subject. Any polite person will move on. If they persist, then I repeat myself, to make it clear that this isn't a topic for conversation. If they continue to persist, then I say something more aggressive like "what's your problem with me not drinking?" If someone were to say something to me like "you're not welcome here if you don't drink" (which no one ever has), I'd say "don't be ridiculous; why would you say something like that?" Make the rude person consider what they've just said. Of course, if they're already drunk, it won't do much good. But drunk jerks aren't going to listen to anything you say anyway. The reason (some) drinkers don't like to have non-drinkers around is that the drink in the hand is a badge of conformity; it shows that you want to belong to the group. Without that drink in your hand, (some) people think, "oh, that non-drinker is judging me. (S)he thinks (s)he's too good to join my social group."

  • Respi Sci says:

    At various times I've been a non-drinker among drinkers and then a drinker among non-drinkers and have received comments with each group. As asked by others here, why are people so interested in wanting others to conform to what they, personally, are doing? I had hoped that upon reaching adulthood, we would have grown out of this and accepted each other without the need to make comments or exerting peer pressure. Alas, I am still waiting for this group epiphany.

  • sciencedog says:

    I was once at a ticketed social function at a conference (I forget what I paid -- not a lot, but I did have to buy a ticket to attend the event). The only thing to drink was wine. I asked for something else, and the person working at the bar said "There's a water fountain in the hall, by the restrooms." So I found the person who organized the event and explained why it was not cool that the only thing to drink was an alcoholic beverage. He said this was an oversight and would never happen again, and it has not. I have continued to attend this function in recent years, and there are always alternatives now. It's worth speaking up and explaining the problem. Some people just can't imagine that not everyone wants to drink wine or beer or whatever, until you tell them.

  • SLAC Prof says:

    You can take a line from my favorite tv show "big bang theory" where Sheldon, a nondrinker orders a virgin Cuba libre. It is a rum and coke without the rum. I think there is also a lime wedge involved

  • GMP says:

    I do drink alcohol, but not much. I will typically have one drink in social occasions but sometimes skip altogether. At conferences in my field there are a number of people who drink quite a lot, and end up making asses of themselves. Not the most flattering look for a senior academic, I will tell you that. When I want to skip, I just usually say "I do usually drink, but my stomach is feeling a bit funny today" and that's typically enough.

    There are several students in my group who don't drink, most of them for religious reasons and a few just because they don't care for it. I would say about 50% will have a beer when we go out and 50% will have a soda. I don't think it's a big deal for any of them.

    Funnily enough, I have a student from overseas who does not drink and has commented several times in social occasions how he hates alcohol and how awful it is for a woman in particular to drink -- the woman here being me, his PhD advisor. While it is a bit too bold/rude to be saying that to your PI, that did start some good cross-cultural conversations on why he thinks that (apparently, he equates drinking with getting wasted based on some family members) and what is commonly expected in the countries of different group members, as well as how in the West occasionally having one glass of wine or beer with food and company is socially acceptable and does not an alcoholic make. At some point I ordered a glass of beer and didn't care for it, and that student was curious why I am not drinking it. I said I didn't like it, and just because I generally do drink alcohol that doesn't mean I have to drink whatever is in front of me. I said it's like a dessert -- something meant to be enjoyed in small quantities, and if not, you can totally skip it.

    To the people who never drink: when faced with a prodding questions about why you don't, you could just try to brush it off with "Oh, I just don't particularly care for alcohol. My vice of choice is chocolate/chips/ice cream/coffee/whatever slightly decadent food or drink you love."

  • mathgirl says:

    I don't drink because I don't like the taste of alcohol. Nowadays I just say that, and it works. I can drink a beer if I have to, but I don't do these things anymore.

    As for group meals where people share bottles of wine and the bill is split, I either: 1) comment that I didn't have alcohol when the bill comes and refuse to pay for the wine or 2) make sure I order other expensive stuff to compensate, like dessert, a more expensive entree, or an expensive non-alcoholic drink (pina colada without rum is my favorite).

    I know people who claim to be allergic to alcohol and don't order alcohol or order non-alcoholic beer.

    On the bright side, when I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, no one suspected that I was pregnant since my colleagues knew I never drink alcohol and they didn't find it weird when I refused to toast after a thesis defense (something I'd have accepted to do if it weren't for my pregnancy).

  • Zee says:

    I drink, I like to drink, I have on occasion gotten drunk with other students/post-docs. When I get drunk I do get quiet exuberant in wanting people to join me whatever 'fun' thing I am doing, sometimes that means pushing drinks on people. H

    owever, I usually just have one drink at conferences and such though because I am almost always really tired by the end of the day and don't want to make an ass of myself by doing or saying something inappropriate. When I am asked why I am not drinking or having more drinks, I usually say something to the effect of "I make an ass of myself when I drink more, so I prefer to not get that way in a professional setting."

