I’m Rethinking My Relationship With Alcohol

A few months ago, I was dancing at a crowded rooftop bar in Brooklyn. The night was warm, breezy, obnoxiously picturesque. The music was loud. I leaned over to my friend and cupped his ear: “What do you want? I’m going to the bar!”

“Nothing,” he shook his head. “I’m good. Not drinking!”

I felt a jolt of disappointment. Not drinking? Why? Is this not gonna be fun? “Okay!” I chirped, hoping he couldn’t detect a tone. I decided not to get one either; I guess I didn’t need it. A couple hours later, after we’d wandered away from the dance floor and toward a secluded bench, I asked why he wasn’t drinking. My original dismay at his sobriety had metabolized into private embarrassment. Why should his decision have any bearing on my night? We were having so much fun.

He told me he’d been on a break from alcohol for about a year. Last June, he worried his relationship with drinking had become unhealthy, so he decided to give it up. I was impressed. I was also surprised. We’d been friends for a while. He often regaled me with tales of late nights at dance clubs. I never guessed he did all of it sober. When I said as much, he told me he was just as social as he’d ever been. He said that had surprised him, too.

Later, as I reflected on my unfair reaction to his sober social stamina, I thought about my own relationship with alcohol. I can be a homebody, but when I go out out, I drink — at least a little. Sipping on a drink gives me social energy, makes me feel like part of the group, gives me something to do. Whenever I’ve stayed dead sober at a bar, I’ve wondered why I wasn’t home instead watching Netflix. And I worry the people I’m with interpret my sober gaze as judgement. It’s a weird, probably toxic feedback loop.

There’s a history of alcoholism in my family. I was raised to fear addiction with every fiber of my being. I’d always assumed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol meant drinking all the time, not being able to stop, doing it alone. None of that was true for me, but I began to wonder if my discomfort with sober socializing and other unchecked drinking habits meant something. What is a healthy relationship with alcohol?

According to Psychology Today, “having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol does not have to mean being alcohol dependent.” It can just be simply drinking “to excess,” which for women is considered four or more drinks in one night, or eight in a week. This 11-point quiz, which is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM, highlights what behaviors might hint at an alcohol use disorder. (Please note: this quiz is a learning exercise, not a diagnostic tool.) I said yes to two out of 11 (yes, I’ve had more drinks than I intended and yes, I have endured bad hangovers), which the quiz said could or could not be worrisome. Pretty unhelpful I guess, but those boxes I didn’t check began to paint a fuller picture of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol: an inability to stop, engaging in risky behavior while drunk, anxiety or depression after drinking, trouble with family and friends because of drinking, interference with day-to-day responsibilities, giving up activities you’re interested in to drink, legal trouble, withdrawal.

But still, there seems to be an underserved middle ground. I’m a lightweight whose body reacts somewhat unpredictably to drinks. I’m no stranger to hazy memories, day-long hangovers, regrettable conversations, the whole thing. It sounds bad when I write it out — but it’s so normalized in New York that it’s easy to not overthink it. It feels like everyone’s drinking. Enjoying it, regretting it, looking forward to it. Grabbing a drink, wine with dinner, out for someone’s birthday — all of it’s deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture. Skipping out feels like missing out. In this Quartz piece from last year, Kristi Coulter explored this phenomenon through the lens of feminism. “There’s always one person who can’t deal if someone isn’t drinking,” she wrote. It’s worth a read.

I decided to cut alcohol for 30 days. It wasn’t a crazy proposition. For one, “sober months” are their own little trend in New York: Sober September, Sober January. For two, I’ve enjoyed plenty of sober months without even trying. Give me a cold Saturday and a good show and I’m in for the night. I was more curious to see if I could cut drinking without cutting anything else. Could I dance in a club without a drink and have just as much fun? I was embarrassed I even had to ask.

My no-drinks month, which ran from early June to early July, was a little anticlimactic. It was occasionally boring (a very long dinner where my friends drank wine and I nearly fell asleep), at moments, surprisingly fine (meeting old friends at a bar, catching up for hours) and sometimes downright heavenly (super early weekend mornings and the promise of no headaches). I probably stayed in more than usual, even though I tried not to. And I certainly ducked out of things earlier. It just sounded nice to do other stuff with my time. I noticed that meet-ups seldom turned into something more when I wasn’t drinking. Also missing from them was the air of celebration having a drink sometimes brings, which I missed. Not everyone was thrilled when I passed it up, but no one pushed, either. It didn’t matter as much as I thought it would.

The first day after my sober month I was on a boat, alone at a party with an open bar, socially anxious and floating down the Hudson river. The next day, I had a killer hangover. I’d misjudged my tolerance after a month off, and three glasses of rosé later, I felt like I was dying. I was bedridden and shame-ridden for the entire day. Really? My first day back and this? The whole narrative didn’t bode well for my conclusions.

I’ve been trepidatious around drinking in the weeks since. Honestly, I’m not sure I have conclusions yet. Nothing happened that was genuinely dangerous or, frankly, very out of the ordinary. At least in New York. But paying closer attention to my relationship with alcohol, really taking pains to pick apart why I engage with it, wasn’t a flattering exercise. It left me with more questions than answers, and I’m wondering what you think. Has alcohol and/or the associated regret become normalized in your setting, too? Does that make you feel something?

