‘The Three Rules¹ of Drinking’

Drinking should be fun, it helps people to relax and serves as a social lubricant to help people bond. However, with the changes that alcohol makes to your mind, having a set of rules — that everyone understands — is a way to ensure that the fun of drinking is not diminished, the event is inclusive, and people feel safe and are actually safe.

Let this be clear — it is not about encouraging or drinking to excess, it is about how to ensure that everyone has a positive time whilst drinking.

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash


The three rules are very simple:

1. “When someone offers you a drink, kindly accept.”
2. “If some one wants to leave, confirm it with them, not once, not twice, but three times, and then ensure that they have a plan to get home safely”
3. The third, and in my view, the most important rule… “Everything said whilst drinking is only pencilled in… unless confirmed the next day.”

The Effects of Alcohol

Without going in to the health effects that alcohol can have on your body… looking at how alcohol is known to change your behaviour; through lowering you inhibitions, reducing mental acuity to make smart decisions, and increasing testosterone levels (in all genders) which can heighten agressive tendencies.

Furthermore, alcohol can interfere with how your brain makes memories, thus making it posible to wake up with no recollection of what you did whilst you were drinking (and in some cases even before you started).

These rules help to guard against the above, ensure that people are having fun and feel included.

The Rules

Rule 1: “When someone offers you a drink, kindly accept.”

Or, this is an excellent chance to be thankful and build bonds with people

Assuming that you are drinking for the social aspect, rather than drinking just to become intoxicated, whenever someone offers to buy a drink, I always kindly accept (Note that if I already have a full drink in front of me, I will decline, I am not one to have a line of drinks piled up in front of me)

I find this to be an excellent way to engage with the person who is buying the next round³, and to talk to them, to actually get to know someone. This also helps to invoke reciprocity, a sense of fairness, and a sense of trust with people, when you then get to buy them a drink.

Rule 2: “If some one wants to leave, confirm it with them, not once, not twice, but three times, and then ensure that they have a plan to get home safely”

Or, ensure that people are feeling included, and are having fun.

In some cases, people may feel like they are being left out, or not interested in what is going on. Groups form with people, which may not always be inclusive of everybody.

A conversation may go (between Sam and Andy):

[Sam] Hey, I think i’ll head off…
[Andy] Are you sure?
[Sam] Yeah… I have some stuff to do… big day tomorrow…
[Andy] OK, we haven’t caught up in some time, I would love to have a chat with you…

It is at this point, that it can go one of two ways

  1. Sam agrees to have a chat, feels more included, and Andy gets to spend some quality time with Sam in a one to one conversation…
    … or …
  2. Sam decides that it really is time to go

Option 1: Staying on

Note that this is not about getting people to stay and drink more, or do something that they don’t want to do — it is not coercive, it must be a very empathetic view on ensuring people feel included, and have the opportunity to enjoy themselves.

This is about responding to a subtle social clue that they are not having fun, perhaps there is something on their mind. It is a way of showing empathy, of getting to know people, and of helping people.

Option 2: time to go home

[Sam] No, I am going to head off
[Andy] Are you sure?
[Sam] Yes
[Andy] OK, let me walk you out. How are you getting home?

Once again, it is from an empathy point of view, making sure people are safe, and showing that you care about people. Ensuring that they are making the smart decisions on their way home — are they getting a bus, do they need a cab?

All of this is about showing them that spending time with you is safe, and smart, and fun.

Rule 3: “Everything said whilst drinking is only pencilled in… unless confirmed the next day.”

Or, not being forced to hold to a decision when you agreed to something with diminished cognitive powers.

The Japanese have a similar idea — in the corporate world the real conversations occur at the izakaya⁴ after work, when they are free to let loose with their feelings and opinions, even to their supervisors — which, in the rigid heirarchy of society and the business would be extremely uncommon.

The next morning, all is forgotten on the surface, but the subtext is not.

This rule extends the above in two important ways:

  1. Firstly, all is forgotten, including the subtext, it is as though it never happened, unless…
  2. “It is confirmed the next day.” — and by next day, this may be days later, in any case, it is as though the decision was never made.

This is a chance to reset the conversation of the night, without fear of judgement.

This rule came about through countless nights of spending time in a pub, or bar and disussing a wide variety of topics. One particular night, we all agreed that it would be a good idea to go sky diving. Inhibitions were lowered, it sounded like fun, and the assesment of our skills and the inherent danger were all but discarded.

Thankfully, this rule kicked into force and we had a discussion about this when our heads were clearer. Out of the six people that had decided that it was a good idea to do such a thing, all but 2 gracefully exited the pact that was made.

There was no attempt at trying to coerce people to stand by the drunken decision, no attempt to reframe the decision, and explain why they should be doing it. The “No” was accepted, and those that wanted to carry on with the activity did so, whilst those that did not, didn’t — the important part is that there were no hard feelings or disappointment at the end.

Furthermore, this means that you cannot be manipulated, or guilted, or coerced into a decision that you would never agree to when you are thinking clearly. this allows people to be far more relaxed, conversations can flow, people can talk and agree to things which may test the boundaries of their thinking

Provided everybody understands this rule, being able to say — “No, thanks” the next day, with no repurcussions, is a powerful force.


All in all, the ability to spend timeand engage with people, should be a treasured moment. The greatest thing that you can do for a person, is to offer up your limited — and therefore valuable — time to spend it with them. Offering a space and environment in which people feel included, feel like they can let down their guard, and have honest conversations is a great way to truly get to know people.

Having rules

These are capital letters ‘Rules’, not fluffy guidelines, something that are set in stone, and all agree to.

² a TL;DR section is included in every article, so that the main points are highlighted, you get to decide whether this story is of interest, and quickly move on if there is nothing there for you [source: Too long, didn’t read — TL;DR]

³ Certainly in my culture, and I assume in most others, there is a sense of fairness around who purchases alcohol and to whom the ‘next round’ falls to.

An izakaya is a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks primarily used as casual places for after-work drinking.

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