    I think drinking is such a large part of a lot of academic cultures because so many of the old school professors are highly socially awkward and the only way they can interact with large groups of people at meetings or events is with the help of alcohol. It seems to me, in my limited experience, that newer professors (who usually have more of life outside of science) don't seem to be this way as much. But obviously my n=1 experience may be totally wrong.

    As far as advice, when I was pregnant and wasn't ready to announce I would pull the server aside. tipped them $10, and told them that I was going to order gin&tonics all night but this really meant to bring me a tonic in a glass to look like at G&T. They always obliged easily and it made it look like I was drinking when I wasn't.

  • Zee says:

    omg so many typos in that post --- sorry!

  • FrauTech says:

    So I don't work in academia, but there's such a drinking culture in engineering. Every time a vendor comes to town you take them out. Every time someone gets promoted or moves on there's happy hour. Every time you travel it all revolves around drinking. It's crazy since everyone drives aftewards too. Not that everyone gets smashed, but people definitely drink too much to drive IMO.

    I drink sometimes, but am not a big drinker. I celebrated an even at work this year, drank four beers, got pretty well buzzed, and decided I'm probably good for another year. I'm trying to figure out how to navigate future happy hours. I think being seen drinking sometimes (or now that coworkers have seen me pretty well buzzed) helps when you just don't feel like drinking that day. But I'm very sympathetic with the original poster. That's why I don't usually like drinking (the buzz is not worth the weird stomach pains I get sometimes). There was a lot of pressure for me to drink once I started working in this environment. Nursing a beer has been one of my strategies but of course people are always try to buy new rounds and such. I'll probably try the virgin rum and coke this week and see how that goes. And yes I hate that because I am female my choice not to drink is automatically must be pregnant.

    Also as a side note I am suspicious that most who regularly drink wine with their dinner because they "enjoy good wine" are kidding themselves. My daily coffee requirement is an addiction and me using caffeine as a substance to medicate and make my life easier. I don't see why those drinking wine have to pretend it's because the "taste" or "flavor" is good. If you NEED a glass of wine with dinner you probably are addicted. I'm not criticizing that as I am equally addicted to coffee, but I don't pretend my daily coffee is part of some sort of discerning taste of mine so don't pretend you aren't self-medicating with your wine with dinner. There, that oughtta piss off a lot of wine drinkers...

  • becca says:

    As a sometimes-drinker, I hope I've never been among those that give anyone any discomfort for their own consumption choices. I know I've never said something as terrible as 'what are you doing here' or anything like that, but I'm not so sure about more subtle issues. I'll try to be more aware of making nondrinkers welcome.
    Dragonfly Woman is correct that a supportive Designated Driver can be a welcome addition to many social and alcohol drinking environments

  • Sciencephd says:

    I don't understand this Western culture of drinking and socializing. When two people want to have fun, they go to a pub. As a foreigner, I find this really depressing. Is it that they are unable to find a better recreation. The country I come from, when say a husband and wife want to have fun time, they go out for dinner and a dessert or go to the beach and sit in the sand, or watch a movie or something..its never going to a pub. I dont drink and I have often been asked "why". People have not asked me if I was pregnant but that might be because I am foreigner and there may be cultural reasons not to drink. But I always end up explaining why I dont drink. How about "I just dont feel like feeding my body alcohol and losing control"?
    I once went to a work camp and the professors there started smoking pot! I was so uncomfortable! How about being a model for your students? I really don't care as long as people do something that doesn't affect me or my health. But com'on, get a life!

  • Jade says:

    At my previous job I worked in a laboratory environment. The company would routinely have after-hours celebrations which involved copious amounts of drinking (primarily beer). Most of my co-workers were middle-aged, with the exception of the occasional intern. Everyone but me drank (frequently to excess), which was fine, but typically led to me being heckled for why I chose not to drink.

    As some have stated, lies such as claiming I was allergic, or that I was taking a certain medication usually worked. However, if I only said drinking made me sick, then my coworkers would claim that I simply hadn't drank enough, or hadn't found the right type of alcohol. I turned 21 when I was still working there and actually got away with not having a night of debauchery by saying my strict grandmother was staying at my home--which was true--and that she wouldn't approve.

    The "are you pregnant?" comments are just plain rude and no one's business, but I get those even when I wake up sick.

