Feel need to drink before work interviews - what do I do?
September 21, 2018 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Severe generalized + social anxiety suffering individual here. I work online, and am I am currently doing a job where I have absolutely zero face-to-face interaction; it's all online. I just negotiated a pay raise which went smoothly - but it happened while I was inebriated, as I have been told multiple times in the past "You are better/more personable when drunk." The thing is, these comments seem to be spot-on since I have a stellar track record of acing interviews/etc. after downing a few beers, vs. my sober self who clams up whenever the pressure is on. What do I do?

I recognize that what I am doing is not healthy or sustainable - it's just so easy considering the fact that it's all online and they can't smell my breath/etc. Plus I do a fine job while sober so long as the stakes aren't so high (I don't drink outside of interview-type situations)

And it's worked. I have never failed a phone when I'm tipsy or inebriated - I am apparently a great (moderately) drunk person, and even often have people laughing and wanting to work with me. Heck, even I tend to have a good time during many of the interviews. Whereas I have had several disastrous sober interviews in which I was extremely nervous and clammed up to the point where I bungled the entire thing. I have ever had any issues in terms of my alcohol intake sabotaging my work performance.

So... how do I proceed? How do I engage in high-pressure situations when I know - again, based on experience - that I have a much higher chance of landing a gig if I have had a few drinks beforehand? Please keep in mind that I am exclusively working through the internet and have little risk of getting called out due to beer breath, or anything else related to alcohol.

Hoping to get some ideas as to how to proceed from here. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to a doctor. There are a lot of medications available for performance anxiety that you could take instead (propranolol is one).
posted by veery at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2018 [15 favorites]

Therapy sounds smart. If you really needed medication, a tranquilizer might be better than alcohol (might- it might be something that you can overcome without medication).
posted by pinochiette at 3:41 PM on September 21, 2018

a "tranquilizer" is gonna be xanax or ativan or some such benzodiazipene which affects the same neurological systems as alcohol so really not much difference unless you prefer to pop pills? I don't think they'll give you thorazine for a job interview. They don't prescribe quaaludes anymore.
posted by some loser at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

How do I engage in high-pressure situations when I know - again, based on experience - that I have a much higher chance of landing a gig if I have had a few drinks beforehand?

Well, if you are serious about fixing this issue you have to reframe it. An example.

"My anxiety is such that the only way I tell myself I can do the hard parts of my job is by self-medicating with alcohol. I don't want to do this anymore so I have to find other ways of managing my anxiety. I am nervous that I am making up stories to stay dependent on alcohol to keep my job which I otherwise like"

You seem to be making a case for and looking for permission for continuing to drink. I'm not sure why "Go to the doctor" isn't part of your game plan already since you seem to understand that

1. you suffer from severe anxiety, and
2. anxiety is causing you to drink
posted by jessamyn at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2018 [32 favorites]

You sound guilty. I don't know that it's a bad thing, I mean, sure, you could go to therapy, but throughout history people have done things. You're not working under these conditions, and a little fortifying could be Xanax or any other number of things that people take to relax themselves. As long as you're coherent, I don't really see a problem with this. I mean, the afternoon tea and a gin and tonic and all that. Or a brandy in the morning coffee. As long as you're not using it while working, who gives a flying fuck?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:47 PM on September 21, 2018 [25 favorites]

Seconding (on preview: thirding) finding a therapist (Metafilter default, I know). I won't go into the various types of therapy and how to find a good therapist, since it's been said so many times before. It's possible that your past experience with bungling interviews while sober has you convinced you can only do it while tipsy, causing a feedback loop of further anxiety when sober (leading to worse outcomes, and further "evidence" that you can't do it sober...)

Also seconding talking to a doctor. You can discuss meds to use on an as-needed basis. Benzos are frequently prescribed, which I'm not a fan of because they make me feel drunk more than alcohol does (forgetful, sloppy, and likely to abuse it more than alcohol), but YMMV. There are plenty of other options (like propranolol, as veery mentioned).

