Alcohol And Society
I am currently on a break from drinking alcohol. I am now at the 2-year mark of staying completely free of booze.
I reached this milestone without any specific intention being set at the onset of the break. I have just kept it rolling onward, day after day and month after month.
This break from drinking has given me some space and time to reevaluate the role that alcohol has played in my life and to more clearly observe the role it plays in society as a whole.
Alcohol is everywhere and it is woven deeply into the social fabric of our lives. From college rites of passages to weddings to casual catch ups with friends, alcohol is given a prominent position in a majority of our social activities.
Early Days Of My Break
When I decided to take a break from drinking I experienced a wide range of reactions from people, most of them being slightly awkward.
Some people seemed to carefully tread around my decision not to drink, unsure if there was some sort of issues I had encountered that lead me to my decision to stop drinking.
Others offered half-hearted congratulatory praise like I had won an award they hope to never be in contention for. One person was flat out hostile towards me and my decision not to drink during a social event amongst a big group of friends.
I admittedly was a bit awkward too, in my explanations for the break from drinking. I felt like I had to delve into this entire production to justify my decision for everyone.
I felt compelled to give a disclaimer that there were no suffered consequences behind the change of my drinking status, which was true beyond mild hangover pains, but it still felt like a song and dance regardless.
Often at social events, I just quickly claimed I had to drive to avoid further discussion. At least society has seemed to fully embrace drinking should not go with driving, so no other explanations were needed in those moments.
Collective Allegiance To Alcohol
All of this unease and awkward conversation surrounding my drinking just further underscored for me how deeply-seated alcohol is within the everyday life of society. There was no simple way for me to say to people I am taking a break, and it especially felt like there was no casual way for people to react to me.
Taking a break from drinking is apparently such a major side-step from our society that we seem to lack social cues for casually responding to someone who is refraining from alcohol. These conversations typically do not fit neatly into the usually covered topics of small talk.
I am intrigued by the role of alcohol in society. I am starting to wonder if alcohol being positioned as a benign social lubricant is one of the biggest myths that society collectively perpetuates as a whole?
This is not about being a champion for sobriety. This is not about being puritanical. I am starting to wonder, though, if for generations we have blindly pledged social allegiance to an outdated and potentially unfulfilling substance?
Is it possible that the majority of us have been unwittingly participating in and pushing along a myth that alcohol is a critical component to much of life’s revelry, relaxation, and joy?
From a young age, we seem to receive signals from society about the importance that booze can play in our lives and those signals only seem to grow stronger and get reinforced as we grow into our mid-teens and beyond.
The promised glory of booze is played out all around us through ritual, advertising, and entertainment. Society has even carved out and identified the immediate post-work gathering time at bars as “happy hour”, literally correlating our happiness with the end of work and the start of our first sip.
We downplay the occasional hangover. We shrug off the faint headaches and foggy brains. We often even romanticize these self-inflicted physical pains which can play a subversive role on our emotions too.
It was these ever increasing headaches from lesser and lesser amounts of booze that drove me to a breaking point. In order to peel that proverbial onion and start to ponder my relationship with alcohol, I had to start overcoming decades of socially ingrained dogma that was firmly rooted in my headspace concerning the role of alcohol in our lives.
The Non-Drinker In Society
The non-drinker typically gets cast in one of two stereotypical roles in society. The first is typically thought of as someone who was once out of control and is now in recovery. The other is someone who never took a sip of booze in their life.
Those are the two stereotypical non-drinkers without much room or thoughtfulness from society for anything in between.
There does not seem to be an established role for someone who is just as socially engaged as their drinking brethren but opts out of drinking to enjoy better mental clarity, more energy, and to be fully present in all of their life experiences. That sums up the path I am currently trying to carve for myself in today’s world.
A New Embrace Of Avoiding Alcohol
Taking a step down the path of becoming a non-drinker can feel lonely at first and may require some significant self-starting inertia. I do feel, however, that there is a slow and simmering awakening amongst some of my peers. There seems to be an awareness spreading of the significant net gains to be had in life by opting out of drinking alcohol.