If you’re suffering from an addiction of any kind, here is a list of hotlines that can help right now.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

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  • Akosua Adasi

    I recently went on a 60 day detox, which included not consuming any alcohol. During that time I think I went to two parties or something, but it made me realize that I didn’t so much enjoy drinking at parties or even enjoy the parties themselves. It also made me consider my dependency on alcohol when it came to long days at work. I would always feel like I NEEDED a drink if it had been a shitty day. I’m glad you wrote this to point out that an alcohol dependency isn’t always getting blackout drunk to feel numb or something. I didn’t even realize that I had been experiencing dependency until this moment. Thanks Haley

  • Great post, Haley! I second that Quartz article recommendation as well. I’ve thought about it at least twice a week since it was published in 2016.

    • cuffers27

      Just read it, thank you Haley for the link and to you for seconding the recommendation – really thought provoking.

  • Alcohol is … complicated :-).

    After having been active on a Sunday (after the Big Outdoor Experience or two) and coming home hungry like a bear, then cooking something … and then a glas or three … alcohol is never a problem.

    But if the work is stressful and there’s much stuff that keeps me busy, alcohol is usually a bad idea and much regretted afterwards. It is also worse in winter than in summer, I think. Probably any time it should make my life better instead of just slightly adding to an otherwise great day.
    Don’t know about the parties/bars etc. though 🙂

    • Sarah

      agree with the winter summer difference!

  • DA

    Maybe it’s a good thing if something turns out to be boring without the alcohol? Means it adds no real value to your life anyways. I mean if you can’t remember it did it really happen…..

  • This girl

    Getting sober was and is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I love that dry months are becoming a thing if only for the fact that I’m not the only sober person at the concert, bar or dinner. Thank you for talking about alcohol as a grey area and not just that you are either fine with it of need AA. This kind of attitude is so important to stopping the stigma attached to getting help.

  • Junglesiren

    I can’t drink anymore because of a brain tumor and my meds, and I have to say I’m no alcoholic but it was really difficult. My man has a HUGE collection of wine that I love but I get sick now from drinking it. I was stupid enough to keep trying to down that one glass but… it fucks with me for days. In college I could down three kamakazis on a Tuesday night and be up for classes on Wednesday. What I do know is that for me if I want that buzzed feeling, pot is a much better option… but I want to not want the buzz and that is the hard part. Weird that even though I’m not addicted in a classic way (needing to drink or smoke pot daily) I have trouble giving up that twice a week indulgence.

  • Thank you for this article. The subject is really something that I have been thinking about for a long time now and you sum it up perfectly … Alcohol is very normalized here in Switzerland as well and I have the feeling that peer pressure to drink is very high. Heck, even I have tried to convince people to drink during their sober month and hated myself for it seconds later.

    Also, I wish there were more exciting drinks without alcohol. I often wonder why there is so little creativity to mixing alcohol free drinks … it’s definitely something I want to take a deeper look into. I believe if the alcohol free options at bars, restaurants or club would be more diverse than sodas, water or juice, it would be easier for me to pick the alcohol-free option.

    • Charlotte Gjedsted

      Lots of cocktail bars can make you nice drinks without the booze. It’s probably more “off menu” but it can be done, and it can be delicious!

  • Shevaun

    I haven’t had alcohol in almost 5 years now, and I don’t miss it at all. My partner and I both decided to quit drinking because we didn’t like it any more, didn’t like the hangover, and didn’t like the caloric intake. I never had a problem with alcohol though, although my husband consumed A LOT during his high school years. Now we smoke weed but medicinally because my husband suffers from insomnia and I have night terrors and anxiety.

    We still go out with friends, but most of our friend base has also shifted away from alcohol. We do find that if we go out with friends who we usually hang sober with they can be sort of disappointed and insistent that we drink. People who drink sometimes seem to be afraid of people who don’t, like we will ruin their fun or lecture them. That ain’t my goal; I just don’t see the point in alcohol.

  • Julia

    That Kristi Coulter piece struck me to my core when I first read it. Thanks for bringing it back, and adding such a thoughtful and personal reflection!

  • I don’t completely abstain, but I don’t drink often. Maybe a glass of wine at a really fancy dinner or a few drinks on the rare nights I go out to a club. I decided as an upperclassman in college that the “fun” I could barely remember the night before wasn’t worth the horrible way my body felt the day after.

    Plus I would rather have a cookie than a mixed drink with all the sugar and calories in those things.

  • Adrianna

    I also live and work in NYC, and it’s frustrating how much our social lives and careers seem to revolve around alcohol. A friend invited me to go hiking in Cold Spring, but then canceled to spend the weekend day-drinking. I was going to reference Kristi Coulter’s article, and I was happy to see it linked early on. Most of my friend’s travel and restaurant suggestions are actually about the drinks they had there.

    Peer pressure has absolutely zero effect on me, and it’s actually a quick way to alienate me. I enjoy a cocktail or wine when I’m out with my boyfriend, but I would otherwise be perfectly happy to never drink again.