    I do think women can get away with saying they don't drink beer, or don't like the taste of alcohol, but this only works when the selection is limited. My favorite way to avoid all of the hassle is to order a Shirley Temple (ginger ale + grenadine) at an open bar. It looks like a convincing mixed drink and tastes good to boot! If anyone asked what it was, I could just shrug and say it was a mixed drink the bartender recommended.

    It's a pain to deal with, but really it's like any other quality you might be judged about; such as being vegan or not belonging to a certain faith. I'm not asking to be "coddled," I just think it would be nice to have alternatives, so that I, too, can have a good time.

  • Y says:

    if people ask "are you pregnant", just say "no, are you?" (even if they are a male). they may then realize how absurd it is to be asked that question and then not do it to others.

  • I find this discussion to be very interesting. First of all, I can't remember a conference that I've attended that did not include some non-alcoholic drinks. Secondly, although I remember sometimes people ask "why" if they notice someone else not drinking, they don't usually push the subject beyond whatever answer the non-drinker gives.

    I'm not a big drinker myself and I often get migraines while traveling. My solutions are to either be the DD at an event where we will have to drive afterwards, or order a beer in a dark bottle to carry around with me for the evening. I maybe have a sip or two or just hold it up to my lips, but don't really drink it and no one can really tell.

  • socphd says:

    Grad school drove me to become sober, quite honestly. I have IBS and any alcohol has been exacerbating it recently. And I was at a Sunday afternoon departmental get-together at a professor's house where I witnessed a pair of married professors get absolutely trashed. The worst part? They had their two young children in tow and had to cab it home. I will admit that I lost so much respect for them then, and vowed to never let my colleagues (even if they're friends) see me like that. I did have champagne to celebrate my thesis defense, but that's been it for the past several years.

  • Anonymous says:

    I do find it totally perplexing that this person is concerned that being a teetotaler will ruin her career. But I do have a friend who probably feels the same way, so I understand that some people feel this way, although I don't know why -- I have to attribute it to insecurity about being the odd one out, the way other responders have done. My friend also allows the server to pour her a glass of wine, which she doesn't drink. Honestly, if it's a conference or something, I would NEVER notice unless I know this person and have seen it several times. Frankly, it makes me lose respect, because this person is pretending to be something other than she is. We all know plenty of people who don't drink, and if I have ever asked if someone doesn't drink (which I may well have done, but can't recollect any particular instance), I am certainly satisfied with a response that the person does not drink. No explanation is needed, and I certainly respect that person's private business. It is no different than if I ask if someone is vegetarian. Finally, there are often times when I don't feel like drinking (more often of late) but that won't prevent me from going to the pub and getting a soda or taking the non-alcoholic option at catered events. Maybe my friends have asked about it, or not -- it just isn't a big deal.

    • No need for angries says:

      Just because you haven't experienced this doesn't mean it isn't real. In my field, as apparently in those of many of the other commenters, drinking *absolutely* gives you access in a way that non-drinking does not. My desire to advance my career is probably ruining my liver. However, I would like to add that that's my own choice, and I (hopefully) have never made anyone feel bad about not drinking. In regards to other things that need to be explained, I have also frequently been made to feel bad about being a vegetarian. And not having kids. And, and, and. People just like to judge.

  • Karen says:

    In late middle age I have changed careers from a field in which drinking was common but not strictly required to a field noted for it's practitioners' ability to pack away the alcohol. I've also had an increasingly cranky colon, that now reacts to any alcohol intake with several days of moderate distress. I don't like this, but a couple of drinks are most emphatically not worth spending several days within running distance of a bathroom.

    So, in a sea of drinkers, I don't drink. They do look at me funny. They do offer me a beer. I'm overweight, so I just thank them and say I really can't afford the calories. But they notice. And though it's none of their business, I admit to being mildly embarrassed.

  • Anon says:

    I totally commiserate with the author, and have been through all the same folderol. However, I would also say this to him or her:

    Earlier in my career, I spent a lot of time and mental energy worrying about the injustice of it all -- I have more than one colleague whose careers have been clearly advanced by their social/political/drinking skills, despite fairly apparent scientific limitations.

    Ultimately, I came to realize that they were devoting considerable resources to these social games, which I loathe, and that I could advance just as well if I devoted the same hours to science, which I enjoy. So it all works out in the end.

  • I find a couple of red bulls makes me as sociable as anyone drinking alcohol, plus I can beat them at pool :)

  • "I am suspicious that most who regularly drink wine with their dinner because they "enjoy good wine" are kidding themselves. My daily coffee requirement is an addiction and me using caffeine as a substance to medicate and make my life easier. I don't see why those drinking wine have to pretend it's because the "taste" or "flavor" is good. If you NEED a glass of wine with dinner you probably are addicted. I'm not criticizing that as I am equally addicted to coffee, but I don't pretend my daily coffee is part of some sort of discerning taste of mine so don't pretend you aren't self-medicating with your wine with dinner."