The plentiful benefits of avoiding alcohol, like the clarity and energy, seem to pale in comparison, though, to the decades of socially entrenched dogma that glorifies the perceived benefits of booze.
My Breaking Point
When I first decided to take a break from drinking, I was not even aware of the concept of societal conditioning surrounding alcohol. I became aware of the phenomena when I read the book This Naked Mind written by Annie Grace.
Prior to reading her book, I never had any urge to examine my beliefs about alcohol. I was considered a moderate and healthy alcohol drinker after having grown up and away from the hard-partying years of my 20’s.
As I turned 40, though, something seemed to change in my body’s ability to process minimal amounts of alcohol and I began to suffer faint headaches at an alarmingly frequent rate.
These mild hangover symptoms compelled me to take a considerable step of action with drinking alcohol and I took a break cold. That decision was mainly centered around the desire to be physically freed from mild hangovers without much thought given to the role of alcohol in my life beyond that.
It was the actual break itself, and the positive experiences arising from it, both physical and emotional, that started to feed my intrigue about my relationship with alcohol. That intrigue drove me to Annie’s book This Naked Mind.
This Naked Mind
Annie was a successful business person whose career ascended while her drinking devolved into a 2 bottle of wine per day habit. A major component of This Naked Mind is her comprehensive deconstruction of societal conditioning surrounding the consumption of alcohol.
This thorough unpacking and debunking of myths relating to alcohol resonated with me. I know I had been propagating quite a few of these storylines surrounding alcohol myself.
Storylines which have been passed around and reinforced in our society for decades if not longer. Tales like alcohol makes you happy, alcohol helps you relax, and alcohol is needed to have a social life.
Annie goes about discrediting these long-standing societal notions about alcohol with great length, depth, and scientific underpinnings. If anyone is even remotely curious about her arguments against these commonly held beliefs I strongly suggest you read her book.
Her story is compelling and the data she brings to the table regarding alcohol consumption provides a contrarian view of what is commonly accepted in society.
I have had some firsthand experience with a few of the storylines involving alcohol that she takes to task in her book and I suspect many others have too.
Societal Myths Surrounding Alcohol
Alcohol Makes You Happy
I now know, without a doubt, that I have wrongly conflated the cause of many a good time with alcohol, simply because alcohol was present and consumed when a good time occurred.
The two most prominent examples of this for me are attending weddings and concerts. Both being high-energy and party-hard types of occasions and both offering the potential for excessive drinking.
These past two years I have had the chance to attend multiple weddings and go to many concerts while taking my break from drinking.
At the weddings, I still danced with my wife, ate incredible food, and laughed with friends. The happiness I felt at these weddings was from the people and the experience itself.
For the concerts I attended, it was all about witnessing the bands being dialed into their craft and those special moments when the crowd sings so loudly in unison it rises above the stacks of amps on stage. Moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
There is magic to be had at a concert and none of it has anything to do with consuming drinks. It could actually be argued that your senses and perception could even be dulled from consuming alcohol, ultimately dampening the concert experience.
Alcohol Helps You Relax
I consistently drank one to two glasses of wine in the evening just about each day. That was my wind down process from a hard day of work. I was wrongly conflating the alcohol itself with my ability to unplug and wind down from work.
Enjoying a glass or two of wine may have had the appearance of relaxation, but I can now see it was disrupting my sleep patterns and there was also a subtle numbing of my emotions taking place.
My perceived relaxation benefits from the wine were being undermined by the poor sleep and dulled range of feelings. I feel those two negative consequences only compounded over time, even when my consumption stayed consistent at one to two glasses per day.
The wine was not helping me relax. It was actually detracting from my ability to become fully rested and get a restorative night of sleep.
There is value in having a ritual in the evening to disconnect from the daily stressors of life, but there may be better components out there for you to achieve a calmer state of peace while also gaining a restful night of sleep.
Needed For A Social Life
My decision to take a break from drinking has not altered my participation in life one bit. It is probably truer to state I am more myself and more engaged now in social settings.
I have shown up for all the typical settings of my social life that I had previously enjoyed when drinking. Happy hours, work functions, sports events, barbecues, guys get away weekends, have all been participated in and enjoyed fully without alcohol.