  • Emma

    About two weeks ago I quit alcohol. I just realized it was something that I did as a hobby, and that it wasn’t fulfilling in anyway. I noticed that every time I went out with a friend, went on on a date, had plans for the weekend, went to the park or the beach or any activity – I had a beer in my hand. I live in Portland, OR, and basically everything here revolves around alcohol. And it just seems so unnecessary. Although I think it’s fun to go to bars and drink, I just realized that is never actually brought me joy. Sometimes it made the night more fun, but for the most part it just hurt my wallet and my body. I worried about how quitting would affect my social life…but so far, so good! I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling the need to reassess 🙂

    • Sarah

      I agree that everyone here in Portland loves their beer but I really don’t think everything revolves around alcohol – it probably depends on the people you hang out with. My group of friends likes to have beers and drinks but most of our activities are really centered around something else like a concert, event, etc. I would say the Portland can easily revolve around nature if you want it too 🙂 all of those activities sound super fun without a beer in hand. 🙂 good work 🙂

  • Lo

    I had a very tumultuous relationship with alcohol, beginning in 9th grade and lasting through my mid twenties. I am 28 now and haven’t had a drink in almost 2 years. It’s startling to realize that some friends you thought you were so close with, were merely drinking buddies you don’t genuinely have much in common with outside of socializing – it’s obvoiusly great to have those friends, but not if you think of them as something more and realize they aren’t, that’s the hard part. I think it’s been beneficial for me personally because without having the social crutch of alcohol to rely on, you find out what you are truly like and how you act/react in a wide variety of situations. I think my personality has actually gotten even more energetic and outgoing as a result. Not having a hangover leads to more productivity in terms of healthy eating and working out, leading to feeling and looking better physically (if that’s a priority), which leads to more self-confidence (and who couldn’t use that, right). Not regretting people you wake up with or conversations you had and the anxiety that comes with that is so liberating. Also something that has been helpful to me was recognizance that a lot of my behavior around alcohol was habitual – having two glasses of wine while getting ready, taking shots when a tray was passed around – there was nothing deliberate or thoughtful about it (part of the fun, i get it) but it’s almost a little eerie to think about the abandon with which i would pour it down my gullet. i still go to bars, weddings, i still go out dancing, all social
    functions, not at the rate i was before, which was probably too much anyway, but still quite often. it’s
    helpful to not treat it as a “thing” – you are just going to the party.
    not as a sober person but just a person. my best advice is if you think you may be teetering on the edge, at least give it a try. it will likely not be as dull as you think, you will just have to be more disciplined in your thoughts. this is certainly not to be holier than thou, and who knows if this is what my relationship with alcohol will be for the rest of my life, but it’s worth a try – at the very least a thought-provoking exercise that may help you learn a little more about yourself.

  • Drinking had become a part of me and my boyfriend’s routine. A bottle of wine on a weeknight? Very common… After noticing some weight gain and the sheer number of bottles in the recycling all the time I decided we needed to stop. Not stop drinking entirely, but not include 3-4 bottles in our weekly grocery shopping trip. If we want to go to happy hour on Friday, we will. If we are asked to meet friends at a bar or party we’re up for it! And I like that it’s become more of a special occasion thing rather than the norm.

    • Micah Lpez

      I also made the same decision, mainly to test the idea that I could still have fun even if I wasn’t a little buzzed. I never wanted to look back ten years down the road in a rough patch because of alcohol knowing I could have done something to control my relationship to it earlier.

    • Adrianna

      I always abided by a no-drinking at home rule, which was very easy when I lived on my own. My boyfriend, aka my future roommate, is the only person I really drink with. I think we’re at an age where we won’t get into the habit, but it’s a concern I thought of

  • Michelle

    This is a super interesting read. It reminds me of BLACK OUT by Sarah Hepola, who didn’t realize how much she was drinking until her friends grew out of it and she didn’t. The binge drinking culture is really normalized in college and it was hard for me to step outside of that-doubly so when you live and work in a city like New York where a lot of bonding with coworkers, dates or even just going to the movie involves alcohol.

  • Amelia

    Also, just saying- I save a TON of money when I don’t drink. Helps my bank account and my body.

  • Devon

    I had a complicated relationship with alcohol for years, starting when I was about 18 and running until I was 26/27. I was a heavy binge drinker but then would sometimes not drink for months they go at it hard again. I realize now this was a form of self medicating that was not helping me at all. A year ago next week (August 5), I had one last drink, a g&t, and spent the rest of the night feeling like I was dying. I decided that alcohol has no place in my life. It was hurting my mental health more than anything. Without drinking I’ve been able to really find things and people that truly bring me happiness. I don’t care that other people drink–my friends drink, but I am not envious of it at all. Especially when they tell me about their killer hangovers the next day. I am so glad to have those days behind me.

  • Samantha Serbus

    The older I get, the less I drink. Hangovers do seem to get worse every year, but it’s become more of a financial thing for me. Since buying a house, a car, adopting two cats, and kinda-sorta starting a side business – I simply don’t have the $$ to go to a bar. So I compromise with a nice box wine (they last forever!) and simply have a glass or two while I’m in my pj’s at 9:30pm on a Friday night, balancing my checkbook 🙂

  • Caitie

    I totally struggle with this dialogue internally as well. Sometimes I think, what if you substituted a different substance (legal or not) in for alcohol, how would I (and others) view the habit then?

    Why is it so challenging to live a socially engaged life and career and avoid drinking? I’m at the age/point where I’m worried that not having that drink at the overwhelmingly male company happy hour has to be accompanied by a comment about exercising or diet, or a dedicated sober month, just so that I’m not accidentally perceived as pregnant or uptight or boring. That Quartz article is bang on.

