Social Minefield: How To Be A Well-Behaved Drunk


Welcome to our new feature in which we tackle the challenges of human interaction. First up, we’ll navigate the tricky waters of how to act when you’re drunk, or the morning after you got wasted in front of everyone.

Since I’ll be meting out social advice in this space for a bit, a word at the outset about my qualifications: I have none. I’m actually kind of awkward in a lot of situations, and I frequently say the wrong thing (like when I told my flu-suffering roommate not to share syringes with anyone — I meant drinks!). But those who are naturally socially adroit don’t need advice, nor do they need to spend a lot of time thinking about what’s appropriate in different situations — they just (I assume) intuitively know. I, however, have had to think a lot about social life over the years, and I’ll share what hard-won wisdom I’ve gleaned — along with the thoughts of my colleagues and potentially outside experts as I see fit.

Now, to drinking! A tough issue, socially. In moderation, it can make you more at ease and more fun to be around. But all it takes is one whiskey too many to turn you (me) into a weird loudmouth who only wants to talk about dinosaur butts. Below, a few tips on what to do if this is you — or if it was you last night, and now it’s the bleary morning after.

Gauge the situation.

Perhaps the most important part of drunk etiquette is choosing whether to get drunk in the first place. Great times to get drunk: dance parties, your birthday, a state fair, any situation that’s kind of awkward but actually requires little input from you (I’d put family funerals in this category, but your mileage may vary). Not so great, obviously, are work functions. Unlike at a dance party, you’re frequently expected to talk, sometimes about complex topics, to people you probably hope to impress. I tend to say dumb things when I’m drunk, and worse, at the time I think they’re smart. If you’re like this, you probably want to keep your drunk self out of the professional sphere. Also un-ideal situations for drunkenness: meeting your ex, calling your ex, calling your parents, meeting your significant other’s parents, and anything that requires a lot of forethought and rationality (a friend’s drunk packing story comes to mind). These are pretty intuitive, even for the maladroit — but if you restrict your drunkenness to drunk-friendly scenarios, you can avoid a lot of grief.

If you spill, perform restitution.

Guest of a Guest’s “Manners Guide For The Twenty-Something New Yorker” suggests “If you spill your drink on someone, offer to buy them a beer! All will be forgiven.” A good call, but I’ll add that if you spill a glass of red wine or something equally stain-y all over someone’s clothes, more than a beer might be required. I once (being a spiller even at my soberest) offered to buy a guy a new shirt when I covered his with Pinot Noir — he declined, but I think it’s still a good idea to offer. Also, if you spill at a party you should obviously clean it up, which leads me to my next point:

Vomit wisely.

If you need to throw up, try to make it to a toilet or at the very least a bush or sidewalk. Do not quietly vomit into a glass of red wine and then leave it on the table for your also-a-little-drunk hostess to find and sip (this actually happened). If you vomit on a bar floor, know you may not be so welcome there for a while. And if you vomit at a friend’s house but are too drunk to clean it up yourself, you definitely need to …


This is a tricky area. Guest of a Guest’s Chiara Atik says “If you get really drunk, always send an apology note/text the next day” — but I think this is too broad. If you were merely an annoying drunk (we’re talking dinosaur-butt level here, not fighting, weeping, or destroying property), there’s really no need for an email. Everybody’s obnoxious from time to time, and sending an apology where not absolutely required is just going to remind everyone of one of your lower moments. Cases when it is absolutely required: vomiting in someone’s house (Jenna suggests that you also take that person out for breakfast, especially if you crashed on their couch); actively insulting someone; the aforementioned fighting or destruction of property; and if you were too drunk to drive home and someone had to step in and prevent you. In the last case, a thank-you is also appropriate — as, indeed, it is if anyone held your hair or listened to you cry or made you drink water and go to bed when all you wanted to do was call your ex.

Drunken hookups, like so many things, are a matter of degrees.

Says Katy,

As for awkward drunken hookups, I think the degree to which you need to address them directly corresponds to the length of the hookup. Just made out? You might be able to ignore it forever. Spent the night together? Probably worth addressing with a phone call.

A well-worded text works as well. Also, don’t assume that what seemed like a ridiculous, never-to-be-repeated experience to you played the same way in your hookup partner’s mind — this is a time for sensitivity. And, if you don’t want to repeat the experience, for clarity. If the other person is way more into it than you, “let’s be friends” is kinder than the dropping-off-the-face-of-the-earth approach.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be addressing more potentially sticky social situations (like birthdays!). But feel free to chime in with your own questions and suggestions for future columns. After all, one woman’s dance party is another’s social minefield — and I am now your mine-sniffing dolphin.

Image via Dmitriy Shironosov/

A Manners Guide For The Twenty-Something New Yorker [Guest of a Guest]

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