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Five Things I Learned From Not Drinking for Four Months

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I had my first drink of 2017 on the third of May. Last December I realized how uncomfortable I’d become with my eighteen-year habit of drinking to excess once or twice a month.

Aside from being expensive and unhealthy, I could no longer deny that alcohol often made me into a person I needed to be drunk to tolerate: snarky, flippant and oblivious.

So I decided to take four months off the drink, to evaluate what it was doing for me, or to me. I also wanted to finally learn how to operate as a non-drinker at parties, concerts, and other get-togethers for which I’d normally get drinks. Would these occasions still be fun? Did I know how to be sober?

The four months was easy. I liked being sober. There were only a few instances where I envied the drinks of people around me. Most of the time I had little desire to drink.

The final act of the experiment was to drink again—two drinks in the first session, and a few more in another session—to see where alcohol and its effects stand with me now, after four dry months. 

How it felt to drink again

On May 3rd I had two strongish craft beers at a local brewery. It felt great drinking them. Walking out into the sun with a bit of buzz going on was a really pleasant, familiar feeling.

But by the time I was home that pleasantness was gone. I felt quite rotten in several ways, and I dissected those feelings in a long, frustrated journaling session at my computer.

I certainly didn’t feel good. I felt like I had lost my best capacities for the evening. There was no creativity, no mindfulness, no optimism. There was also some shame. Even though I was only a little intoxicated, I didn’t want to be seen, or called upon to help someone, certainly if it involved driving, or talking.

I also remember noticing, on the walk home, that the initial euphoria gave way to a strange kind of drivenness. I was unable to enjoy the moment as it was. I really felt needy for something, some kind of next step.

Deep down I know that’s what’s at the center my conflict with alcohol—it quickly obliterates mindfulness, and nothing contributes more to my day-to-day well-being than my capacity to be mindful. It’s no coincidence that my reservations about drinking began to crescendo almost immediately after returning from a silent retreat. Alcohol’s effects make a person more beholden to their desires—more single-minded about them and less philosophical towards them—which is exactly the opposite of what mindfulness does.

When I got home, because I wasn’t about to have another drink, or hop to another bar, the predominant feeling was boredom. I was sitting in my office chair, with a free evening ahead of me, and I struggled to think of things I wanted to do. Nothing I might have done on a normal evening at home appealed: reading, playing video games, organizing something, walking, cooking something, working out or looking up what’s happening in the city.

Normally, I’m virtually never bored. I always have a million interesting things I can do, and there’s never enough time.

Later in the week, I had the “more than a few drinks” session, which was a much more pleasant experience for two reasons: I had some good friends over, and I drank much more slowly. “Drink beer like it’s wine” was my guiding motto. The evening was a lot of fun and I had none of the regrets of two nights earlier. But I attribute the fun to being with my friends. I’m not sure the effects of alcohol added much to it. Again, I liked the drinking, but not much about the effects.

What I learned

I learned a ton: about myself, my conditioned behaviors, my particular forms of neediness, the culture of drinking, the way alcohol conflicts with my usual mode of being in the world. A lot of it is hard to articulate and might not be useful to anyone else, so I’ll share only the main insights.

For one thing, I learned that an alcohol buzz makes me instantly bored with almost everything. This is something I didn’t realize, but it must have always been true. As soon as the beer buzz settles in, I am done for the day with creative work, organizing or planning, physical activity, domestic duties, reading, and most of the things I fill my time with. Left over was only a small range of reptile-brain desires: food, affection, approval, novelty, more drinks. More subtle experiences are lost on me. I remain interested in socializing though, as long as it’s with people who are also present to socialize—I definitely didn’t want to interact with, say, store clerks, bystanders, authority figures, relatives, or children.

This is another way of saying that the effects tend to undermine my favorite human qualities. Alcohol stimulates a certain narrow range of appetites, but diminishes my ability to be articulate, curious, thoughtful, helpful, creative, responsible and, frankly, interesting. (Almost nobody gets more interesting as they drink more, I’ve learned.) Worst of all, I lose the ability to find contentment in small and subtle things, like the play of light, ambient sound, and the subtle emotional signature conveyed by any given room or space—and that kind of contentment is a big part of my life. Alcohol seems to intensify a certain few pleasures, but leaves no room for genuine peace.

I like the idea of drinking a lot better than the experience of it. Everything I like about beer and wine has to do with either the sensations of sipping and tasting them, or the excitement around the idea of drinking. The prospect of “having a few”, especially on a Summer day, still signals to my pleasure centers the same feelings as sunny weather, days off, freedom, friends, and other things I truly do care about.

The drug experience itself is really not that great. When I was a teenager it was new and interesting, in my twenties it launched me into parties and epic nights out that couldn’t have happened any other way. But in my thirties it’s not that interesting a feeling anymore. It’s expensive and bad for you and I have to hand over my best faculties in order to have it.

