Surviving boozy professional events: A guide for young medical professionals

By Alpana Mohta, MD, DNB, FEADV, FIADVL, IFAAD | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published April 12, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Professional networking events are great for making yourself stand out from the crowd.

  • Young medical graduates or fellows may encounter alcohol at events where their professors, employers, or potential superiors are present. 

  • Simple moderation is the key to drinking at these events. As a rule of thumb, stick to no more than two drinks or half your usual drinking quota (whichever is lower).

Let's start with the obvious: Alcohol is ubiquitous in nearly all social-professional interactions. Young medical professionals may encounter alcohol during departmental mixers, interview dinners, conferences, graduations, and business dinners—where their superiors are also present. 

But don't let that intimidate you! Knowing the unspoken norms for these events can make you appear more polished and put-together.

Mixers and receptions practically have an IV drip of booze. Needless to say, mixing unchecked alcohol and academics is a bad idea. Everyone has heard the stories: professors humiliating themselves in front of their students and fellow faculty while intoxicated, job applicants ruining their chances of being hired by speaking too freely after too many drinks, and graduate students having parties in public fountains.

Why people drink in social situations

Alcohol is perceived as a social lubricant. For some, it helps take the edge off. Others just want to fit in. 

Researchers studied the effects of alcohol on emotion and social bonding among participants who were randomly allocated to one of three beverage groups: moderate alcohol, placebo, or a control beverage.[]

The results, published by Psychological Science, showed that those who were given alcoholic beverages developed better social bonding than those who were given non-alcoholic beverages.

The tension reduction theory states that individuals with social anxiety drink alcohol to reduce stress at social events.[]

But anxiety-induced alcohol consumption can give way to alcohol dependence. 

According to a national study, 15.3% of doctors have reported alcohol intake ratings that were indicative of alcohol abuse or dependence, which is slightly higher than the 12.6% for the general population.[]

In a survey among human resources professionals, 28% said drinking was acceptable at company parties, and 14% said it's never appropriate at work events; only 4% approved of drinking during job interviews.[]

Mastering the art of social drinking

If you are a fresh-faced graduate doctor ready to navigate the murky waters of professional events with alcohol, here are some tips to help you present yourself as a true professional.


The secret ingredient to drinking at these events is simple: moderation. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. The peer pressure to drink during academic and social events might be tantalizing, but as a rule of thumb, it's best to stick to no more than two drinks or half your usual drinking quota (whichever is lower).

Focus on socializing

Mixers are an excellent opportunity to network and get to know your professors and teachers outside the classroom.

Instead of drinking, place your focus on socializing and fostering long-term professional relationships.

Make responsible decisions

At work-related parties, be mindful and remember that you are still representing your institute and profession. Drink less than others around you, and try not to drink more than they do.

Take the party elsewhere

Academic conferences are like the Wild West of academia, where anything goes! If you want to catch up with your grad school buddies over a few pitchers, consider taking the party off-site—to avoid judgment from seniors or teachers.

Read the room

During an interview, you dress to impress, rehearse your answers, and do your research on the institute. Everything you do or say will impact the impression you leave—and alcohol is no exception.

So, to drink or not to drink during an interview dinner? Consider the organization's culture, and follow the lead of the most senior person. But don't go overboard—limit yourself to one drink. Remember, you're in the spotlight and can't let anything distract you from your performance.

A few more pieces of advice: No pre-loading.[] No drinking shots. And if a work function begins to resemble a party, it's probably best to call it a night.

Alcohol-infused gatherings and teetotallers

The fact that you don’t drink should not prevent you from attending cocktail parties, academic conferences, or research group dinners.

You could lose out on networking opportunities and might come across as someone who doesn't value teamwork. 

Even when you have to refuse an alcoholic beverage, do it with poise. There is no need for an explanation or to be judgmental.

Another trick is to hold a glass in your hand. Everyone will typically refrain from giving you something when you already have a glass of a non-alcoholic beverage. 

Still too concerned about standing out? Don't fret it! Just ask for your glass of choice and toss in a lime wedge to spruce up that soft drink that allows you to stay sober at work events. 

Parting thoughts

Being a young graduate, you undoubtedly have a fantastic metabolism and countless opportunities to indulge in social drinking with your friends. It would be a great shame to squander your chances at admission or a research position due to the temptation to drink too much. So, keep your wits about you, and stay on top of your game.

What this means for you

Staying familiar with the unwritten drinking rules at professional events can help you present yourself professionally.

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