If your anxiety is causing problems outside these isolated circumstances, you might want to discuss ongoing medication, such as SSRIs. These never did anything for me, but oddly enough lamictal (which I went on for other reasons) alleviated 99% of my anxiety. This is merely anecdotal - the point is just that you can work with your doctor to figure out what works for you.

Another cliche - meditation. There's a reason it's so frequently recommended though.

Offbeat (and perhaps ill-advised) suggestion: What used to work for me was telling myself that I didn't really care about the outcomes of high-stress situations. Job interview? I tricked myself into thinking I didn't really want the job, I just valued the opportunity to practice my interview skills. This allowed me to focus on the process. Even if I didn't get the job it wasn't a "failure".

Another offbeat suggestion: drink tea, if you're not caffeine-sensitive. Black tea's always made me feel calmer and even sleepy (apparently thanks to the theanine in it). This effect is probably reinforced by the fact that I now expect it to make me calmer. You might be able to build up an association with a non-alcoholic beverage that puts you in the mindset of being relaxed and personable.

Clearly you're capable of acing these interviews. Alcohol doesn't magically make you into a different, more capable person, even if prior experience makes you think you can't be the same person sober. Work with a therapist and a doctor to overcome this.
posted by ersatzhuman at 3:50 PM on September 21, 2018

You seem concerned about this, which is reasonable - you haven't had any problems with your interview performance while drinking yet, but if it happens once, you can't unring that bell.

Therapy and a doctor are good ideas. You can also try interviewing for jobs now, while it's low stakes, to test out other coping strategies so you'll have them on hand next time you need them.
posted by momus_window at 3:54 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do suspect that if you go the medication-and-therapy route, a provider will be hesitant to prescribe benzos or any other form of as-needed anxiety med if you mention the drinking-before-interviews thing. Addressing your anxiety is a great idea, but if you are going to need a short-term tool for interviews, be aware of that, because non-benzo forms of anxiety management, like therapy or SSRIs and similar, will often take weeks, months, or more to work. (They may be willing to prescribe you propranolol/beta blockers, though, since they are not considered an addiction risk in the same way even though they work quickly on an as-needed basis.)
posted by halation at 4:07 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I smoke weed literally all day while I work (at home) and am a very high performer. When I am not smoking, I am a monster. I have witnesses who prefer me medicated. I don't encourage alcohol since it's bad for your liver and for driving, but if your only problem is the occasional interview is better with a beer or two, I don't think this is a problem. You can take my opinion with whatever grain of salt my first sentence requires. ;-)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:45 PM on September 21, 2018 [11 favorites]

I very much get where you are coming from and I have similar issues. I keep a prescription of klonopin for occasions when anxiety might get the best of me and I have been known to pop a half of a pill before interviews and it works like a charm. I use it very sparingly over long stretches of time (a prescription usually lasts me a year or two as I have other modes of dealing with my anxiety but keep pills around when those methods fail) and have done so for years and have never had any dependency issues.
posted by greta simone at 4:48 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

The reason I suggested a benzo as a possible substitute for alcohol is just that I don't think it's appropriate to drink at work, including interviews (and excluding events where drinking is sanctioned, obviously). I realize no one is likely to ever know, and on a chemical level, it doesn't matter. But I don't think an employer would be happy to know you're a little drunk, whereas a prescription drug is different. I like the idea of starting a relationship with an employer from a point of honesty. (Again, I realize no one is ever likely to know. Just my opinion).

I do know people without social anxiety who have had a drink before a job interview, but it sounds like you're concerned about your anxiety at a bigger level, which is why it makes sense to do something more about it than just a temporary solution for job interviews. Good luck!
posted by pinochiette at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2018

Nthing doc and/or therapy.

