At the end of a 10-hour work day, your feet are aching, your mind is numb and all you want to do is crawl into bed for a few blissful hours of sleep. Unfortunately, you promised your friend that you’d stop by her Boss’ fundraiser before heading home. So, twenty minutes later, you’re standing in a spartan hotel ballroom drinking a weak Bourbon Ginger discussing legislative policy with an out-of-town donor who wants to know all about small business loans for widget and gizmo makers.
So you decide to soften the pain with another cocktail, and another, and another. Before you know it, you’re pouring your drunk ass into bed at 2:30AM wishing that you hadn’t scheduled that breakfast meeting, and hoping that a massive overnight snowstorm shuts down the government. Hey, it’s happened before.
In many professional environments, networking at social functions and happy hours is common place. On any given night, the bars in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and D.C. are packed with young professionals who lubricate their boring and tedious business interactions with my good friends Jack, Johnny and Jose. Unfortunately, a stressful work day, a bit too much “relaxing” and an early wakeup call can lead to a very unprofessional morning after if you’re not careful.
Who amongst us hasn’t boarded the Metro only to be seated next to a man in a rumpled suit who smells like bourbon and Bud? Or walked into the office to find that one of the junior staffers has come to work with greasy, unwashed hair and that too-much-vodka pallor? Hangovers happen to the best of us, but they can be avoided, or at the very least, concealed.
Fake it til you make it. The easiest way to avoid a hangover is to consume alcohol responsibly. Before I came to work on the Hill, I barely drank, but making it through a three-hour reception without a cocktail not only made the monotony difficult to bear, it made the other attendees downright annoyed. You see, most people aren’t comfortable drinking in a professional setting unless everyone is drinking. If you’re the girl without a drink in her hand, you’ll spend the whole night explaining that you’re not drinking, justifying why you’re not drinking or being looked at with suspicion by the people who are drinking.
So I started having a drink or two, or at least I learned how to make it appear that way.
Here’s how the deception works: You order a vodka-soda with lime. When you finish your real cocktail, you return to the bar for a soda with lime, sans alcohol. Everyone assumes that you have a cocktail because it’s in an old-fashioned glass and comes complete with the cocktail accoutrements (lime wedge/tiny straw), but you’re not. No questions, no justifications, no suspicion.
To pull this off, you have to make sure that either the waitress knows the scheme or you’re getting your own drinks. Sometimes an overly generous co-worker will return to the table with a real vodka soda, but at worst, this means you had two drinks last night, which is totally doable.
Other good fake drinks? Cranberry juice and 7-Up, ginger ale in a champagne glass (only works if they’re serving champagne), and any dark colored soda. Just remember the lime wedge and the tiny straw.
Steer Clear. You can also stay within your limits by rotating cocktails and water. This helps you stay hydrated and sober, but admittedly, this is easier at a bar or restaurant than it is at a reception where you’re not seated.
Also, avoid sugary drinks like the plague. This means no wine, no champagne, nothing involve syrupy liqueurs, and for the love of God, nothing that requires muddling or blending. Sugar only makes the hangover that much worse, and do you really want to drink that many calories, anyway? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Know Your Limit. This should go without saying, but I’ve been to enough post-work events to know that it bears repeating: Do not be the drunk chick at the office happy hour. Even if you’re the pillar of sobriety 9 to 5, one tipsy, stumbling night out is enough to label you for life.
My grad school classmate got the nickname ‘Rita (as in Margarita) after too many drinks at Tortilla Coast caused her to vomit on a co-worker’s shoes. It happened one time, four years ago, and the people at her old job still greet her with, “Hey, Rita!” It’s her legacy.
So set a limit (I recommend one drink for every hour you’re out, up to three hours, at the most) and stick to it. And if you have self-control issues, use the buddy system. Decide what time you and your friend are leaving, and then don’t leave the bar without your buddy.
Never Surrender. If you do have too much to drink, you don’t want to show up to work looking (or smelling) like you had too much to drink. Here’s how to avoid stumbling into the office like Otis the town drunk after a night in the Mayberry jail.
- For the love of all things holy, shower. A nice, hot shower will wake you up and rinse the filth of the night before off of your aching body. I would rather have an employee who is 10 minutes late and smells like a fresh bar of Dial soap than one who is on time, reeking of gin and juice. And ladies, if you’re not going to wash our hair, at least dry shampoo the roots. Your glistening hairline and stringy ponytail are dead hangover giveaways. Basic hygiene is a hangover necessity, so don’t gloss over it simply because you feel gross.
- Compensate. Feel like crap? Dress nicer. When I feel awful, I put on my best outfit. This way, I know that even though I feel like a disheveled ogre on the inside, I look like a sparkly, young professional on the outside. It helps.
- Let your makeup bag help you. To hide a hangover you will need undereye concealer, pink blush for the apples of your cheeks, mascara (lots of mascara), highlighting powder and perfume. Lighten and brighten your complexion like your life depends on it. Oh, and exfoliating with your Clarisonic can scrub off even a mojito hangover.
- Never tell anyone you’re hungover. Ever. This is no one’s business, so keep your feelings to yourself.
- Don’t think the coffee alone will fix it. If you’re hungover, you need water, electrolytes and food. I recommend a glass of water, an Emergen-C, and an egg sandwich. If you try to push through on just coffee until noon, you’re going to be one miserable cookie by lunchtime.
- Hiding your hangover is all about productivity. It’s the easiest thing in the world to let a hangover slow you down, but in a busy office, that’s not an option. So look at your to do list, pick out the three easiest tasks you can accomplish (a memo, phone call, etc.), and do those first. Finishing a couple of items will make you feel better and help ease you into your work day.
Sometimes a couple of cocktails on a Wednesday night is just what you need to get you through your hectic work week and make those rubber chicken dinners more palatable, but if you must drink, drink like a professional. And if you do over-indulge and end up with a bit of a hangover, don’t let it get the best of you.
Stroll into work smelling fresh as a daisy, wearing your best dress and a freshly applied coat of spackle. Your co-workers will wonder how you managed to take that sixth shot of tequila and not wind up looking like Lindsay Lohan on a bender, and your Boss will never know that you stumbled home after midnight barely able to remember where you live.