    • Exactly. If we talk about the way we drink and replace it with cocaine, crack, heroin, even cigarettes, it’s a different story.

      • lateshift

        Except that all of those substances are far, far, far more addictive than alcohol, and most of them are far more dangerous, even in the smallest quantities. There is a certain percentage of the population who is susceptible to alcohol addiction – but the overwhelming majority are not. You could lump alcohol in with those substances. You could also put it in the same category as pot: mood altering, usually not addictive. Or in the same category as another ubiquitous substance that tends to fill a similar role in our society: food.

        I find eating accompanies most of my social engagements these days. It is almost an automatic reflex for friends to eat when they get together, so people tend to associate food with friendship (meeting up at a friend’s house? a restaurant? a ballgame? a park? almost always, you’ll be eating…something.) It’s nearly impossible to avoid. And people who are NOT eating, or eating minimally, tend to draw unwelcome attention and comments.

        Of course there’s a difference between food and alcohol in that it’s tougher (though not impossible) to accidentally consume in a way that will land you in the hospital – at least, not right away. But far, far more people in our society have an addictive, unhealthy relationship with food that affects their lives negatively than people who have the same sort of relationship with alcohol.

        Granted, we need some food to live, while we don’t need alcohol to stay alive. But most of the time, we’re using food as entertainment, as emotional support, as a social lubricant – which means it’s filling much the same function as alcohol, and it’s very easy to be mostly unconscious of that fact. And in moderation, that’s not a bad thing. If you’re conscious of your consumption, aware of the health effects, and don’t DEPEND on a substance, turning to it regularly in moderation for social or even emotional reasons doesn’t make you an addict. It makes you human.

        • Well, alcohol is rated the most dangerous drug by the former U.K. Health Czar (above heroin, probs not fentanyl), it’s the fourth preventable cause of death in the US, killing 1 out of 10 adults aged 20-64, it doubles your risk for breast cancer, is a neurotoxin and has shown to degrade brain function more than schizophrenia, is the same thing we fuel rockets with (it’s ethanol, it’s literally gasonline for rockets), is the number one rape drug, and around 49 million Americans alone drink excessively (well above the weekly max). I mean, those are stats off the top of my head. It isn’t less dangerous than other substances, it’s more because people defend the hell out of it. It is not akin to pot – pot does not end up in domestic abuse cases, rape cases, and doesn’t account for deaths (tho, it’s starting to). As a former bulimic, I’d for sure say that disordered eating and body dysmorphia is a huge, under-represented issue and that navigating recovery is a mine field – you can’t abstain from food. The thing is, I can assert both these things without taking away from the opiate epidemic – 59k died last year from overdose. Or other social ills. We can actually say alcohol is bad, and eating disorders are prevalent. We don’t have to minimize one to prove the point of severity in the other. We can AND this. And from my perspective, alcohol isn’t just this cute little thing some sad people can’t handle. It’s a thing that a ton of your sisters are sick from.

  • This is something people barely talk about and I really loved the fact that you tackled it in an article on MR. Like you, I have taken breaks off alcohol because just like smoking it just doesn’t make me feel good sometimes. I think people today don’t really think of it, they drink if they’re out and don’t even question why. But they forget it’s kind of… “bad” for you? Today’s society is so concerned with eating avocados everyday and using coconut sugar in their coffees, but when it comes to alcohol it looks like it’s a black or white decision: black being “you drink too much, you’re an alcoholic” and white being “you don’t drink at all, you’re insane”. What about avoiding drinking too much or at all sometimes because you treat like sugar? I’ll have a slice of cake sometimes but not at every birthday party, sometimes I’ll say no because I simply don’t feel like it or I don’t need/crave it. Alcohol is pretty much the same to me.

    • Diana McNeill

      That’s a really insightful outlook. Thanks for sharing.

    • Adrianna

      I think of that too. We went on a fancy booze cruise at work last night, where we were able to order a cocktail and/or drink three large glasses of wine. I thought to myself, “you don’t have to drink all this just because it’s available” and had 1.5 drinks.

  • emilyisabean

    This article is really timely for me (and, like other people have said, that Kristi Coulter piece has really stuck with me as well). I live far from NYC, in Tucson, but the prevalence of drinking as a social anchor seems to be consistent no matter where you are. Making plans with a new date? Getting drinks is the default. Going to see a band play? The venue is probably a bar. Everything happens at a bar. It’s…kind of boring? But it’s comfortable, and hard to break out of. The idea of a sober month to clear my head is becoming more and more appealing, but hell, now I WORK at a bar. So that’s going to be interesting.

