You can be a moderate drinker if you want to…

Someone recently contacted me saying that they have stopped drinking, but still think about being a moderate drinker. They asked me what the key was to remove every last desire for alcohol. My response (slightly reworded) is below. I thought it might be useful to share it.

I think the key is to remove every last vestige of seeing any pleasure in drinking. Remember, when you think about drinking you fantasise about it. It is literally that, a fantasy, not reality but some unrealistic fiction of what it ought to be like. The fact of the matter is if you want to be a moderate drinker you can be. Let’s say you want to drink two drinks, once a week, you can do it. After all no one forces you to drink apart from yourself, and no one can stop you drinking if you want to. So if you want two drinks once a week or whatever, you can do it. So why don’t you? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that you wouldn’t be happy having two drinks a week. If you are anything like me those two drinks would simply awaken the desire for more, so if you did have those two you would then be miserable because you couldn’t have more, or you’d have more and end up absolutely hammered again. So the reason you are not a moderate drinker is because you wouldn’t be happy doing it.

What you are probably fantasising about when you think about being a moderate drinker is having something that you can have every now and then, that will make you happier, relax you, make you feel good about life and give you some relief from your worries, but that you won’t then need to keep taking such that it leads to complete intoxication, hangovers, fatigue, self-loathing etc. Something that tastes nice, that you can do with friends, that will help you socialise and won’t ruin your sleep, and above all it is something that you can take or leave, that you aren’t compelled to keep taking even when it becomes apparent that it is destroying you and making you miserable. It sounds lovely, and if you ever find such a thing please do let me know, I’ll be the first to drink it with you! But the simple fact of the matter is that what you are thinking about isn’t alcohol. In fact alcohol does the complete opposite to all of the things I have described above; alcohol is the very antithesis of this. Alcohol never did provide any of those things, you were just fooled into thinking it did. The more you drink, the more you start to see the truth, and once known the truth cannot be unknown. Imagine a relationship where you were head over heels in love with your partner and believed they loved you. You were deliriously happy for many years. Then you found out they really couldn’t stand you, that they had never loved you and were cheating on you and mocking you behind your back, and in fact doing whatever they could to hurt you. Could you ever forget the truth and go back to them to get back to that period of happiness? Would you even want to knowing that it was all false? You might mourn the fact that you weren’t in a happy relationship and you might look for one. But in respect of that particular relationship I would think you’d only be too glad to see the back if it.

In fact giving up alcohol is so much easier because you can find that wonderful relationship elsewhere. There is something that will make you happier, relax you, make you feel good about life and give you some relief from your worries, but won’t lead to complete intoxication, hangovers, fatigue, self-loathing and won’t ruin your sleep. A healthy mind and body will give you all of these things, and it is something you cannot fail to get if you stop drinking.

How Alcocentric is our Society?

This chart Is from the Washington Post from 2014 relating to drinking habits in the US. I think it is extremely interesting and ties in with a couple of incidents that happened to me recently that has made me consider how ‘alcocentric’ western society actually is.

To give some background I stopped drinking in February 2014. In January 2015 (so just shy of 1 year not drinking) I had to go on a business trip to Cyprus. It was the usual boozy affair, out every night making the most of the company credit card. So I just tagged along, stuck to my soft drinks, and left for bed when things started to get a bit too messy. Anyway a few days ago I bumped into one of my colleagues who I was on the trip with. There was an issue with one of his customers in Cyprus so we ended up taking about the Cyprus trip. He went into the ‘do you remember how much we drunk this night’ and ‘do you remember how hammered we got that night’ conversation about how drunk we got. I just smiled and nodded; he’d totally forgotten that I hadn’t been drinking, he just assumed that I’d been right there drinking along with him.

Fast forward now to October last year, it was half term and myself, my wife and I went away to Tenerife during half term with three other families from my son’s school. We dined together each evening and needless to say I was on the soft drinks. Anyway on Saturday night just gone we were out for the evening and two of the couples we were on holiday with were there. I was driving and needless to say not drinking, and one of them asked me if I minded going out not drinking. I said was fine with it and explained I don’t drink anymore and hadn’t done for some time. She was surprised and said ‘But you were drinking in Tenerife?’.

What these two incidents highlighted to me was the difference in importance I attached to my not drinking, compared to other people. For me going on a business trip and an all-inclusive holiday without drinking was a big thing, but for others it clearly wasn’t, to such an extent that they either had forgotten about it or that it hadn’t really registered in the first place.

We tend to think that people push drinks on us because they are obsessed with drinking, and this may be the case for many people, but not necessarily for all. For some people it is just trying to be hospitable (however misguided this may be) in the same way if you went for dinner or canapés and didn’t eat anything they would keep asking you if you wanted anything to eat, or if there is a buffet no one likes to be the one to start on it so the host or hostess has to go round several times trying to get people to tuck in. Offering food to people isn’t considered to be rude or inconsiderate, but if the person being offered it had an eating disorder, or were struggling with a diet, then they might consider it so.

I think that the problem is, to get into difficulties with alcohol you have to drink heavily for some time, and people only drink heavily if they enjoy (or believe they enjoy) drinking. So it is a big part of their lives. It is also the case that when we are drinking heavily we tend to socialise with other people to drink heavily, so we are ‘alcocentric’, and our friends tend to be ‘alcocentric’, but that doesn’t mean everyone is. In fact alcohol isn’t necessarily a big part of other people’s lives. Look at the chart above. 80% of the US population in 2014 didn’t even average a drink a day, and 90% of the population were only just drinking on average a little over 2 drinks a day. The fact of the matter is that for the majority of the population drinking is a not a big part of their lives at all. They may push a drink on you but this is as likely to be through a misguided sense of hospitability as on obsession with drinking, and is likely to pass from their mind almost as soon as the conversation is over.

I then tried to think back over my life to how I have reacted to people who were not drinking in social situations. I can think of a few times when I was wasn’t drinking myself, as there was a sort of bond between the non-drinkers, particularly when the evening drew on and the alcohol started to take effect such that talking to the drinkers became more and more painful, so you usually end up talking to people who are not drinking. But I cannot remember a single time when I was drinking and a person’s non-drinking stuck out in my mind. I think in my earlier drinking years it wouldn’t have bothered me one way or another, in my mid-drinking years I wouldn’t have cared as long as I had enough to drink, and in my later years I probably would have envied them and / or wouldn’t have remembered the next day anyway.

We tend to feel very self-conscious about our not drinking but I think we need to bear in mind that it often takes on a far greater significance to us than it does for other people.