Another thing you might do determine the factors that contribute to the stress, then practice coping with that stress in low-stakes settings. Like if talking on the phone makes you nervous, call your best friend a few times. Then call your favorite aunt, then an old friend you haven't talked to in a while - gradually increasing the stress. Build up to calling someone you don't know very well or volunteering for an organization that needs folks to make phone calls.

As someone who has intense anxiety around any kind of performing or presentation in front of other people - including phone interviews - this has worked for me: repeating the thing I'm afraid of again and again in settings where my job/future/promotion is *not* on the line.

Side bar: I've had alcohol and I've also had klonopin. For me there is definitely a difference. I don't get buzzed on klonopin and I don't get any of the after-effects that I do with alcohol (even a single glass). On rare occasions I take a very low dose which helps my anxiety but allows me to remain clear-headed. The effect that alcohol has on me is a lot harsher and a lot more difficult for me to handle.
posted by bunderful at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

It does not seem objectively obvious to me that this is ‘unsustainable’. Drinking two beers before important online discussions that want to be relaxed personalble for seems like something a person could do for a whole career, provided it’s not super frequent, and they are not otherwise dependent upon alcohol for daily functioning (that’s called alcoholism).
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2018 [11 favorites]

I've known three people for whom alcohol was more effective as an occasional, short-term anxiety management tool than benzos, and around half a dozen people for whom benzos work far better than booze. If you haven't tried anything but beer, maybe look into non-chemical tools like DBT or EMDR or meditation, while looking into the mental health care options accessible to you. You might also try medicating with alcohol at a precise dose in a format you don't use recreationally, as that helps some folks separate their anti-panic drinking from their social/fun drinking.

Do not mix benzodiazepines and alcohol under any circumstances, as this can sedate you to death, and also consequently almost no doctors will prescribe benzos to somebody who has ever done this thing.
posted by bagel at 6:03 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Anxiety can shut people down so they don't represent what they're really like in normal situations. There's nothing wrong with compensating for that in a responsible way and you don't sound like an alcoholic or addict.

Benzos or beta blockers have at least one advantage over alcohol and that is there's no smell.

(On edit: sorry, you said these interviews are not face to face)
posted by duoshao at 7:21 PM on September 21, 2018

You say you don’t drink outside of interview-type situations, so it kinda sounds like alcohol use isn’t a problem for you.

I once had a psychiatrist (an intern, but still) tell me (someone who also rarely drinks) when we discussed the possibility of benzos for limited specific social anxiety situations that alcohol basically does the same thing anyway. (We had also tried a variety of other psych meds by that point.)

I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek help for your anxiety - that would seem wise either way - but I wouldn’t be super worried about this particular use.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:33 PM on September 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

if this works for you and you're not driving to these interviews then I truly don't see the problem. You're super lucky that something as simple and accessible as a couple of beers works to reduce your anxiety without impairing your cognition.

It sounds to me like you've heard that "needing alcohol to function" means alcoholism, and that's true, but it refers to "needing alcohol to get through the day," not "needing a couple drinks to get through specific anxiety-provoking situations" which is entirely normal and sustainable and innocuous.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:43 PM on September 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

You said you have severe generalized and social anxiety; even if you are only self-medicating before interviews, it sounds like anxiety is an issue that has a substantial effect on your life outside of work too. I would strongly suggest talking to a doctor about starting medication and/or therapy for your anxiety. I refused to believe I had any kind of problem with anxiety for many years and when I finally started an antidepressant (also acts as an anti-anxiety medication), my life got so much easier. Best of luck to you.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I agree with others that seeking advice from a doctor is a great step. One reason is that situations causing you anxiety may not always be these online interactions. There may come a time when you start needing some in person coping skills and/or medication.
posted by JenMarie at 8:53 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

It does not seem objectively obvious to me that this is ‘unsustainable’. Drinking two beers before important online discussions that want to be relaxed personalble for seems like something a person could do for a whole career, provided it’s not super frequent,

I don't want to imply that this is inevitable, but people who have to drink to cope with one anxiety aren't exactly unlikely to find themselves resorting to this soothing technique in the face of other serious anxieties. It's a warning signal that OP is not managing his anxieties well. OP's life would probably be improved if OP could do so.
posted by praemunire at 9:57 PM on September 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

a "tranquilizer" is gonna be xanax or ativan or some such benzodiazipene which affects the same neurological systems as alcohol so really not much difference unless you prefer to pop pills?