  • Bo

    I get this all perfectly. I’ve cut down my alcohol intake – I usually would have 2-3 white wines a night, maybe more on a weekend, with dinner/talking at the table with my parents, which I always considered healthy because it was social! Family bonding! What Italians do! but I’ve recently deduced it’s what’s been disturbing my sleep patterns pretty badly (aka waking up at 3am every day after some crazy terrifying dream and not being able to fall asleep again = exhaustion by 7am when I get up = cognitive function of an unwashed sock when I get to work at 8am). I’ve made a resolve to cut out all white wine and reduce my alcohol intake altogether – I’ll now have one light beer or often just water with dinner and the effect has been immediate and fantastic, I’m sleeping like a log.
    The interesting thing is that I haven’t even told my parents what I’m up to because I know what their reactions will be – shock, mild suspicion, a lot of teasing (I know this because it’s how they responded to my brother taking a year away from alcohol). I’m just coasting along, secretly drinking less and hoping they won’t notice. I think the reason they would react like that is because when confronted with somebody else making a change in their drinking habits, you reflexively reflect on your own and feel defensive. I’m actually a bit apprehensive about telling them!

    • Kristina Sahleström

      What you wrote seem similar to my own observations in that I feel our parents generation (at least in Sweden) drink so much more than our. It may be because health awareness (and being in control of your body) is more of a thing now but every time I pass up on a wine at dinner I get comments from them.

    • nell

      Oh man the SLEEP thing is huge. Once I hit my late twenties this hit me really hard. It doesn’t stop me from splitting a nice bottle with a friend when I’m out but I’ve mostly dropped the mindless glass of cab when I’m just sitting around on a weeknight. Just not worth it.

  • Allie

    One word that solves all your problems: Marijuana

  • gracesface

    I turned 25 and the desire to get drunk completely left me, and I think I’ve been drunk maybe 3 times in the last 3 years. Not sure why.

  • Lil

    Loved this article. Drinking is so normalized in American culture that it’s incorporated into every meal and everry outing nowadays. I don’t mind a drink maybe once a week on a night out. But I despise the shame (that as a grown woman I shouldn’t even be feeling) that comes with not drinking at every lunch hang out or bar catch up. Alcohol dehydrates you, is terrible for your skin, and for you period. Which is all why I try to avoid it. But at work functions it’s sometimes deemed as rude to not partake in a celebratory toast…

  • Yep

    Thanks for this. Living in Chicago, another alcohol-focused city. Working in advertising, an alcohol-fueled industry. My husband and I have been battling infertility so we completely cut out drinking 6 months ago as we started the IVF process. It was REALLY hard, especially when it’s so much a part of your routine and social scene (my friends love going to breweries and beer fests). But now that I’m past the craving stage and developed other routines, I don’t even really want to drink. The hardest part has been figuring out how to get around the social pressures, work included. Mostly I’ve been avoiding socializing or fake drinking when I can’t.

  • I’ve been wanting to quit drinking for a while now. I was never much of a drinker in the first place, just socially, and I don’t even go out that much. And I hate the gross feeling you get after too many drinks, knowing that I act stupidly, and of course hangovers are the worst. Still, when I do go out I feel the peer pressure big time because all my friends and everyone around me is drinking. Last month I went to a music festival completely sober and I actually had a lot of fun. After that I thought I was done with drinking, then the next night I went to a comedy club where you had to buy two drinks. I’ve only drank a couple of times since then but it’s so easy for me to overdo it because I am a lightweight. Last weekend I drank too much at my friend’s birthday and definitely regretted it afterward. I went with the intent of having one, maybe two drinks, but I caved when I saw everyone else drinking.
    I think I would like to quit drinking because I know that I don’t need alcohol to enjoy myself, I just need to get over my social issues.

  • I love you and I’m really happy to see this on Man Repeller and for you to write something so refreshingly honest. Truth – we’re suspect of what it means to not drink more than we are of what it does to drink. And when you live in a town like New York (or like me San Francisco), it becomes a different normal, and it becomes blurred.

    We’ve conditioned ourselves to ask the question “am I an alcoholic” vs. the question “is alcohol benefiting me” or “is alcohol getting in the way of me” – as in we don’t question the small ways it eats into our lives, so long as we can’t answer all of those 11 questions it is supposed to not be a thing.

    Anyway, this is my work – as in I left my job as a Director at a start up to start a blog and a company that helps people stop drinking. I haven’t drank in nearly five years, and for me it was a revolutionary, subversive choice and ultimately a trade-up. My life is better, period.

    Someone below said something that most of us miss – what if someone wrote an article like this about cocaine, or heroin, or even cigarettes? We’d think differently.

    You’re a queen. Thanks girl.

  • Vanessa

    Haley thanks so much for this article! I don’t drink alcohol like for ever. Sure, I tried it in my teenager days and it never worked out for me so it never became part of my life. I’m 26 now and had my last glass of whatever like 8 yrs ago.
    however no matter if it’s an event for business or private. I ALWAYS have to explain why I don’t drink to new people. I think I have to justify in a similar way like maybe vegan people have to. I’m always asked for a reason and when I stopped it and why I don’t want to start with it again and I feel like people want to hear a good story. I got used to it and stuff but think about it….did anyone ever explained that details why he/she is not smoking?
    it’s just a social thing and so common to people. X, Vanessa

  • Patricia

    As someone who’s had five drinks in her life, (tops!) I totally get your fear of addiction. My mom has never been a drinker either and I’ve always been unsettled by the possibility that I may become addicted. I sometimes wrestle with wanting to try it, but the cons outweigh the pros. It can make for a strange social life but people usually get used to it pretty quickly!