The bottom line is that regular drunkenness is a stupendously costly hobby. Stepping away from the drinking world underscores just how much people are willing to pay to participate in this particular elective activity, again and again.

Every night, millions of people happily fork over seven or eight dollars, repeatedly, for a beverage, just because it contains a small dose of a low-brow drug. And when a drink is, say, only 5 dollars, it seems cheap when it is still stupidly expensive.

Here’s one example of how warped our sense of “reasonable pricing” is for a beverage. In my time off booze, I discovered high-end coffee. The best beans I can get in this city cost several times what most people pay in a grocery store—up to a dollar (!) per cup. As glorious a cup of coffee as these beans make, that price seems exorbitant to most people. Yet many of those same people will still pay more than double that per glass of the cheapest wine in the store. And that’s at retail price—in a bar it will easily cost three or four times that. (These are Canadian prices.)

Drinking also eats up a similarly insane quantity of time. If you hang out with drunk people sober, you notice that drinking is not something that happens for only two or three hours, like many other social activities. You could go for beers after work and stretch it out until 2:00 am, or even 4:00, when even a very drunk person realizes that the point of diminishing returns has been passed. And then you pay more time to the hobby the next day, as you writhe on the couch, or trudge through your responsibilities.

Then there are health costs, and the social costs of occasionally becoming rude or clumsy, or worse. I can’t quantify those, but for most drinkers they are probably even greater than the time and money. What human beings will pay for the alcohol experience, even if it’s for the five-hundredth time, is astounding.

Will I keep drinking alcohol?

Yes, but not in the same way. I like beer and wine, as premium-priced artisanal food items if nothing else. But binge drinking, as in aiming for drunkenness, has no appeal for me now. I don’t want to be drunk.

Oddly, the not-drinking has refined my palette. I used to find a lot of craft beers too hoppy and bitter, or just too weird, to enjoy—I always wanted something more “drinkable”, which really means something that’s easy to drink too much of. Now I take a long time to drink a beer, I enjoy it more, and one is usually enough.

So I didn’t become a teetotaller, but the days of drinking nine Alexander Keith’s in an evening are over. If I’m going to drink any expensive-ass beverages it’s going to be the good stuff and I’m going to savor it. And you can’t savor anything when you’re drunk.

None of that was why I took this break though. I quit because I realized drinking made me into a person I wouldn’t like if I was sober.

The Best Thing About Not Drinking

My most important lesson in that regard came in the first weeks of my experiment, when I stayed out till 3:30 am, perfectly sober, with a bunch of people who were drinking.

Of all the discoveries I made that night—about alcohol, drinking culture, my usual behaviors—one thing really struck me about being sober: I felt helpful. All night long, no matter what was happening, I kept noticing that I could be helpful.

I helped tidy up, I drove people home, I helped mediate conversations when people were talking past each other. I brought extra chairs down, I moved drinks that were in danger of being knocked over, I listened for what people were really trying to say when they spoke. I made sure nobody got hurt.

Of all the things that happen to me when I’m drinking, the most tragic thing is that my experience becomes all about me. When I’m drinking, I may or may not come off as rude or selfish, but internally, I quickly stop thinking about the experience others might be having.

At that particular get-together, I maybe didn’t have as much fun per se—not as much laughing—but I enjoyed it more. I felt more connected to people and I felt like a better friend. And at the end of the night, something happened that had never happened after a late party: when I went to bed, I felt peace.


Photo by clubsodaguide

Raisin mountaineer May 16, 2017 at 12:02 am

Thanks so much for reporting back in this– I had wondered how it would go for you. I take every January off from sweets and alcohol, and I appreciate the re-set. I have noticed that alcohol does not improve my personality, and that a “fizzy” water quenches the same thirst most of the time. That said, occasionally, with friends, and a fine beverage– one or two are lovely, and plenty. I’m glad you have found that out for yourself.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:25 am

That’s one thing I noticed about drinking — non-alcoholic beverages satisfy almost all of what I want a beer for. Most of what I want is sipping pleasure, which I can get from a soda and lime. So I’ll have the first beer, then keep drinking non-alc beverages and I’m not missing anything.

Barbara May 16, 2017 at 3:07 am

Thanks for sharing, David. Your report has given me food for thought. I like that I had quite different responses to you regarding ingesting or avoidance (although, avoidance is for me, nothing like a 4 month period, and I am a regular rather than a binge drinker.) Your experiences certainly made sense in the context described.I like reminders that we really are all individuals, different genders, ages, stages, needs and resources. Despite that we share a need to understand the dynamics that enable or impair our progress through life, and sometimes see ourselves reflected in the mirrors offered. Awareness is everything.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:27 am

Yes, definitely. I’m sure some people can relate to my drinking habits more than others, but there are lessons here that apply more broadly to habits in general, particularly how once a behavior becomes normal, its effects have a way of becoming invisible to us. It’s worth testing drastic changes on our routines and habits — you can’t help but learn something.

