This post is the second of a four part mini-series titled, ‘Why I Quit…’ in which I discuss my reasons for cutting out caffeine, alcohol, meat and dairy.
I used to drink pretty regularly – I’d go out most weekends and often have a glass or two of wine during the week. It was an unconscious habit, and I just thought it was what I was supposed to do. I assumed that all teetotallers were recovering alcoholics or pregnant, and genuinely believed that getting routinely drunk was just a normal part of life. Sundays were always my least favourite day of the week simply because I always had a terrible hangover! It never occurred to me that I’d be happier without alcohol.
I know almost everyone drinks, but does that mean you have to?
It sounds crazy, but I didn’t think I had a choice. Alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that anyone making the choice not to drink can often be seen as odd – weddings, birthdays and many work events all revolve around some form of alcoholic beverage, and it’s so easy to get sucked in. Looking back, it scares me how much I normalised drinking something so addictive on a regular basis!
The World Health Organisation states: “Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with a known liability to produce dependence in humans and animals. If considered in the frame of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, alcohol would qualify for scheduling as a substance that has the capacity to produce a state of dependence, and central nervous system stimulation or depression, resulting in hallucinations or disturbances in motor function or thinking or behaviour or perception or mood… so as to constitute a public health and social problem warranting the placing of the substance under international control.” How scary is that? If introduced today, alcohol would be classed as illegal and as dangerous as cocaine or heroin. In fact, there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2014 alone. And yet everyone around me is drinking it!
Unfortunately, university culture seems to set us up for a lifetime of alcohol use. A lot of major university events involve drinking, and it’s even encouraged by many lecturers and professors. We’re marched along through orientation week and parties every Friday and Saturday night and spat out the revolving doors to after-work drinks and rooftop bars, with a beer in our hand the entire time. The best decision I’ve ever made was to break away from the arm steering me along, and instead choose a life without alcohol.
You really, really don’t need to drink to have a good time. I can’t stress this enough! I actually have more fun when I go out now because I’m fully present in the moment. Once I stopped drinking I found that I naturally moved away from the nightlife scene, and started to prefer going out for dinner or seeing a movie on a Saturday night. But this doesn’t have to be the case for you – there’s no law preventing you from being sober in a bar or nightclub!
In the paper ‘Alcoholism: A Neurological Perspective’, published in the National High School Journal of Science, it’s stated that alcohol has a higher withdrawal and intoxication rate than heroin or cocaine. Almost everyone I talk to wants to cut down on their alcohol intake, but they very rarely do. It’s my firm belief that anyone who drinks alcohol, no matter how high or low their intake, is addicted in some form. It’s a difficult subject to discuss without sounding preachy so I generally keep quiet about it, but I feel like it’s time to speak up.
I recently learned that almost half of pregnant woman in Britain drink alcohol during their pregnancies. That in itself should show how addictive it is! So many people look down on these women and call them selfish, but addiction can override even our most powerful parenting instincts. Think about it – would a woman in her right mind really want to do anything that comes with a risk of harming their child? Of course not! It’s completely unnatural – we’re programmed to protect our offspring at any cost.
When we drink alcohol, endorphins and dopamine are released in our brain causing pleasurable feelings of happiness and contentment. They stimulate the part of our brain linked to decision-making and addictive behaviour, so it makes sense that when we make the decision to drink (which brings us pleasure) then we’ll likely make another decision to repeat the behaviour. This is why people get cravings for alcohol, as we want to replicate that pleasurable feeling.
I remember the crushing anxiety I would feel after a night of heavy drinking – it wasn’t anchored to anything, I just felt terrible. If I had another drink, I’d instantly feel lighter. It’s like caffeine: I thought it was helping me feel better, but I actually would have been fine if I hadn’t consumed it in the first place!
It seems that so many of us use alcohol to block out the things that we don’t like about our lives. I definitely did – if I was feeling down or stressed, I’d reach for a glass of wine or plan a night out. While it does temporarily relieve the pain, it does nothing to address the actual issue and you’re often left feeling worse than you did when you started. We all have that one friend who gets really depressed and emotional when they’re drunk – maybe that person is you? The world can feel scary and hopeless sometimes, but that’s exactly when you need to grit your teeth, find that inner strength and say, ‘I’m not going to let this beat me. I’m going to change things.’ I’ve found that meditating, writing in my journal or talking to someone I trust is just as effective at relieving stress, and they actually can help to solve the problem! Next time you reach for that bottle, ask yourself what you’re trying to escape from. It can be a real eye-opener.
The reaction I get from people when I tell them I don’t drink is really interesting. They’re always surprised, and often say things like “I wish I had your willpower!” That’s a nice thing to hear, but it’s not willpower – I don’t miss alcohol at all. My life is so much better without it. I used to spend at least four days a month feeling hungover – that’s almost two months out of the year! Now I can fully enjoy my weekends, and have become much more productive and creative as a result. Most importantly, I feel so much happier.
Like veganism, choosing to step away from alcohol can feel scary and isolating. You’re no longer following the crowd, and are forging your own path. That’s an amazing thing! Be a shining example of the benefits a sober lifestyle can bring – many people don’t even know that it exists. I know I didn’t!
When I stopped drinking, I started living – authentically, passionately and joyfully.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol or simply want to cut back, please speak to your doctor and let them know. They will be able to guide you in the right direction.
Interested in learning more about my journey to sobriety? I’ve written a blog post about the amazing things that happened to me when I stopped drinking alcohol – read it here!