Cocktails & Contracts: Do they Mix?
By Chelse Benham
“Throw moderation to the winds, and the greatest pleasures bring the greatest
pains.” - Democritus, (460-370 B.C.) best known for his atomic theory
A circa 1116 B.C. Chinese imperial edict claimed that the use of alcohol in
moderation was required by heaven. Three thousand years later alcohol is still
the drug of choice. Social drinking is the number one acceptable drug of choice
among Americans and it is the most commonly used and widely abused
psychoactive drug in the country according to the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism.
“U.S. business culture uses alcohol to promote business connections. Alcohol
loosens you up and it can help you establish an initial relationship with someone
you might otherwise have difficultly talking to,” said Miguel Lopez, program
coordinator for The University of Texas-Pan American’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Program. “Alcohol helps create a sense of belonging in a group, but this can also
create a false sense of security. People lean on alcohol when they have less
confidence in their social skills. They turn to ‘liquid power’ to be the type of
person they may want to be, but don’t feel they are. This artificial sense of
empowerment created by alcohol can have someone making alcohol their social
process and not simply a part of the social process. This leads to abuse. The
purpose of alcohol is as a facilitator in the socializing process where parameters
and self-discipline restrict abuse and allow for a relaxing environment and
Dr. Dwight B. Heath, professor of Anthropology at Brown University and the
author of “Drinking Occasions: Comparative perspectives on Alcohol and
Culture” found on The New England Journal of Medicine Web site at
content.nejm.org, provides a quick history for the prevailing attitudes of alcohol
drinking in America.
According to Heath, “Americans have a long history of ambivalence about the
role of alcohol in their society. This vacillation turned to mayhem in 1919, when
the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (later repealed) introduced Prohibition,
which banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol nationwide. Today in the
United States, a person legally becomes an adult at the age of 18: he or she
becomes a citizen who can vote, serve in the military, sign a contract, marry, buy
a gun, or buy a pack of cigarettes, but who cannot buy a beer or a glass of wine.”
While it is restricted and prohibitive for minors to partake in the drinking of
alcohol, the business environment all but pours it down the throats of
professionals in social settings.
CNN.com reported on Thursday, January 15, 2004 in its article “Drink Greases
Global Business Bonds” that many professionals use alcohol to ease into
business conversation and transaction. One CEO puts it succinctly.
"There is tremendous pressure to indulge in alcohol on business-social
occasions," said Fred Knapp, president and CEO of Frederick Knapp Associates
Inc., New York-based providers of corporate leader development seminars. "It is
a factor in building business relationships, or bonding."
Knapp suggests that those who do not consume alcoholic beverages should
have something that looks like one, or order a glass of wine and let it sit on the
"At least be gracious to the point of ordering as part of the relationship-building
process." Knapp said in the CNN article.
Why is there so much pressure on alcohol consumption in a business setting?
Michael Judge, reporter for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com) Web site, sums it
“Drinkers mind if one among them is not drinking. Like death, drink is a great
leveler. Sobriety immediately introduces a hierarchy. So that your attitude may be
adjusted to fall in line with theirs, sometimes other people all but require you to
drink,” Judge writes.
But if you are determined not to, how can you maintain your social acceptability
without coming across as smugly sober? How can you avoid being bullied into
having "just one?”
“By saying ‘no’ to drinking alcohol in a social setting you’re not participating so
you’re an individual and not part of the crowd. This can make the people around
you self-conscious and they may apply pressure on you to drink. It takes
someone who is well centered with themselves to say ‘no’ against social
pressures,” Lopez said. “The time and place may not feel right and therefore you
may not want to drink. There are many reasons why a person may not want to
drink such as religious reasons, being a recovering alcoholic, taking a medication
that reacts to alcohol, being a designated driver or simply not liking to drink.”
At www.quintcareers.com “Job-Hunting Etiquette Quiz” gives definitive advice
for interviewees during an on-site interview. The site clearly advises that “it is not
okay to order a cocktail before the meal or wine with your meal even when
everyone else is drinking. Don’t ever display any bad habits while on an
interview. Avoid all alcoholic beverages while interviewing. And most experts say
you should avoid smoking as well.”
Business etiquette is important and sometimes there are situations where you
may want to drink. A lot of organizations have after hour functions where drinking
is acceptable and encouraged. Little things like limiting yourself to only two
drinks, or holding your drink in your left hand so that your right is not cold and wet
when you are introduced to someone, are helpful tips when maneuvering through
an event. If you choose to drink there are some things you can do to avoid
The National Business Review at www.nbr.co.nz, suggests that when attending
functions where alcohol is served, try to slow the rate at which alcohol will be
absorbed into the body. NBR offers some tips for handling alcohol and the
possible hangover it can create the morning afterwards. The site suggests the
1. Whenever possible eat at the same time as drinking. Protein and fat will
take longer to digest than alcohol and sugar, so combining the two will
slow down alcohol absorption.
2. Drink two glasses of water for every alcoholic drink. This prevents
dehydration from setting in and extends the length of time between
3. Remember that office or business related events are just that an extension
of work. You will be seen and evaluated upon by the behavior you display,
therefore it is wise to be conservative and use self-discipline when
4. Mingle and socialize. Engage in conversation and divert your attention to
other things so that you can limit the speed of drinking and the desire of
refilling your cocktail.
5. Try taking 1000mg of vitamin C before your first drink. Research from the
Linus Pauling Institute found that when guinea pigs (who are similar to
humans in their inability to synthesize their own vitamin C) were given
large doses they experienced accelerated alcohol metabolism and
improved liver function.
6. After a night of too much alcohol, try to stay awake as long as possible,
rather than crashing into bed. While awake, the body is able to metabolize
and break down alcohol more effectively than during sleep, when
metabolism slows significantly. Taking a high-potency B complex tablet
will speed breakdown of alcoholic byproducts.
7. A strong shot of caffeine-rich black coffee may seem appealing, but this is
one time to resist the caffeine fix. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and may
help dull the head pounding, but it is also a potent diuretic and will add to
the already problematic dehydration that is causing your head to ache.
8. Having a liquid breakfast may help speed recovery. Try a smoothie made
from orange and pineapple juice, a whole kiwifruit, a tablespoon of
brewer's yeast and a teaspoon of honey. Packed with B and C vitamins,
this mixture will speed the breakdown of alcohol and support excretion of
9. Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine advocates hangovers be treated
with a glass of water containing a teaspoon of lime juice, a half- teaspoon
of sugar, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda.
10. Drink a cocktail of water, lemon juice and a drop of fennel essential oil
before breakfast to help with a hangover. However, the easiest way to
handle your alcohol is to exercise a little self-control and avoid a hangover
in the first place.
There is a place for alcohol in society, but alcohol’s presence at business and
social settings can lead to unacceptable behavior if too much is imbibed. It
comes down to self-control and responsible behavior.
If you do not know or are not aware of the amount of alcohol you can handle it is
best not to test your tolerance in an environment where your actions are
scrutinized and evaluated. Play it safe with a plan of action. Make the decision to
drink or not to drink and how much to drink before arriving at the venue. Stay true
to yourself and your plans and keep everything in moderation.
“Moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is always a
vice.” - Thomas Paine, (1737-1809) American politician and author of the famous
pamphlet “Common Sense”