Burak May 16, 2017 at 3:07 am

For a total non-drinker like me, these are quite interesting insights. Thanks for sharing David.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:30 am

Yeah it’s interesting writing this knowing that some people will have direct experience with exactly what I’m saying, and to other people it will be all theoretical. Anyway, I’m glad it’s interesting.

Vishal May 16, 2017 at 3:34 am

Reading this post while I’m on a sabbatical from drinking is reassuring.

I feel exactly like you when I drink, David. Instantly bored with everything including alcohol itself, not interacting clerks or children, sending productivity for a toss. Plus it affects my ability to lift so heavily that my instructor can tell if I’d had a drink the night before.

For the past 4 weeks, not drinking has let me be kind to my system. It’s kept me on track about my weekly goals. Just like you, I no longer feel the craving for it. But I’d like to continue this sabbatical for some more time.

Cheers [no pun intended ;) ]

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:29 am

Cheers Vishal! In my case there were too many other variables to check the effect of non-drinking on my lifting, but I’ve noticed that serious lifters tend to stay away from the booze. It’s interesting to know that a single drink has an effect.

Vishal May 16, 2017 at 9:49 am

Not just 1 drink, David. I’d drink once in 2 weeks, but I’d drink like a fish… And the results were evident the next morning. I either skipped the workout or was at half strength. Plus I got a double chin. Imagine a 5′ 7″, 140 pounder with a double chin :|

Marc May 16, 2017 at 3:36 am

Very good article and observations, David.

DiscoveredJoys May 16, 2017 at 3:44 am

I’m not a heavy drinker, or a middling drinker, usually only with a meal when entertaining friends. At one such occasion I remarked to someone who does drink more regularly how the very first sip of a good red wine is wonderful, but later ones not so much – they agreed.

Typically I now buy wine in small bottles – about one large glass. It’s more expensive but I’m happy to use it in cooking as well as an occasional drink, and I now feel no temptation ‘to finish the rest of the bottle’, or regret throwing some away several days later when it has gone off.

And it helps that Mrs DiscoveredJoys drinks even less than me.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:33 am

Yeah it the rewards tend to diminish right from the first taste, not unlike so many other behaviors, like eating potato chips or even something like surfing the internet. They have such tempting symbolic appeal, and are amazing at the beginning, but the reward dies out quickly even if we continue with it.

The Tepid Tamale May 16, 2017 at 5:16 am

David, thanks for reporting back on this. I have been contemplating some experiment along these lines for a few months now. One thing really hit me, and that was the statement: ‘The four months was easy.’ I was really curious if you would be able to stay out until 3:30am as the only sober person. Thanks for the food for thought.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:36 am

Most of the time I wouldn’t bother doing that — as I said drinking is something that tends to last soooo long that almost anyone would get bored if they weren’t drunk. But I learned so much, and once in a while I might do the same thing again.

Hette May 16, 2017 at 6:07 am

You really hit the spot on the inability to do anything creative or even particularly useful after even a couple of drinks.
I’m not a heavy drinker (do we all say that…?), but I notice that I don’t like to have that glass of wine until I have all the important stuff done and it is OK to “just veg out” for the rest of the day.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:38 am

Totally. I know there are a lot of famous writers who did a lot of their work drunk, but I can’t imagine. I guess they were a lot better, haha

Sarah May 16, 2017 at 6:33 am

I love your honesty and your eloquent way of describing the crummy symptoms of a single hard-drinking night out. I’ve also changed my ways of “enjoying” alcohol. As a writer and editor, alcohol makes me believe I’m the best at what I do, but hangovers make me question all of my abilities for the next three days. Drinking to drunkenness is stupid, and it’s a waste of my creative time and talent.
I always look forward to your articles.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:41 am

“Never trust an idea until it survives the hangover”

Trixie May 16, 2017 at 7:34 am

When I was younger, I used to drink more than I should have had, but after I had kids, I never was tempted to. Of course, I didn’t drink while pregnant or nursing, but after my son was born, I always was afraid something would happen and I’d have to take him (and later my daughter) to the emergency room or some such thing and thought, “What if I’ve had a drink and Medical Professional X thinks I’ve been drinking more . . .” I all but stopped for years other than maybe some wine at a party or perhaps while out to dinner. I didn’t drink at home. A couple of years ago, I finally decided that it’s okay to have a glass of wine or two at home (my kids are 11 and 15).

Another thing I didn’t like was that lots of the parents with kids on my son’s sports team drank A LOT, especially at tournaments, and I didn’t want my kids to think that’s what adults did all the time when they went out. I never want to be the “drunk mom.”