    So, I guess the entire population of France are alcoholics because they not only drink wine with dinner but at lunch? And give it to their kids?

    One really shouldn't make blanket judgements like that. :)

    • malte says:

      Alcoholism doesn't start at sitting in front of a cheap supermarket all day talking to your dementia-damaged past self.

      Drinking your glass of wine a day (or maybe two) won't make a pathologic addiction. But i suspect you can find behaviour reminiscent of addiction in most of these french (and pretty much every other european and russian country).

      I would say it's similar to daily deleting your browsing history. It's not a full blown paranoia, but cut yourself some slack.

  • Katie says:

    I don't drink, due to a combination of religious and medical reasons. When people push me to drink, which happens often, I usually mention the medical issues and people left it alone. However, my religious beliefs mean that I'm not comfortable contributing to others' alcohol consumption and so I do speak up when it comes time to split the bill (unlike the OP). I try to be very gentle about it, but it always feels awkward, especially when others are inebriated. It actually makes me less likely to go out to dinner, which I dislike greatly.

  • GradStudentAbroad says:

    I am surprised at the comments about conferences / workshops etc. at which no non-alcoholic beverages were offered. What were the organizers thinking? This is bizarre. Is it so hard to also serve juice or soda next to the wine or beer? Can the blog readership please take note and make sure that this is taken care of at events they organize in the future?!?

  • Niall says:

    I'm teetotal and have never had an issue with this. In-fact I'm often the one at conferences pushing for people to go to the pub/kareoke. When asked I reply it was me rebelling against what everyone else was doing as a teenager. Nobody ever looks at me strangely and I've never had the "take a drink" type conversation with academics.

  • I don't drink alcohol for various reasons but I don't make a big deal about it when out and about. Grad Advisor, Postdoc Mentor, Dept Chair, friends, colleagues and students are all aware of this and don't give me a hard time (those that do aren't people I choose to associate with). At professional events where alcohol is served, there is always a non-alcohol alternative - if it's not on the table (which is rare), ask one of the hospitality staff. If the people I'm with start to get tipsy and/or rolling drunk, I usually just make a polite exit and leave them to it.

  • vegetarian and don't drink says:

    well..i m a vegetarian and I don't drink. makes it even worse huh! I am in a heavy drinking environment at work and in the beginning I used to feel pretty uncomfortable being the only one not drinking. I normally chat with a soda on hand and when offered a drink at social gatherings, I just say "I don't drink" and stick to this. I also tend to avoid happy hours outside the lab which is unfortunate because I am pretty sure I am losing on a lot of networking opportunities just because of this. i have decided that at my next place of work, I am going to start drinking although little. May be, i'll have a beer in hand while I chat and just sip it once a while!!!! I do feel like i am a little fussy sometimes given the fact that i m also a vegetarian. I don't think i m ever going to give up vegetarian-ism. Social drinking, I have figured, is really important though for progressing in ones career and acquiring those new contacts. well , like they say, in Rome do what the Romans do.....right?!!

  • I've never been to a conference where there were no non-alcoholic choices. I've never seen people pressured to drink either.

    A much bigger problem at conferences is having only coffee. As a tea drinker who doesn't drink coffee, I've often gotten quite thirsty at conferences. (And even when "hot" water for tea is provided it isn't warm enough for washing your hands, much less making tea.)

    • Donalbain says:

      THIS!!! (But only in America. Not in the UK)

    • A says:

      I'm an American tea drinker. I'll drink coffee if I have to (e.g., I need the caffeine), but I much prefer tea.

      The worst part about the hot-water-for-tea thing is that many coffee machines also dispense generic hot water; if the machines aren't cleaned properly, the hot water will have a coffee-ish flavor to it which is NOT compatible with delicate tea.

    • ProfNose says:

      "A much bigger problem"? Not having your beverage of choice (coffee vs. tea) is a much bigger problem (for you) than the problem (for others) of being confronted and insulted and left out of the club, as is the case for some non-drinkers-of-alcohol? I don't drink coffee either, and I have often been annoyed by the lack of anything else at some events, but this is nothing compared to the weird behavior I have experienced when I ask if there is something besides wine at certain conference functions. I can sympathize with the "No one supplies the right temperature/kind of water for tea" complaints at the same time that I think they are really obnoxious in the context of the overall discussion here.

