TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Excuses To Stay Sober At Your Holiday Party

After the Party
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It's not always easy to explain why you're turning down a drink, finds a new study

Staying sober at a holiday party—whether it’s out of commitment to the 12 steps, your health or your tastebuds—certainly has its merits. But it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a hot toddy, finds a new study in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Consider that 65% of adults who work full-time say they regularly drink alcohol, and drinking after work is an ingrained part of many companies’ culture. That after-hours socializing may come with other benefits, too. One study found that among full-time employees, men who drink alcohol earn 19% more than those who don’t, and women who drink make 23% more. Another found that drinking after work with colleagues eased job dissatisfaction.

To find out how non-drinkers handle boozy events, researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed full-time workers who don’t drink alcohol. After analyzing their responses, the authors report that most non-drinkers feel like an outsider and felt like by not drinking, it was their job to put drinkers at ease. Some even said that felt they actually had to be better at their jobs in order to make up for the social points they lost for abstaining. Many said they accepted drinks they never touched, just to save face. “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm,” said one man who works in sales.

About 40% of nondrinkers abstained for reasons associated with health or not liking the taste, and 38% did so because they were recovering alcoholics. But almost all of them, when asked by coworkers why they weren’t drinking, tended to cite their own health.

No one should have to explain why they don’t drink, but until that day comes, here are five health-related excuses, all from the study participants, to forgo that next drink.

1. “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.”

Ken, a 41-year-old man, has to woo big donors for his job at a university. “Sometimes they’re really fired up about getting drunk at a football game or something,” he said. In order to not alienate them, Ken told donors he sheds pounds by not drinking. “I don’t want the first thing that somebody thinks of about me to be that I don’t drink,” he said.

2. “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.”

Most recovering alcoholics surveyed gave a health reason for abstaining—in order to skirt stigma. Marshall, a 41-year-old engineer, wanted a legitimate medical excuse that wouldn’t threaten his reputation, so he blamed his toe fungus medication, which is contraindicated with booze—even though the drug had expired and he’d stopped using it.

3. “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.”

People respect long-term goals and physical challenges, so 43-year-old Donna, a professor, said she didn’t drink because it got in the way of her marathon training. “That goes over really easily,” she said.

4. “Ugh, migraines.”

Instead of revealing that she took anti-anxiety medication and didn’t want to drink alcohol, website designer Maddie, 31, said she took migraine medication. “I’ve spread that lie all over town,” she said.

MONEY Networking

Work the (Office Party) Room

If you're going to the company holiday festivities only for the food and drink, you're squandering a unique networking opportunity.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend at the top of the corporate ladder? Mark your calendar for the office holiday party, your annual chance at cocktail chatter with company brass.

“Take advantage of being in the same room as your CEO or division director,” says Miriam Salpeter, co-author of 100 Conversations for Career Success. Making nice with key executives can help you gain visibility you can leverage later for new projects or even promotions. Use these tricks to make no-stress small talk with the big shots.

Study your prey. Make a list of three execs you’d like to meet, focusing on those with influence to help you ascend. Research each one’s background online.

“Look for commonalities you can use as conversation starters,” says Salpeter. (Maybe you both attended a Big East college, for example.) Ply co-workers for more information. (Does the veep follow basketball?)

Make a calculated approach. The best way in: Ask your supervisor for an introduction. This establishes instant credibility, says Hallie Crawford, a career coach in Atlanta.

Boss not game? Approaching the target one-on-one is ideal but may not be possible. To join a group conversation, “simply ask if you can increase the size of the circle,” says Terri Griffith, a management professor at Santa Clara University. Introduce yourself by making what Diane Windingland, author of Small Talk Big Results, calls a “role pitch”: Sum up in a sentence what you’ve done for the company of late. So rather than “I’m a sales director,” add on “I developed the campaign for our new product line.”

Steer the conversation. Remember, this isn’t a meeting, but a party. “It’s about building relationships, not about making transactions,” says Ivan Misner, chairman of business networking organization BNI. So quickly shift away from shop talk; personal conversation makes for a more memorable connection.

Use your research to formulate an open-ended question like, “Do you think Marquette has a shot this year against Georgetown?”

Exit gracefully. Keep the conversation brief so you don’t monopolize the person’s time. Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommends signaling that the chat is almost over. For example, “I must get another of these canapés, but before I do, I’d love to know which NCAA player you think is the one to watch this year.”

In January — when everyone’s back to business — follow up with an email recapping the meeting and offering a big idea or help on future projects. Says Windingland: “Never miss a chance to solidify a relationship with a decision-maker.”

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