That said, for Mother’s Day, I said I wanted to drink mimosas, and over the course of the morning and after probably two glasses’ worth of champagne, I was done. The idea sounded great, but I didn’t want to lose my entire day. We used the rest of the champagne in our marinade for kabobs.

While I have not had too much to drink for years (and I’ll admit I had a lot of fun in those younger, wilder years), I find that I have fallen in love again with the idea of a glass or two of wine in the right circumstances.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:44 am

I’m not a parent but a big factor for me was realizing how useless I’d be in an emergency if somebody needed help. That alone is a big enough reason to keep the drinking very modest.

Mimosa’s are tough because they tend to get you right in the morning :)

Wojtek May 16, 2017 at 8:04 am

I’d like to add my personal insight. Alcohol, for me, is a non changer. Every time I wanted to change something, I mean habits or being consistent with my decision I made before the alcohol ruined evrything:) This is a non changer drink and it disturbs you on the way to be a better person.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:46 am

It sure does make it difficult to hold an intention, or to challenge yourself at anything. Even after those two beers I found it hard to care about simple acts of self-respect, like hanging up my clothes or doing the dishes.

Mrs. Picky Pincher May 16, 2017 at 8:16 am

This is such a neat experiment; good for you! I’ve never been super into drinking, myself. If I do drink, it’s because I want to be drunk, honestly. And that’s not often, since being drunk kinda sucks. :P

Mr. Picky Pincher has a few beers a day, which adds up financially. I’m sure it’s also not that great for his health, either. But I have plenty of vices, like sugary sweets, so we all have something we can improve on.

It makes me wonder if I should give up something as well and see how life is without it. I’ve tried the coffee route but I’ve always fallen off the damn wagon.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:47 am

Thanks Mrs. P.

I’ve done a ton of these experiments, and while a lot of them didn’t do what I expected, I have always learned something from them. Giving up something for a while isn’t that hard, and it almost definitely will leave you in a better place with it. And if it *is* hard, then all the more reason.

mike May 16, 2017 at 9:13 am

Hearty congratulations. And for those caught in the throes of drinking, they will never understand.

Unfortunately, it took me till my late 50s. Oh, what a waste.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:50 am

Thanks Mike. When I make the original post, I received more than a hundred emails from people who had quit, or wanted to. It is such a pervasive thing in our culture and it is unbelievable how many lives it has a huge effect on. This experiment gave me a ton of perspective and I’m grateful.

Keith May 16, 2017 at 9:41 am

David – thanks for your insights, understandings and findings. Much agreed that we are all individuals and that our choice to imbibe, consume or drink alcoholic beverages is our own. I have never been a ‘big’ drinker or consumed to excess (OK maybe once or twice) but I have come to enjoy the taste and pleasure that can be afforded with a well placed beverage. Examples of this are Guinness as an appetizer (something to chew on) with a ‘milder’ beer to sip on that is tasteful, an inexpensive wine with a spaghetti dinner, a full bodied Merlot with an expensive steak or a delicate white to compliment that sautéed fish dinner.

Sometimes not drinking and observing is entertainment in itself. It is always better to be the friend than to have to be befriended! The peace you feel after helping a friend who gets into trouble can be very rewarding but caution – you may lose some ‘friends’ if you are always helping!

Cheers and to your good health!

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 9:55 am

It’s early still but that so far that is how I am seeing alcoholic drinks: as a food, not a drug. The drug aspect isn’t so appealing, so it keeps me from consuming too much from a food perspective. The first glass is always the best one and that means it’s often better to stop there.

I’m pleased to say I didn’t lose any friends. I no longer have any friendships that are based solely on drinking, which is good. And I have not had a problem hanging out with friends who are drinking.

Cindy May 16, 2017 at 10:01 am

I really enjoyed this article and the knowledge gained by this experiment. I’m actually a “functional” everyday heavy drinker for thirty plus years now, so it’s quite difficult for me to imagine being able to take or leave alcohol the way you have, but I do remember those days when I could have and I wish to hell I had done this kind of experiment. Chronic heavy drinking has changed my brain and I’m so used to being numb that being sober for even a day is an utterly terrifying experience. I’ve recently started meditating and practicing mindfulness and I am slowly seeing some small changes, which is hopeful. I have a rule to meditate first thing in the morning, and most often when I stick to that rule I’m able to put off drinking for a bit longer than usual. I’m not an extremely social person; I prefer drinking at home alone. I make all my social interactions happen early in the day before I start drinking, but I’m always incredibly uncomfortable. Drinking makes me feel comfortable, quiet and numb and those are the reasons I do it. I’m hopeful though that if I keep meditating, that one day I will feel comfortable enough in this body that I won’t feel such an urgent need to escape it. Anyway, thanks for writing this; I connected.