    • lateshift

      It’s your life and your body, and nobody NEEDS to drink, but: as a reason for not drinking, this attitude makes me sad for you. Fear should not be be the primary driver here. Having one glass of wine with dinner isn’t like having one hit of crack. Unless addiction runs in your family, or you have other addictive tendencies in your personality, someone who has 1 or 2 drinks a week is very unlikely to have any negative health effects (with red wine, they may even have some positive ones) – and drinking that amount regularly does not make them an alcoholic. I’m not saying you SHOULD drink. Just that, barring those extenuating circumstances I mentioned, this level of fear about this particular substance has almost no basis in reality.

      It’s kind of like never having premarital sex because you’re afraid of pregnancy, or never swimming in the ocean because you’re afraid of drowning. Nobody HAS TO do any of those things. Absolutely, there’s always at least a tiny possibility of danger to engaging in those behaviors, and people who avoid them completely avoid that danger. But those activities can also add real pleasure to your life, and if you’re responsible, there’s no reason a healthy adult should feel too terrified to engage in them.

  • Flo W

    I’ve quit drinking alcohol for 5/6 months now due to getting really sick. I’m struggling to have enough energy to go to work, as I’m recovering from the attack of my disease.
    Clearly the choice to do this was easy. My body is working so hard to recover – why put more pressure on it by drinking alcohol? My relationship with alcohol before getting sick was yes to drinks when out out (3-7), dinner 2/3 drinks and at home barely any.
    My feeling now is: I no longer want to drink at all. It’s not just the better mornings for me somehow it’s also about a basic respect of self. I recognize the feeling of missing that celebratory drink. Once in Geneva I had a Fantastic cocktail, carrot juice passion fruit ice sparkling water, it was amazing. This completely removed the lack of that celebratory feeling – it was awesome!
    I also tend to go home a bit sooner than I would when drinking. I think that’s just me listening to how I feel, with alcohol the tired feelings are pushed down or away. I like it better this way.

  • Rosie

    As always, Haley, you hit the nail right on it’s shiny topical head. And I totally agree with the idea that if you’re not sure, and think you might be problem drinking, then it’s best to stop (I did the quiz and got 3, eek).

    Easier said than done – the thing I find hardest is wanting my social life to remain completely the same. This is of course impossible, because some activities just aren’t the same – they’re not fun when you’re sober. I stayed home and made artwork last night, rather than go to the pub for 7 hours (which is what my friends were doing) there was a part of me that really wanted to be there, but it wanted to be having a drink too.

    I think sober nights for me need to include something more (than alcohol?) like live music, games, not just the slowly decreasing speed of conversation you can expect from your mates when they are drinking. I love them, but that’s the first thing I noticed being sober *Why is everyone speaking so slowly? And repeating themselves so much? Was I like this?*

    I think being sober is a bit like running, or achieving your dreams; it’s not always fun in the moment, but you’re always glad you did it after the fact.

    And as I sit here typing at 8:00am on a Saturday, with a clear head, contemplating that run, I am glad.

  • I’ve never been an alcohol lover. Not because of the taste – a amazing red wine is sublime, and I enjoy a summer with a few glasses of Martini – but it somehow always leaves me feeling, “off” and unlike myself.

    And sometimes, I think people – including myself – feel pressured to go out and do an (almost) un-controlled amount of drinking, because perhaps they think it’s the only way to have fun when they’re out with people people.

    Personally, I don’t really like what that says about us: that we basically have to numb our brain and senses in order to enjoy your time with people past midnight.

    Meg @ its.meg-ramsay.com

  • lateshift

    ok: I’m going to say the thing that will get me flamed here, and I’m not at all discounting the very smart points everyone has made, including the writer, but I feel like an important part of the conversation is missing here…

    And that’s the fact that people are often unconscious of the moralizing element that goes along with accounts like this, and comments sections attached to articles like this – even if that’s not the intent. The fact is, despite the social pressure people may feel to have a beer or glass of wine when they’re out, not drinking is still considered, at least in the abstract, “good” behavior – especially for women. And most feel hesitant to chime in to these discussions to remind people that there are actually decent reasons people may choose to drink, and a reason Prohibition justifiably failed, because drinking is often considered, in the abstract, “bad,” and saying nice things about it marks you as a bad person. (I’ll also note that many people have been unconsciously conditioned to blame all sorts of things – any chronic problems they may feel physically and emotionally – on their very moderate drinking, and to feel guilty about it, and to feel magically better the moment they stop. Thank you, Puritan ancestors, for your continuing gifts to our national psyche!) Do whatever feels right for you. Ignore people who pressure you to drink. And (no offense) ignore people who make blanket statements about how you “should” drink as minimally as possible, and avoid it as much as you can, or how it’s better to never drink at all.

    I drink a few glasses of wine a week. There’s a chance I’d feel healthier if I didn’t, but I feel plenty healthy as it is – I run a marathon once a year – and I enjoy the experience of drinking because it’s pleasurable, and there’s nothing wrong with that; my drinking has never put any part of my life or any relationships in jeopardy. I also consume chocolate in some form several times a month. There’s an even greater chance I’d be a healthier person if I didn’t, but I enjoy consuming it, and I’m healthy enough – I’m technically almost underweight for my height, even though I strength train and eat like a horse – so I’ll keep doing it. I have sex, even though I am unmarried. There’s a small chance that even the safest sex can have unintended physical or emotional consequences – but I’ve been both careful and lucky, so I haven’t really experienced those, and while there are of course benefits to “waiting” for marriage or going on celibacy breaks, I enjoy sex, and I like having it often, and I feel no shame saying that.