Lyrica/pregabalin has similar effects as benzos on anxiety with far fewer side effects.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:37 PM on September 21, 2018

posted by aramaic at 7:52 AM on September 22, 2018

Just anecdota, no advice or judgement:

So, I'm like you except I've tried therapy (lots), traditional medication(lots), alternative medicine (lots), THC, CBD, woo... none of it works as well as alcohol for me in terms of easing my anxiety. The closest/best has been a mix of benzodiazepine and beta blockers.
posted by sm1tten at 9:05 AM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a recovering alcoholic who takes anti-anxiety medication and has an amazing psychiatrist. I don't really see a problem with this. Why trade the (self) medication that works for the socially acceptable medication that may not?
posted by Ruki at 1:59 PM on September 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you're not a big drinker, I don't think there's any need to pathologize this. I definitely don't see how taking a pill is any more of a legitimate solution. I mean, sure, go to therapy if you want and maybe it can help with some aspects of your anxiety. But seeing yourself as diseased doesn't sound proportional based on what you're describing.

Also, even as a total non-drinker and alcohol/intoxication-hater, I am shocked that anyone would suggest that xanax and its whole class (with its very addictive properties, severe withdrawal issues, and side effects) is a better choice than a couple of beers. That is madness.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:06 PM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recognize that what I am doing is not healthy or sustainable - it's just so easy considering the fact that it's all online and they can't smell my breath/etc. Plus I do a fine job while sober so long as the stakes aren't so high (I don't drink outside of interview-type situations)

Eh. I’m not sure I see the problem here.

I mean, it would be great to treat the general disorder and there are some pharmaceuticals that come without the risk of developing an addiction, but self-medication seems to be working just fine for you.

In your shoes I would keep an eye on how often I am actually drinking and if there was a bad trend I would talk to a psychiatrist and get something less risky prescribed. Otherwise a drug is a drug and if you’ve got one that does the trick there’s no reason to change.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:06 AM on September 23, 2018

If it's just for interviews, I don't see a problem. If it becomes a daily thing, where you're drinking all day at work because it makes you function better, that can gradually develop into a serious problem, omho.

I used to use alcohol to self medicate my anxiety. There were days as a young adult when I had drank a significant amount of liquor before work, and my boss/professor asked me to stay after to speak with them. I was worried that my drinking was apparent and I was in trouble, but these meetings were always the times I was praised or promoted. I think many people don't comprehend that some individuals actually *do* function better with their drug of choice, at least initially. But I was drinking (moderately) all day, and often heavily at night, and around 10 years into this pattern it became evident that the colatteral damage had slowly crept up, and alcohol was causing me more harm than good.
I'm not suggesting that the same thing will happen to you just because it happened to me: we are not the same person. But I wish more people were aware that drug/alcohol use makes some people *more* functional (atbleast initially), that this improvement in functionality isn't just in the drinker's mind (as evidenced by favorable reviews from supervisors), but that functionality-increasing drug/alcohol use *can* still lead to problems down the road.

I stopped drinking altogether for a while, got a xanax Rx, and have used that ~3x/week for the last 10 years without complication. Xanax works better than alcohol for me. It's not hard on my body, doesn't make me smell like booze at work, is legal to carry with me and consume anywhere I need it, and most importantly for me it does not make me want to use more of it (wheras drinking alcohol made me want to drink more alcohol.) That's just my experience, YMMV.

You might find it helpful to track on a Calendar how often and how much you were drinking, and what you were feeling when you drank. This kind record can also be useful if you decide to see a therapist.
posted by ethical_caligula at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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