David Cain May 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

Meditation was definitely the catalyst for moving away from drinking in my case. It really does the opposite of alcohol — it makes you open to the present, less beholden to cravings, and less uncomfortable with ordinary life. If someday you want to move away from drinking, investing more time in the practice will undoubtedly make it easier.

I have also noticed that the day has a different tone when I meditate first thing, and now I do that every morning. My practice really broke through when I started sitting for a second time each day. It seems to have an exponential effect.

Cindy May 17, 2017 at 10:19 am

Thanks for your reply. It’s helpful to know that maybe I should try sitting for a second time each day. I definitely notice a different tone in the days I don’t meditate first thing in the morning.

Sharyl Simeone May 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

Thank you for sharing this with me today. I did this very same experiment in 1998 and never went back. It was all consuming, the time, the money invested was senseless. You hit it right on the mark when you said that there is little to no engagement when drinking to drink and isn’t that why we connect with friends to engage? Well done.

Thank you for reminding me why I stopped for a week in 1998.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm

At one time I think alcohol did help me connect, but those times are over. I’m way better at communicating and not shy anymore, so now it’s just a hindrance in that respect.

Elizabeth M. May 16, 2017 at 10:27 am

I appreciated your honesty when you first posted about this and have been looking forward to hearing about your experience. Your insight into how alcohol has been affecting you — especially how it affects what you can give attention to after a drink — is very helpful.

I have had the habit for a long time of having wine with dinner. This effectively shuts me down for the day — no more need for productive effort! In recent months, I have been reconsidering this. I skip the wine more often and am spending more time on low-key productive efforts in the evening.

Thanks for the post. It encourages me in my journey to wine as an occasional pleasure!

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Even at that level, the glass of wine does cost quite a bit! A few hours of low-key work or relaxing can really be worthwhile. Also, the more occasional the pleasure, the more pleasurable it is on those occasions :)

MICHAEL May 16, 2017 at 10:41 am

I write as someone who came to the end of a drinking career in 1994. Brutal message was quit or die. Since then I was led to and have pursued quietist disciplines. My main goal was to stop the committee meeting in my head, to be able to move part the narrative that my life wasn’t fair or was wrong somehow. Now, I delight in silent meditation and contemplation and it is clear to me that any “fix” whether alcohol drugs or some other thrill is the enemy of my living in the present. I can live my life where I’m always here and the time is always now. And I remain convinced that any intoxication would destroy that.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Glad you made the right choice. The time is always now, and I think the “committee meeting” is a big reason why people drink — we don’t always want to be there. That’s why I meditate, and it works better than drinking.

mongoblues May 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

David. I don’t comment on articles. Ever. This is my second time. When an article truly reflects something deep inside, as did your article, I have to respond, for me.

I’ve been a binge drinker my whole life (I’m 57, started drinking at 17). I quit for a year in 2004, and it was easy. I began drinking again, but slowly, not to get that buzz and sedation, but to enjoy the alcohol. I quickly learned I don’t enjoy alcohol. I have allergic reactions to beer and wine, don’t like sweet drinks, so my drink of choice now is a good whiskey. I can sip it slowly and enjoy the flavors. I still, however, am a binge drinker. I never drink alone, it’s only when I’m with people. It’s difficult to stop at just one or two. It’s my alcoholic heritage – my father was an alcoholic.

I learned that I was drinking to get numb. To make it easier to be around people with my social anxiety (which I didn’t know I had until a couple of years ago). I truly believe that people who overdrink are trying to numb some feeling, give themselves some false bravado, or trying to be someone they can’t be sober.

In AA, we used to talk about the “normals” and us – problem drinkers or alcoholics. Normals could drink one or two. Normals could go without drinking for long periods of time. Normals rarely got drunk. Alcohol is legal, easily obtained, and a socially acceptable drug. Let’s not forget that point – IT IS A DRUG.

Kudos to you for your experiment, and for sharing it with us. While your experience may inspire some to quit drinking for a while, or reduce their intake, the bottom line remains – people who overdrink are trying to numb or change something. That’s the story line.

I know, now, why I drank to excess. And there are times when I still do it. It’s like my mind forgets once that first drink is absorbed. And that is the danger. We get numb.

I remember a class I was in that had been a difficult experience for every student. At the end, the instructor told us to relax, take some time for ourselves to reflect, and have a glass of wine. I said that my choice was a cigarette. People quickly chimed in with how bad smoking was, how injurious to my health, etc. NO ONE made those comments about drinking. Working in a hospital for the past eight years, let me tell you…the health effects of drinking are much worse than those of smoking. Socially acceptable drug use clouds the facts that it is still a drug that affects our body and our mind.

Whew. Thanks for letting me share this, and I hope your article helps someone else change and recover.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for sharing this mb.

