How To Soberly Hang With The Drunk

Image credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Image credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

Recently I’ve gotten some practice in the art of hanging out with very drunk people while not imbibing anything myself. In the process, I developed two general strategies to make this scenario a little livelier.


1. Treat a drunk friend like a puzzle to be solved. This view assumes that there’s an actual solution, that there’s an underlying idea they’re trying to communicate. Through patience you can play a game of teasing out the coherent idea out of an incoherent mouth. Maybe, between belches, you can just barely discern the contours of a good, strong opinion on sandwich construction or Netflix’s business strategy. “Your last few words were garbled by mucus and rosé, but were you trying to say that your parents are actually racist but deeply empathetic people, and that you’re full of love for them but maintaining this relationship takes a lot of work?” Just try a little hand-holding—you’ll be shocked how a little guidance helps drunk people discern what they’re actually trying to say to you. They get the satisfaction of clear expression and you get the satisfaction of comprehension. Everyone wins.

Sometimes, though, your subject is beyond all hope of coherence. That’s when you need to opt for the second strategy:

2. Treat a drunk friend as a fountain of entertaining takes and impressionistic detail. This view ascribes almost no intelligence to them, but credits them for raw creative energy which you can harness for your amusement. Don’t barrage them with questions, because that’s annoying. One of your advantages as a sober person is that you can direct the flow of conversation more deliberately than they can. Slip in an occasional question and slowly escalate in ambition. Let them opine, let them wildly speculate, let them describe sensations. What do you think of what we just ate for dinner, or the song they’re playing? What’s the best argument you got into recently? Why do you think our friend just stepped out of the party? Why did you stand there silently when they bullied your small son? Some say that people express their deepest convictions when drunk; I think they just spout out whatever happens to burble up to the surface of their sloshing, stewing mind. Sometimes the result is startlingly poetic and concise. Sometimes it’s rambling and impassioned. Both can be fun to listen to.

When you tire of either of these strategies, go home. Your chief advantage over everyone else is that you know exactly when it’s time to leave the party.