Drinking at Security Cons

by Bill Brenner on May 29, 2014

A friend from the security community, Rob Fuller, has written a post about drinking at conferences. It’s an activity I engaged in with abandon until I decided to quit drinking on New Year’s Day 2010. His post reminds me of what the transition to sobriety was like in conference settings.

I drank my way through the first few RSA conferences to cope with nerves. You could drink all you want for free at the vendor parties, so it was an easy crutch to grab for. At RSA 2010, I was in hell. I stayed sober but didn’t know quite how to behave or deal with people who were drunk. I looked back at my posts from that week, and found this snapshot of what I was feeling:

So here I am in San Francisco for the RSA conference and Security B-Sides events. I’m at a lot of events that involve drinking and instead of wine I’m sucking down club sodas and Red Bull. And, truth be told, I still have trouble feeling at ease in the crowd without the wine buzzing beneath the skin of my forehead.

Fortunately,  each subsequent event got easier for me, and now I’m at ease in a crowd full of drinkers. I also realized from the beginning of sobriety that there is a support system. People have held AA meetings during RSA and ShmooCon. And when you let it known you are no longer drinking, there are people who look out for you. Getting that support from the outset definitely helped cement my affection for the security community.

I’ve been asked more than once if I ever get pressure to drink at these events.


In his post, Rob wrote that he believes there’s too much drinking going on and wants his peers to throttle back.

It’s certainly not an issue that’s unique to the security community. I know people from other industries who tell similar tales of drinking and debauchery at conferences they attend.

Do conference attendees drink too much? Do they need to get better control of themselves? I think it really depends on the individual. Most people handle their liquor just fine. I wish I had that ability. It really comes down to whether the individual feels they have it together.

If you feel like conferences are nothing but a blur of hangovers and you don’t like it anymore, you probably need to consider a modified lifestyle.

Of course, someone with a drinking problem can think they have it together but be a total wreck. If conferences are nothing but a drunken blur, whether you like it or not, you should sober up.

I’m just grateful I found a way through my own challenges.

men toasting each other

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Russ Rogers May 29, 2014 at 9:30 am

You speak the truth. 🙂 Great post.

SecBarbie May 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

You put it perfectly and I’ll always have more than enough sugar-free RedBulls, water, and juices for you and anyone else who wants it at my events!

Frank Forrester May 29, 2014 at 11:41 am

Great post Bill. Glad to see this conversation growing.

I can’t speak about everyone else but for my self. I’m a binge drinker. I don’t get drunk that often but when I do I don’t stop for days. Before I was married I partied hard sense I was pretty young. I’ll admit… I was hooked on some stuff considered harder than the booze. But after I got married I started buying 12 packs and then those turned in to cases.. you get the picture. I can’t count the times I went nutz in IRC chanz. I have burnt bridges and alienated my self from people I respect and generally just like. Also I have got in to a bit of rather expensive trouble…. Like ya said some people can hold there booze. I can 8 out of 10 times but those last two is what always gets me.

My son told me “daddy I don’t like you… (he paused) when your drinking” about two minutes later he says “daddy I love you.” He’s 7. A seven year old was struggling with conveying his fillings and I was 100% the cause. It wasn’t like a doctor Phil moment or nothing it was something he said and then left the room and a few min later he was back in asking me how to download a minecraft tornado mod but… yea shit was heavy to me. As I sat there I accepted what I already new and that is I was progressively getting worse. I was affecting the only things I love in this hole world with all my heart. I have destroyed so many relationships with my kids it has to stop. I haven’t had a drink sense that day. I don’t really want one but every so often when I get that sneaking thought I think of a seven year old child saying words to his father he should never have had to say or deal with. I haven’t been sober for that long but I also have never had the resolve I now have concerning it. My father was a prick, I could go on but the point is I have to break the chain. Today I’m sober.

Funny thing is I often have lucid dreams. I dreamed I went to DerbyCon: “family rootz” and started getting hammered. In that dream I had a gut filling I shouldn’t be doing it. Like you said “Most people handle their liquor just fine. I wish I had that ability” I know plenty of people that can do just fine but I get a bit crazy so I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t know why I dreamed of going to derby but I guess it was on my mind. Last year was a blast, I loved it. It’s not about cons, BBQ’s, bike rally’s or anything else. It’s just a personal decision. But I still have to interact with the world with out a vice I have come to know all to well. It’s awesome to see that both people who want to get away for a weekend and have a few drinks can and people who don’t drink are welcome at the same place.

My claim to fame (O_o? semi fame?) has been being an out spoken, opinionated janitor. I hold no degrees or certs (yet) I just enjoy learning and I particularly love learning about all things infosec. Why? I think it’s because the unending depth, AKA the rabbit hole.

What’s more amazing is the people in the community who have welcomed me. Friends I have made all over the earth just because of a shared passion. I have posted about it, Google: “n00bfu.com infosec love.” So much so it has been overwhelming at times. It truly is an amazing diverse community of super intelligent to ridiculously intelligent people.

Folks that for the most part are super cool even to me, a fork lift driver. There are people who smoke weed and hate to drink, people who drink and hate weed, LGBT folk, atheists, religious, 4chaners, bronies… sober people and so many others. If you think about it.. it’s pretty frackin awesome.

To see vets of the industry speak publicly about this topic is a welcome thing to me personally. It’s more than a worthy conversation to have. For me the timing is impeccable.

After all that typing I just did, I’m struggling to find the words as to how cool I think this post and Rob’s post are.

dimed May 29, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Great post. At a year and a half of sobriety and after working the steps daily, I too can feel comfortable around a crowd of drinkers. It took a little while to fill that void that quitting drinking left and become as close to normal as a crazy drunk like me can get. Today its not a fight anymore, today I don’t have to live in fear about being around alcohol or drugs, hell.. on my family vacation I was mixing up margaritas for them on the beach. Today I know its about what I can bring to a celebration, not what i can get out of it (getting plastered). Its a great new life.

competentgirl June 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Unfortunately I have been at plenty of cons where the drink choices are beer or water (sometimes tap water.) If I’m lucky there is a cooler with whatever soft drinks didn’t get taken earlier in the day. As a nondrinker such situations make me feel unwelcome and have happened enough times that I’m just turned off by events that advertise free beer, open bar, etc.

@f0zziehakz July 27, 2014 at 11:02 am

Martin Bos said it best when he said “If you want to buy me a drink, buy a homeless person a meal instead.”

Great article.

Ira July 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Most people who know me have never seen me drink, and that is through 15+ years of security conferences. I might sometimes drink, but it is rare. That means that I have drunk a lot of bottles of water. Unless you like the mixers, like Coke, Sprite or juices, choices are definitely limited. On a good note though, you can usually avoid the long bar lines and just reach behind the bar and grab a bottle. I can however safely say that if you dont drink, few people actually realize or care. If you are self conscious, just ask for your water in a glass with ice and tell people it is vodka. Another positive is that you see who the really stupid drunks are, and can remember the stories the next day.

Tony Vargas April 14, 2015 at 8:39 am

I always enjoy reading this post Bill. It’s always relevant. Great job!

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