Every time I write about alcohol a lot of people send me their stories. It is amazing how different they are, and how complex our reasons can be. In my experience, I don’t think I was trying to numb anything, I just found it really fun. Then after the novelty wore off, it was just kind of normal, and in the intervening time I didn’t really develop certain skills that make it easy to not drink, namely meeting people without the “drinking event” pretense. Meditation helped me become more open and much less anxious, and at a certain point alcohol no longer supplied that advantage, because I could do it better sober. So I was still doing it because it was what I was used to and not much other reason.

For what it’s worth, I’m suspicious of the normals/addicts dichotomy, or any “two-types” notion of people — it seems to me like AA tends to be quick to offer simple explanations for complex behaviors and I think that approach probably makes it harder for many people to make the changes they want to make. It’s the right thing for a lot of people I guess.

Totally agreed that drinking is way worse than smoking, and the way they are perceived socially is totally backwards.

Michael Baker May 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

Maybe you were drawn to alcohol during your extremely shy years, and now that you’re gaining confidence and self-assurance the drug no longer serves you.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Totally… It did unquestionably help me socialize early on, those days are long past now.

Sophia Gubb May 16, 2017 at 11:26 am

I like this a lot. I was lucky enough to be an outcast from society at the age when the drinking habit is cemented, so after some experimentation I quickly gave it up. I never needed to become a teetotaller, but I could become one with almost no difference to my lifestyle. I drink for flavour occasionally, usually only when offered by someone else, and have been known to drink just to experiment with the psychological effects. The results of the experiments so far have always been “this is a dumb drug”. It basically makes you less present, as you mentioned; I observe it’s a bit like being tired, you simply have less spiritual energy or focus to put into Presence. (Note; caffeine makes me less present too, it doesn’t reduce my energy but puts more power into the False Self or ego by tricking your body into thinking it’s in danger).

I like drugs in general. MDMA, mushrooms, kanna, psychoactive cacao, valerian, and lorazepam all have their uses, especially as an explorer of consciousness. Strangely, all the typical everyday drugs seem useless to me: alcohol, caffeine, tabacco, even weed which is soon to be legal in every Western country and is pretty much de facto legal as is. It’s only unknown or illegal drugs which seem useful. Could it be that the general populace is just looking for a way of lowering their consciousness?

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Hi Sophia. I agree that as drugs go it is not great… there’s almost no introspective benefit, it makes you less aware, it’s hard on the body, easily leads you to danger and violence, and more. It is interesting that those three legal drugs (alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine) offer the dullest and least useful experiences, and are the most habit-forming. It tells you something about the reasons behind our drug policy.

Cassie May 16, 2017 at 11:47 am

As a former drinker, I think you nailed it! I quit for many reasons, and a big one being for health. To my surprise I struggled with the decision and this sentence summed it up nicely: “I like the idea of drinking a lot better than the experience of it.”

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I think a big hindrance to quitting, for a lot of people, is the extremely positive associations we sometimes make with it the first few times we drink. I know for me it was like this interesting new world. The novelty wears off quickly, but by the time it does it has become normal behavior.

Priscilla May 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

David, thank you for this. Alcohol is not my issue but sugar is (and alcohol metabolizes as sugar). I think sugar does for me what you experienced with alcohol.

So you have inspired me to do a 4 month experiment in giving up all sugar including my occasional wine a craft beer. Yikes. Did I say that out loud??!!

Raisin mountaineer May 16, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Go for it! I find that if I give up only sugar, I crave alcohol, and vice versa. They are definitely intertwined psychologically and physiologically. My dry and sweet-free January re-set both buttons. Best of luck– once you get through the first two weeks it gets easier, promise.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Best of luck! I don’t think beer has sugar in it though…?

Priscilla May 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

David, I’m told that the alcohol itself metabolizes as sugar in our bodies. I don’t have a link to share, but that has long been my understanding.

Linda May 16, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Wow, thanks so much for sharing David! Superbly written article, and wonderful insights!

I also started the one or two drinks, and then sodas thereafter. I found sipping on a non-alcoholic drink made me feel more “included” with the drinkers, plus I wouldn’t get any further offers for free drinks which are difficult to turn down! I found that anytime after 10PM I start wanting to head home if I haven’t been drinking a lot. After 12AM people start getting stupid and I don’t want to be around them. So a side effect is I’m usually the first person to start heading home…. But then I get up at a semi-normal time the next morning :)

Thanks again, was really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Yeah the sipping pleasure can easily be replaced, at least after the first drink, by any sort of non-alc beverage. Having a nice craft beer and then drinking club soda and lime for the rest of the night is good enough for me.