When I am in social settings surrounded by alcohol, I have found that club soda with a slice of lemon provides the ritualistic benefit to being out and socially drinking, sans the alcohol.
Fun is truly based on the company you are keeping and the ritual of enjoying drinks together. I have discovered that for me, the pleasure has absolutely nothing to do with the components of the beverage in my glass.
Good For Your Health
The perceived health benefits surrounding moderate alcohol consumption may need to be called out a little more aggressively for being one of society’s biggest propagated myths.
I am not advocating for the masses to abstain from alcohol nor am I becoming a champion for sobriety. What I am trying to shine a light on, though, is that drinking for health seems to be a joke.
I often see the benefits of red wine pop up quite a bit in articles online and in mentions on social sites. I admittedly always took some sort of quiet comfort to myself when I saw articles like that. I am now starting to think that promoting health benefits from drinking may be as reckless a tale that we spin in our society.
If there are some legitimate benefits documented by science, there is no way they can contribute to a net gain of improvement in health over the detractors associated with alcohol. The benefits only seem sensible when focused on in isolation, but not when taken into consideration with the entire picture of the impact of drinking on health.
Can any benefit, like a slight intake of resveratrol, outrun the documented fact that alcohol is a neurotoxin? Is anyone aware of the amount of wine you need to ingest to truly capitalize on the properties of resveratrol?
Just the negative impact on sleep alone, to me, undermines any possible benefit at all from moderate alcohol consumption.
There is also a positive trickle-down effect on wellness and day-to-day performance in life that can be impacted by healthier sleep. Energy levels, weight management, and cognitive functioning have all seemed to improve for me personally thanks to the restorative sleep I am now getting a night.
I Am Not A Champion For Sobriety
I have no moral concerns or issues about the use of substances to enhance or expand consciousness, achieve states of peak performance in life, or just generally unwind.
I rely on caffeine quite a bit to perform in my daily duties of life. Caffeine is as much of a drug as any other compound out there.
My questioning in this article is about the efficacy and practicality of alcohol. I am hoping to further a constructive conversation about alcohol as it relates to society.
Evolving Beyond Alcohol
Is it possible we have evolved beyond the crude means of relaxation that comes about from alcohol? Any relaxation that comes with potential dehydration, disruptive sleep, headaches, dulled mental alertness, and possible long-term damage to major bodily organs has to be considered crude, no?
This is not a rallying cry to demonize alcohol. I just think society as a whole would be in a more truthful place if we treated drinking alcohol like we do eating sugary desserts.
A cake or a sweet treat is something that is enjoyed by many as a whole in society, but no one is even remotely considering wellness benefits from a piece of cake. They are simply making a mindful and informed decision to enjoy some cake and have a life experience. Just like I fully reserve the right to someday enjoy a glass of wine outdoors with my wife at a cafe in Paris or drink a Guinness with a cousin in Ireland.
This is not a call to arms against alcohol and having life experiences, but I do implore my peers to simply ask themselves and be open to the possibilities of one question: Could there be a better life for you beyond drinking alcohol?
Even if you are a minimal consumer of alcohol, I propose you could be having an even deeper and more enriching life experience without it. Your sleep, energy, emotions, and life-performance all stand to be enhanced and accentuated without booze in your life.
There does not seem to be much frank discussion in our society in relation to alcohol. I know I unconsciously clung onto quite a bit of conditioning in regards to the role alcohol played in my life.
Even at just 2 glasses per day, I can now look back and see that my life was highly involved with alcohol. My emotions, energy, decisions, and all sorts of other facets of life were somehow directly or indirectly tied into just 2 glasses of wine per day.
It took a period of slight adjustment and some social awkwardness to get where I am right now, but I am incredibly thankful I have created this space in my life. I just want anyone else out there who has a slight curiosity or desire to seek the same path, to give themselves the same chance.
Could there be a better life you for beyond drinking alcohol? You would need to break from the clutch of society to find out, but I assure there are greater depths of joy awaiting you, should you choose to do so.