How to handle a drunk co-worker at an office party


A drunken co-worker can ruin an office party, to say nothing of a career. How to tactfully handle a colleague or friend who's had too much before it gets completely out of hand? Sarah Ivens has the answers to this touchy subject.

How to handle a drunk co-worker at an office party
  • Don't encourage behavior that could lead a coworker to get drunk. Don't challenge someone to shots.
  • Be a good friend to them even if they aren't a friend. Put yourself in their position: you would feel awful the next day if you were the drunk coworker who did cartwheels in a dress in front of the boss.
  • Try to get her out of the main party scene, go to the ladies’ room, even if you have to say, “come with me, I need to talk to you.” Or, pretend you need a cigarette break outside. Anything to get the person out of the party.
  • Suggest water, coffee, fresh air, and mint gum (because the taste makes you not want a drink for a while).
  • Dancing is also good because you can sweat off some of that alcohol.
  • By helping to take care of the drunk coworker, you may come across as a hero, since other people have probably noticed the drunken behavior.
  • To avoid becoming that person yourself, the key is to have a glass of water for every glass of wine or liquor. Remember to eat; don’t drink on an empty stomach.
  • Don’t get stuck at the office party with the drunk person all night. Do the best you can to help her but know that it’s not your job to be a martyr all night.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for What do you do if a colleague of yours at work is drunk at an office party? Oh, what an embarrassment! Not just for him but for you. To help us navigate this, Sarah Ivens from O.K., America! Hi, Sarah.


LISA: What do you do if your friend or colleague is drunk?

SARAH: Don't challenge them to a Jägermeister shot. That's what you don't do.
You try and act like a good friend, even if they're not a good friend, they're just a colleague who's just started or whatever. You try and sort them out because — put yourself in their position — you would feel awful the next day. If you'd cartwheeled with your skirt around your neck in front of your boss or whatever — and I have actually seen this happen at work parties. It wasn't me, I swear it. And it is horrible. You have to try and sort them out. The first thing you can do is have a quiet word with them, and really. But don't say, "You're a drunken disgrace, you tart, leave the room." You don't do that. Just go, "Come on, calm it down. Should we get you a coffee, water?" You know, try.

LISA: That's code.

SARAH: Yes, push the caffeine.

LISA: The caffeine.

SARAH: Push the drinks towards them. You know, a pint of water is the best thing if you just get them to start downing that, if you know what I mean. And then another thing you can do is take them outside and pretend that you need a cigarette break or something, pretend that you want to talk to them about the hot guy from the office. Do anything you can to get them outside. Some fresh air, away from the bar, is always good.

LISA: Now, if you do that, you're not only a good friend, you’re sacrificing some vital face time at the office party that you might need.

SARAH: Well, you’re kind of sacrificing yourself, but you're also now the hero. Because if you've noticed it, other people have noticed it. What a good friend, taking her outside and sorting it out. You know what I mean?

LISA: Yes.

SARAH: So you are getting a few brownie points there with everyone. You know, saving them from being vomited on perhaps at a later stage. That's good for you.

LISA: Yes.

SARAH: So if you can't get them outside, take them to the restroom. That is almost easier because you know they won't feel so much like they are being thrown out into the cold.

LISA: And as many people won’t see them. Because you need to do it in private.

SARAH: Exactly.

LISA: So they're not more embarrassed.

SARAH: Exactly. Exactly. Pretend that you need to go, "Oh can you come with me, I've got something to tell you." Or, you know, go to the restroom. At that stage, if you can get them to splash their face with water, brilliant. If you can get them to chew a chewing gum, that's amazing, that works. That's my trick. Always keep chewing gum with you because it really sorts you out. And then it will also, the minty flavor, will put them off from having a drink for a while. You see.

LISA: Yes.

SARAH: So you see, so it all adds up.

LISA: Clever.

SARAH: So try and do that for a bit. Subtle things, fresh air, chewing gum, glass of water. Try and sort that out first. They'll be grateful.

LISA: And is the goal to get them back into the party?

SARAH: Well, I mean it would be ideal if you could shove them into a taxi; but they don't want to go because they're having fun. They're drunk; they think they look fabulous.

LISA: They think they are clever!

SARAH:“Umbrella” is about to be played and they are going to look hot on that dance floor! But you know, this is what their aim is. So try and sober them up a bit. Remove them from the drinking situation or, I mean you know, a great way of getting them out of the drinking mode is to make them dance. I mean, how many times have you been at yourself for putting the glass of wine away and suddenly the music gets good, ’80’s flashback or something, and you're off. You know, for the next two hours you're dancing, sweating out the alcohol. Not even thinking about the next margarita. So that's also good. If they're at a stage where you can save them without their falling over. Take them onto the dance floor after you have taken them for a bit of fresh air or to the restroom or whatever. But, I don't know, some people can't be saved. But at that point, it is kind of nice to put them in a taxi; it really is. I mean, what else is there to do with them? If they are at the point where they are sort of slurring or making inappropriate comments to the boss, you just need to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

LISA: Is there, in your opinion, is there a rule of thumb how many drinks is the maximum you should have at an office party?

SARAH: Not really, because everyone's different you know, different sizes, different abilities. I can put two margaritas away with no problem and still stand up, but some people can't. So you know, it all depends on how much you have eaten beforehand and things like that. But the general rule I like to live by is for every cocktail or every glass of wine, have a glass of water as well and that really does help. It really really does help. And keep the canapés coming, keep them coming, keep eating. That's the best thing to do as well.

LISA: So you can have a good time, not be a martyr and also be a hero?

SARAH: Yes, absolutely. And you know, if they won't go home and you've tried everything and you've spent a half an hour of your time trying to sort them out, tried to get them into a taxi and they won't go, then remove yourself from the situation. Because then you can't help them and you don't want to be the one that is then somehow forced to hold them up for the rest of the night and sort of get into doing you know, YMCA with them. You don't really want to do that. So at a certain point you've done your bit. You've helped them; if they're not having any of it, move away. Or maybe you should leave, because how much fun have you had after doing that?

LISA: Yeah, I haven't had a good time.


LISA: Except I have with you. Thank you, Sarah. For howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Sarah Ivens

    Sarah Ivens Author and Former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine Sarah Ivens, author and former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine, is a born and bred Londoner who moved to New York to launch OK! Weekly Magazine in April 2005. more about this expert »