  • Ryan says:

    I grew up straightedge, not for any religious reasons (though my parents are religious non-drinkers) or for any health reasons. When I discovered straightedge music (Minor Threat, Have Heart, etc etc etc), I fully embraced the notion that not drinking was something to be proud of. I disdain people that try to hide this nonsense. I blatantly turned down booze at my postdoc interviews, I still got offers from all of them. I wasn't shy about it, I didn't fake it, I didn't leave the reasons unknown. I'm straightedge. I'll always be. I won't lie or fake it and I won't be put down for it. If someone insults my lack of drinking they will receive insults in kind.

  • Raincoat says:

    I'm a drinker and I'd definitely say the ratio of insecure-drinkers-projecting to purer-than-thou-nondrinkers is **overwhelmingly** weighted towards the former. I've only had one or two occasions where somebody made it very clear to me that they thought they were better than me because they didn't drink/didn't eat meat/could afford to shop at places other than Walmart/etc; but I can think of multiple times where I've seen people hassled for not drinking and I've done that myself. After having had experiences of people giving me shit about what I drink, I catch myself a lot more now, but not always.

    As far as comebacks, I don't have many, other than "Do you own stock in the brewery?" or "Is this an after-school special?" I wish I had some better answers to put forth, but some people are insecure jackasses and if they're in positions of power, then I don't know if there is a good solution other than a cultural shift, and that takes time.

    As a host now, I always try to provide a variety of beverages, both alcoholic and not (although in either case, it's almost always "what I have in my house anyway"), because it's incredibly rude to be like "Wine or GTFO." From an event-planning perspective, I can't imagine offering only one thing and expecting everyone to like it.

  • Alex says:

    When people find out I don't drink, they make one of three assumptions: I'm pregnant, I am religious, or I am an alcoholic. I am none of the above.

    Those people swearing up and down this never happens: You're just not paying attention. I'm not saying you're too drunk but it's not something you'd notice. I've been a drinker and currently I am a non-drinker for various reasons. It blew my mind and it's not something you can notice unless it's happening to you or someone close to you. It's staggering. And it's all the time. My career has suffered and is suffering because of this. Fortunately I am able to deal with it, laugh it off, being a relative extravert and socially comfortable person. But being a drinker in a drinker culture is a privilege that's easy to take granted just like everything else. The frequency and intensity of comments amazed me and I only became aware when I did not drink.

    On the other hand, I realised the worst offenders tend to be people who have drinking problems or socially insecure people. I've not been hassled by people who are moderate drinkers. Just like people with eating disorders tend to obsess about what other people eat, it tends to be people with issues with their own drinking who even notice and bother to comment about what others don't drink.

    I don't like talking about it because people can get defensive. I've come to simply say "I'm not much of a drinker really. I'm going to stick to water tonight". It's not a complete lie but I often don't feel like getting into it.

    There is a plus side to not drinking. As the night goes on people loosen up. And you listen. You'll be amazed how much people blabber on when drunk and since you're not drunk you won't say anything to embarrass yourself and you'll remember it all in the morning. Juicy!!

  • Alex says:

    Oh I also sometimes say "wine? peh I'm on better stuff. want some pills?"

  • [...] is also weak on that sort of thing.  Nonetheless, I come across stories from time to time (e.g. comments in this thread) from non-drinkers who swear that they are excluded and discriminated against for it.  And while I [...]

  • Jill says:

    There was a postdoc in our group who didn't drink due to his Bangladeshi/muslim cultural background. He was also critical and opinionated, and everyone in the collaboration viewed him as an outsider who was difficult to get along with, and he was pushed out of the postdoc after the first year.

    My family has a lot of alcoholics and I don't like to drink a lot, and I would prefer to go on walks with colleagues rather than sitting for several hours at a bar after work, but I still pretty much join in. I have noticed that anyone who exceeds two beers is noticed right away - and practicing alcoholics do not get very far

  • estraven says:

    [warning: coarse language, obnoxious behavior]
    When you're young and have to make a career, I'm all for pretend: grab a bottle of beer, empty it in the sink, fill up with tap water. I've pretended all kinds of shit (not of the nondrinking kind) to get the job I have.
    Once you're trenured, insult them. Be obnoxious. refuse to go away. Better yet, become their boss and do all of the above. It feels SO GOOD.
    And the same applies to the fucking assholes who felt their need to mansplain to me why I shouldn't be drinking wine or beer while pregnant. I'm a scientist, and I can read the research papers and have done so. And it's my body and my baby so fuck off.

    I hink I would get along well with comrade physioprof.

  • [...] Physics is a male-dominated, competitive environments that is populated by many shy, socially clumsy people. Therefore, it is not surprising that alcohol plays a huge role in this field, like apparently in most of the hard sciences. [...]