Ozstache May 16, 2017 at 6:16 pm

I yoyoed like this with drinking until I finally realised that the negatives of alcohol far outweighed the few positives it occasionally offered, so now I don’t drink at all. It’s funny how we see drinking as a grown up thing to do, whereas the most grown up thing I have ever done is realise I don’t need it at all.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Yeah, I think we get the idea that it is a “grownup” thing to do when we’re impressionable teenagers, haha

Josh May 16, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Hey friend, this is a path I’ve been desiring for some time now. It’s more of a self control issue at this point. One usually turns into 5 or 6. I can go multiple days without any, but then the 6 or more happens. And that day after when I’m not up to 100% I always think to myself, why do I keep doing this? Your insight is a blessing. I feel so lucky to have met you. It’s inspiring to know, this will be so helpful in moving down this path as well. It just may take me slightly longer to get there. :)

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Josh! Good to hear from you. If you’re up to it, I would definitely recommend a similar break, just to see what you learn. There are immediate benefits, not the least of which is financial. Anyway, drop me a line any time if you want to chat and catch up :)

LanChi Pham May 16, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Dear David,

I found your article to be thought-provoking for two reasons. The first is that you said you are no longer creative when you are drunk. I find this interesting because, like you said in a reply post, some writers do their best work when drunk. The first examples I could think of are these two Chinese poets, Li Bai and Du Fu, (who are still famous 1300 years later) because they wrote their best poetry (actually, most of their poetry), when drunk. Li Bai, especially, is renowned for being a drunk poet even though drinking did not have the same negative connotations in the 8th century as it does now.

The second part that interested me comes from my own personal experience. I’ve only been drunk once and I felt like I was MORE fun and humorous and interesting. I was cracking up my friends while still being kind to them. I guess I must not have been that drunk, but I felt like a better person for being drunk. Then again, that was my only experience.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Traditionally, writers are a pretty drunk lot, haha. And I’m not sure why… I certainly have no interest in writing drunk.

As for your second part — alcohol has a way of making you feel like you’re coming off cooler and more charismatic than you really are… it dials down the self-scrutiny, which can be a relief at first but also allows us to say and do things that we’d be appalled to see on video the next day. So if you are an inexperienced drinker it can easily feel like it makes you better and cooler. It’s possible, but chances are it’s just the lack of self-scrutiny. The fact that other people are drinking around you makes it worse, because they become more tolerant of drunkenness, and less sensitive.

Anna May 16, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Im so glad i live in France…. English people say to me in astonished voices..’you dont drink and you live in France!? ‘ but i explaine to them that actually, here , they drink for the taste of it and noone ever gets drunk. In england you drink at the weekend and it is only for being drunk (a lot of the time). I remember when i decided never to drink again when i was 21 and the amount of pressure i got from people around me was huge. I gave drinking a good try… I started at 9 yrs old with my friends older brother and his friends. I just vomitted and all sorts of other stuff happened that was Not great, i kept trying but it always ended the same….sickness and embarrassing behavior etc… Until i just thought….What is the point? and i havent had a drink since. I feel great. So glad you did your experiment and you can share your findings so eloquently, which will have a Knock on effect on others.

David Cain May 17, 2017 at 1:50 pm

I definitely identify more now with the French approach than the British one, haha. I want the experience of drinking interesting beverages, not the experience of being tanked.

Celia May 17, 2017 at 7:37 am

another awesome post–great reflective writing, great candor and honesty and observation of your experience….

Mike Pulaski May 18, 2017 at 7:11 am

This first person article is one of the best I’ve ever read about the power that alcohol consumption has over human activities.

What’s missing, though, is the subject of addiction.

I personally identify with the writer regarding a period of abstinence. I did it many times. Yes, you discover how alcohol consumption distorts your enjoyment of self and impairs creative thinking/activities. But (sigh) so what ?? You then return to your old behaviour.

But periods of abstinence then returning to consuming alcohol simply mask the bottom line: not taking the addiction issue seriously.

I’m not a participant in any addiction program (AA, etc.) and have no professional education/training on the subject. But just using common sense and being brutally honest with myself (“moment of clarity”), I admitted to my addiction. I have not had any alcohol since, 7+ years.

Jessica May 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

This is an excellent post – and has really help clarified some of my own reservations about drinking. Similarly, I’ve always been a social drinker and I’ve had many a fabulous night of drinking, followed by days of horrible hangover anxiety. I am always so embarrassed by my lack of inhibitions afterwards, and will dwell on it for days.

Since I’ve had my daughter (15 months old) I’ve had one wild night of drinking. The next day was miserable and I was soooo hungover – all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch movies all day, something you cannot do with a small child. Normally I can just hang out with her all day, and enjoy even the small subtle moments of watching her play. Instead I just barely functioned and waited till her nap times so I could sleep it off. I hated that day. I’m not sure it was worth the fabulous night before. I’ve since decided that I don’t want any more hangovers like that, and will now only drink a couple of drinks. And like your observations, I will try and drink just for the experience of having a delicious, cold, fizzy beverage rather than for the experience of being drunk.