    All of these things add pleasure to my life. I could be “good” and feel better if I decided to lead a “purer” life, but for me, the trade-off isn’t worth it. I am not a food addict or a sex addict or an alcoholic, but I enjoy eating sweets, and I enjoy having sex, and yes, no asterisks whatsoever, I enjoy drinking – all of those things in moderation, but regularly and often – and I hope conversations like this don’t contribute to a culture where people feel guilty or apologetic about saying those things, or don’t feel free to say them at all. Just my two cents.

    • gracesface

      It’s nice to read your opinion on this, Americans really love to be considered “good”.

    • Nat Ch

      I suscribe to every word of this comment. Guilt comes from others expectations and others expectations don’t go along with personal needs (for me pleasure is a very very important need, it always has been). In other words, if it gives you joy and it’s been working so far, don’t overthink it and, more importantly, don’t compare the behaviours that brings you joy with other’s.

  • Agirlhasnoname

    My mom is an alcoholic and so I have always felt a little nervous around alcohol. I started drinking at 20 and have gone through periods of not drinking at all and having a normal amount of fun with it in college. These days, I rethink my relationship with alcohol almost too often. It prevents me from having fun sometimes and other times I’m thankful that I do. I feel like it’s not often discussed that alcohol bears a very complex relationship for some people and it would be great if that was acknowledged more often. Great piece for that reason 🙂

  • I do not drink and never have. After allergic reactions in college to hard liquor (swelling blotches all over my back), fast-acting migraines from a few sips of red wine, dizziness from Prosecco punch, and camping in a Caribbean restaurant bathroom after a pathetically weak daiquiri, I recognize that I simply cannot metabolize the thing. Despite trying a little, I usually suffer dramatically for it and so now I’ve resigned myself to not drink at all. I can have fun anytime, and don’t need a lubricant to be myself around other people. It surprises my when people are pushy about drinking and getting you to drink, but I always felt it said a lot more about them and their issues than it did about me.

    After living without alcohol for so long, I cannot understand why it had become an overwhelming cultural obsession – especially drinking to excess. I feel like this is just a marketing ploy, that’s selling a lifestyle: if you’re not drinking, you’re not cool, and you’re not having fun.

    The Quartz article is excellent but made me sad too.


    • Joanne Voskian

      We share a common dilema……you are cool just the way you are.

  • Emily

    I was never a huge drinker, but drink much more infrequently now than I used to. My tolerance is naturally low and has gotten lower from drinking less, so if I do drink I have only one or two drinks. My boyfriend hardly ever drinks because it turns his stomach (and also I think due to a family history of alcoholism) so without drinking on dates, it’s basically just an occasional social thing with friends or a glass of wine at dinner with my parents. There IS some pressure, especially from my friends who drink more — I feel like I have to give an excuse for not drinking or even for only having one drink, which is crazy. definitely something changing for younger generations, though.

  • It’s the day-to-day responsibilities that is the hardest. E.g., getting up on time after a long night drinking.

    Just avoid alcohol until your like 60, then you should have enough maturity to avoid too much at one time.

    Cheers: Life goes on.

  • Supriya Sridhar

    I feel like drinking is such an accessory when going out. It’s like “phone, wallet, drink, check.” I find that even having alcohol in my hand makes me feel festive and more adventurous, regardless of how much I am actually drinking.

    More than that, the regret afterwards is such a normal thing. Waking up on a Saturday morning calling girlfriends to talk about the crazy alcohol induced wildness that happened the night before has become a ritual. It’s almost like you’re missing out if you don’t have an embarrassing or funny moment to share.

    Definitely an interesting topic to think about.

  • ladle

    I live in a wine making area so alcohol of any kind is normalised, though I don’t see many people drinking too much (might be that most people have a high tolerance or I just don’t move in drunk circles). I sometimes want a drink and I used to be worried, but then I realised I drink maybe one alcoholic drink every few months so why even think that? But I am a worrier.
    I had a year where I drank more and got as close to drunk as I want to (the max being one New Years when I had 6 glasses total). I didn’t like myself, I laughed at everything and felt idiotic. But as soon as that phase was gone (and as soon as I graduated highschool – this was either 3rd or 4th year) I stopped that. Now my usual limit is two glasses, no hard liquor (it’s not worth it for me), and I don’t have a hangover later.

  • I’ve gone through a few alcohol purges, and YES there’s always someone that can’t deal. Why, they even said, “I can’t deal with the not drinking” to myself and boyfriend who were doing a non-religious sober Lent. Years later, I was back to drinking and it had steadily upped into a “comfortable” (not comfortable) 2.5-3 glasses of wine in the evening. It was so easy to do: one as soon as I walked in the door, another with dinner, and then another w/ perhaps some chocolate/dessert. I’d see my face and a certain swollen quality that I didn’t like. I read a really good article on a 3 week cleanse, how just 3 weeks resets everything. I also had a friend who went cold-turkey years ago, and I admired her choice – I also stood by her if others decided to comment on her sobriety. So I tried my own mini-cleanse for those 3 weeks. I noticed positive changes: lost weight, my skin felt less heavy around my face. Overall, I looked younger and lighter, and my depression seemed to lift. I let the abstinence go longer. After a month and a half, I found some normalcy returning, even despite no-booze. No, total sobriety didn’t cure my sadness or keep me at a miracle weight. I had to deal with other shit too. I am back to drinking again, with a bottle of wine in the house. But I find myself more comfortable with one glass a night, some nights none, and no hangovers ever when going out. I feel more positive about the lessening of a habit, rather than breaking it fully. Mostly because I love wine, and I want to be able to enjoy something…in very light, healthy moderation. Maybe one day I’ll give it up. Or maybe one day I’ll only drink out with friends. I’m experimenting. I felt ashamed about not being able to fully embrace tee-totaling, like my friend. But I’m my own person – I’ve decided I’ll keep an eye on my vices and try to manage them with healthy replacements that still allow for a fabulous drink to be enjoyed, if more sparingly.

