After-work drinks could lead to no more work

When I was in academia, my department's Christmas parties were an annual festival of drinking, dancing and fun. There was the feminist theorist whose flailing elbows and knees made her a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor, the conservative lit professor who would hit the grad students up for weed, the Irish poetry guy who would pour alcohol down everybody's throat, and the linguistics specialist who hit on anything with a double X chromosome. All in all, the yearly debauch was a time to let the hair down, embarrass oneself, and store up ammo for a year's worth of gossip. In short, it was a blast.

On the other hand, all the people that I just mentioned were tenured, so was damn near impossible to fire them. The rest of us had to content ourselves with moderate drunkenness and, even in the deepest pits of our alcoholic haze, had to keep one eye on the department pecking order, being sure not to insult the wrong person or let the barbs show too much in our jokes. It was an intricate dancing game: if you didn't drink enough, you were branded boring and condescending. If you drank too much, well, let's just say that there's such a thing as being too fun.

In light of the department Bacchanalias of years past, I was very interested when I came across CareerBuilder's latest drinking survey. It sounds like my department isn't the only working group that gets down. On the other hand, it also sounds like they aren't the only ones who live to regret it.
According to the survey, 20% of workers enjoy a happy hour with their co-workers at least once a month. Of that number, 82% drink socially out of a desire to bond with co-workers, 20% do it to network, 15% do it to pick up office gossip, 13% feel obligated to go, and 11% are trying to suck up to the boss.

These are all worthwhile reasons to drink with the rest of the people in the office. After all, even picking up gossip can prove useful when it comes to navigating the rocky shoals of office politics. The danger is that, in the process of drinking, many revelers skirt a little too close to the edge of drunkenness, displaying behavior that will come back to haunt them. Of the 20% who went to happy hour, 16% admitted to talking negatively or inappropriately about a co-worker, 10% let a co-worker's secret slip out, 8% kissed a co-worker, 8% admitted to drinking too much and acting "unprofessionally," and 5% let a company secret slip out.

It doesn't really need to be said that social drinking with one's co-workers carries a risk; this topic has been endlessly rehashed on hundreds of sites. What might bear repetition, however, is some key strategies for keeping your booze (and your actions) under control:

First off, eat something. If you can't eat before drinking, as CareerBuilder suggests, pull up a bowl of peanuts, order a sandwich, or snag a plate of french fries. Although I'm sure that someone will dispute this, I've generally found that starchy foods can do wonders when it comes to soaking up alcohol. In addition to protecting you from your own excess, eating can also ensure that the evening lasts a little longer. After all, nobody wants to be poured into a cab a half hour after the festivities begin!

Second, drink water. Not only will water consumption help minimize the hangover you're developing, but it will also help keep you from getting dehydrated while drinking. In other words, water can be your friend when it comes to keeping a clear head. When I'm working on staying somewhat socially acceptable, I try to average 8 ounce of water to each serving of alcohol.

Third, plan ahead. CareerBuilder suggests that you carefully avoid getting into competitive drinking. While I certainly agree that this is a capital plan, I also know that one can sometimes get suckered into iffy behavior. With that in mind, if you plan on consuming mass quantities of alcohol, use the old Irish bar trick: drink light beer. On the other hand, if you absolutely must drink Guinness or a single-malt scotch, repeat these key words after me: "I'm savoring the flavor. This isn't a guzzling whiskey." It helps if you can look down your nose while you're saying this.

CareerBuilder suggests other techniques, such as carefully choosing your bar and setting limits on your behavior. While these are outstanding ideas, I've found that the three strategies outlined above are usually enough to ensure that you will come out of your office boozefest relatively unscathed. Let the games begin!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Through careful planning and clever misdirection, he managed to avoid waking up next to any of his professors. Heed his words
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