I really appreciate your conclusions/observations following this experiment.

julia May 19, 2017 at 6:03 am

hi david.I had to quit drinking years ago because i can’t control it. i’m an alcoholic. but theres been an amazing unlooked-for payoff. to wit, i have been able to finally look at my past behaviors and see how i have set myself up for disappointment or disaster over and over again.

when i was drinking, i felt like a victim. once i got sober and able to think clearly, i saw how many of my “problems” were of my own making. the boundaries between me and other people became much more clear and defined, sparing me no END of suffering!

PS the Fellowship of AA helped me understand all this.

Rain Waters May 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm

The only man more dangerous than a jealous one is bored.

Bank it. Thank you for sharing such insights,


Joel May 19, 2017 at 6:20 pm

I struggle to remain creative after having only one drink. It is almost as if it “zaps” the energy out of my thought process. Typically, I only indulge in a drink on nights where I know I am not working on anything to strenuous and it has worked for me.

Now, I will state that it took me quite some time to realize that but am extremely happy I did.

Dean Wilson May 20, 2017 at 3:19 am

I chose to plug the jug over 8 years ago, do not miss anything to do with the consumption of alcohol. It became so prevalent in my life it was apparent that all my activity was planned around the next drink. I could not envision anyone not requiring alcohol, in some form, in their lives. Have come to the conclusion that nothing in my life could be so bad that a drink couldn’t make it worse…

Sandy May 20, 2017 at 6:13 am

I have a very bad girl inside of me and I’m always afraid she is going to chew throught the leather straps and escape. And alcohol makes her strong.

Abhijeet Kumar May 20, 2017 at 8:59 pm

Good to see you examined this habit with openness. I have never been into drinking, but there was a phase when I would just do it thinking it will help me gel with the group. That’s not a great reason to drink, and it was a faulty assumption anyways, as good connections happen when you are yourself. I did like the feel of craft beer, and the atmosphere, but never craved after it was over.

Recently I have been finding more things to let go. Including some meditation habits, not meditation itself. :) Recently, I got attached to feeling completely relaxed, and would avoid music when alone or anything that would supposedly ruin that feeling of relaxation and groundedness. I would be hyper vigilant about how I was feeling inside. It turns out mind plays tricks, even when you are trying to be self-aware, especially if you want to feel a certain way. I would try to sleep well, but every other day I would mess it up. I am almost beginning to think there is no best way of life. Every strategy has its misses.

Going back to the basics of mindfulness, just experience life as it happens. I mess up sleep, totally fine, that’s an experience. If I obsess over it, I will make missing sleep a habit.

Julieane May 22, 2017 at 8:20 am

This was an INSANELY good article; thank you so much for sharing this. I am working on a year and a half sober — drinking got away from me several times and led to terrible choices and feelings of depression, shame and worthlessness. And all the things that you describe that are felt during your period of non drinking is everything that I’ve experienced too! And I appreciate those experiences so much. It feels so GOOD to wake up every morning and feel good! To feel excited and enthusiastic about the day, and to know that I am available for others whenever they need it, at any moment in time. I do miss drinking still, but like you said, it’s more than the IDEA of drinking that the actual act. Thanks again for telling us your story; VERY inspiring and authentic.

Jess May 23, 2017 at 7:44 pm

I was really able to relate to your experiences on this one! I was a heavy drinker in high school, but around my early/mid twenties I stopped drinking, it was a combo of the habit being expensive, not enjoying hang overs and I had then started to really get heavily involved in becoming healthier. Now that I think about it, I never actually went out to bars and drank, I always found the price of cocktails and drinks just so damn expensive!! I’m from Sydney, cocktails here can range from $15-$25 and they aren’t very large. Although I did find that alcohol was very very cheap when I went to Europe! In Barcelona there are vending machines with cans of beer for one euro!!
Anyways, so I also hated how stupid I’d become whilst drinking. I’d say dumb stuff and do dumb things. My most embarrassing moments have been whilst drunk. In all honesty I don’t even like the taste of alcohol! So that’s a no brainer there really haha Also there is a crazy amount of sugar in alcohol, not all but I’m pretty sure cider and ginger beer have high contents of sugar.
Another thing, I can really relate to you when you wrote about becoming self-absorbed whilst drunk! Yes!! I can’t even explain it but you definitly hit the nail on the head there. Oh and what about how some people become violent?! How is alchohol legal and not weed? People can overdose on alcohol, they become violent, but when you’re stoned you just wanna chill!!
So that’s my rant over! Thanks so much for sharing your experience, I think a lot of people can relate and who knows, maybe you’ll inspire other people to re-think their habit :)

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