  • jillygirl

    All of the above applies to becoming a vegetarian. God help you when you go all raw, because then it’s best to not mention it and just let people think you’re one of those annoying people who only eat salad, because well, it’s basically true. But my health is more important to me than people who would dare to be annoyed with me because I want to be healthy. Eat and drink whatever you want! And let me do the same, please.

  • ambergris

    I quit drinking after a year of virtually nightly drinking at clubs. There was this one afternoon when I remember thinking that a drink in advance of the evening would feel really great and I realized in that moment that that was how alcoholism began… I began taking b vitamins and continued clubbing but only ordered club soda with bitters to drink and was amazed that I didn’t miss alcohol at all. I still had fun and actually no one ever noticed my drink was non-alcoholic. It was literally years before I had a simple glass of wine, (actually think it was sake).

  • lillian c.

    Honestly I hated that article in Quartz. That woman hated other women when she was drinking and hates other women now. Fine by her that sobriety is making her judgmental under the guise of feminism but hating on women who make lifestyle choices unlike her own is not what personal sobriety should be about. I have been seriously considering personal sobriety lately because I realize drinking is ruining a part of my life and I’d like to catch that before it spirals but hating women who drink, hating my friends who drink will not be part of that journey. I understand being frustrated with drunk people but this article goes beyond that, i read it hoping for some insights but it honestly just made me very very sad.

  • Jayce

    I love going out and drinking and in part could be because I’m only 22, but it’s been a part of my life since I was 16. Sometimes I do worry that I have a problem, but then other times I feel like it’s totally okay that I love drinking and having fun. But maybe taking a month off could be good for me. Thanks for the article, very interesting.

  • Lauren Gallagher

    I just turned 21 and the kind of pressure I felt to drink, and drink heavily was really confounding, particularly because I was raised in the shadow of alcoholism and the shift to sobriety. I appreciate that you put forward this story honestly, admitting to the questions you were left with. It is weird that sobriety always seems like such a wall between those drinking and those who aren’t, it seems like another way of “othering.”

  • nickyt

    After realizing that I have an alcohol intolerance/allergy I decided to stop.The headaches, nausea and hot flashes after one drink were awful. Additionally, my hangovers and depression were worse. Now, I just drink a ton of sparkling mineral water. With Lime or lemon, mixed with juice, Italian creme sodas. The sparkling water still feels festive and fancy. Of course my idea of a raging good time is reading a book or Netflix and chilling with my cats. Boyfriend optional.

  • SpiritAndCourage

    I think we should all try things out to see what feels best for our own physical/mental/emotional health instead of continuing with our normal routine without questioning it.

    OK here are my thoughts being someone who is a moderate drinker: I appreciate that you still tried to keep up with your social life even while staying sober. I am not a heavy drinker by any means but I love to have a drink or two in a social setting. Going to a bar feels very relaxed to me and I like to just hang out and spend time with friends without a particular agenda or set time limit. I would never want to judge anyone for choosing not to have one, but i have to admit, I have found sometimes when friends say that they are not drinking I feel a little bit disappointed. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual act of drinking, but too often those are the people who start to go out less or not at all, and when they do they are often the quiet one in the corner who leaves early. I really don’t care AT ALL whether or not you are drinking, but I do want to spend time with my friend! Maybe people worry so much about whether or not everyone is judging them that it keeps them from having a good time or coming out at all – but most likely their friends are asking why they’re not drinking just because they are curious, not judging. I know its not always as simple and I can totally see the other side of it, but I just wanted to add my perspective from the extroverts-who-like-to-have-a-drink club!

  • Laura

    For anyone interested, there is a great book on Amazon called “Almost Alcoholic” and a good article from “The Atlantic” re” same.



  • Christine Dyson

    My drinking stopped when I was pregnant, it’s never really reached its previous giddy heights because dealing with a screaming child when hungover doesn’t bear thinking about and on the odd occasion when I have had a drink or two, its resulted in a sleepless night despite my alternating alcohol with water (possibly the sleeplessness is due to the alcohol leaving my system). I’m not against it but I can’t say I miss it. On the downside, since I stopped my anxiety and depression has worsened – is it related? Being in my 50s, I have several dear friends who are really affected with alcohol issues and its heartbreaking because it is their coping mechanism and they cannot envisage how they will manage without it. I grew up in a home with a mum who got migraines from alcohol plus we couldn’t afford it, I am lucky in that respect as it isn’t inextricably linked to happiness for me.