Recently I have decided to stop drinking alcohol. Below are some conversations with two friends who are on similar paths. I decided to post these conversations because I am looking for as many perspectives as possible and the LessWrong community might have some insights. I will keep posting future conversations with my friends in the comments.
Chicago is an old friend of mine who decided to stop drinking four years ago. I decided to message him when I decided to stop drinking 30 days ago, and our email conversations are below.
Adirondack is an acquaintance of mine who a few days ago posted on social media his desire to begin a journey to cut back our outright quit drinking alcohol.
On Thu, 6 Oct 2022 at 03:57, Chicago wrote:
Hey bud, following up about not drinking.
I've got a lot of thoughts about this, on both the theoretical and the practical sides, but what would be most useful to you?
Happy to jump in, and will talk ad nauseum about this bc it's a favorite topic.
On Thu, Oct 6, 2022 at 1:43 AM Annapurna wrote:
Thank you for wanting to chat with me about this subject. So I've actually been thinking about how harmful alcohol has been to me for about 10 years. I have journal entries from 2012 saying how much I hate how I feel after a night of drinking, and questioning whether the lost time and energy was worth it.
My questioning whether alcohol is a substance for me comes from two places:
1. Hangovers / physical and mental state the day (s) after drinking. In 2011 I spent 3 months without drinking alcohol while studying for a professional exam. So by the time the exam came, I felt levels of energy and lucidness that I had never felt before. It's as if since I was 15 my body was running at 80% capacity constantly (since I probably went less than 15 days without a drink from 2003-2011), but then after 60+ days of no alcohol, I finally felt what it was like to be 100%. I go back to savouring that feeling a lot. Even on days that I only have 5 drinks or so and I feel the slight hangover the next day, I question myself. No matter how fun the night before was.
2. Sometimes I have a very hard time stopping, leading to extreme drunkenness and putting myself in vulnerable / dangerous situations. It's not often, but often enough. It has happened at every burn except the last one. The majority of the time nothing happens, but there have been a handful of times where there have been consequences, the biggest one yet being last week in Singapore. I not only suffer for 2-3 days recovering, but I feel like a POS EVEN WHEN I didn't do anything stupid / embarrassing or nothing happened to me. I have tried mindfully moderating myself, but as another friend pointed out, I am very good at blending into social situations. So if I am out with a group that is excessively drinking, I do it too.
I guess as I go through this process I am curious to know why you quit drinking 4 years ago or so. as well as the following:
How have you navigated the stigma of not drinking? My thoughts have already been questioned by some of my closest friends, saying that I should not be so extreme. I think they want the best for me so I don't hold it against them, especially with how prevalent drinking is in society. I am curious to know the reaction of your girlfriend, your family and friends when they found out you called it quits.
How do you navigate social situations where excessive drinking is the norm? for example a wedding or a bachelor party. Another sober friend of mine uses the trick of always having a drink in hand (Sparkling water, red bull, etc). Apparently that helps in signalling others that you don't need another drink. Curious to know how you handle these situations.
Let's start there. Again I thank you for hearing me out, The more time passes the more I feel that this will be extremely beneficial to me in all aspects.
On Wed, 12 Oct 2022 at 07:28 AM Chicago wrote:
I... Feel you more deeply on this than you could possibly know. What started to really get me wasn't the hangovers, or the stuff I did when I was drunk, it was the noticeably lower mood for multiple days after drinking even a little bit. If you think about it as you're releasing extra stored dopamine/feel good chemicals when you drink, there's obviously going to be a natural low as your body gets those back up.
For me, it helped to acknowledge, hey I am giving up some bonding experiences with people I love. I'm trading them for a healthier day to day mind/body that I have to live with the rest of the time. Acknowledging that life won't be exactly the same really helped though. I still participate in parties, festivals and other things, although I will say, I have way less desire to just go hang out in bars, which has been a bit of a social loss, but one I've been able to get creative to work around.
1. I've got a couple of things for the stigma. First of all, having done it this long, knowing that folks will only give a shit if I'm not drinking for about the first hour. After the first hour, people tend to forget and go about their business. Not drinking is usually only hard for that first period, then it gets easier as you see, hey I can still have fun, and can still participate in the group. I also try not to bring it up or mention it much, which makes it easier for others to forget.
Family mostly doesn't drink (My dad stopped when I was 15, so they didn't care.)
Friends, I still hang out with pretty much the same people, and still go to bars/parties, so after the first month or so, didn't affect that relationship much.
Honestly, my relationship with girlfriend was the hardest hit. Drinking was one of the things we did together, and going out and finding new bars was a major part of our outward exploration, particularly when we were living in Chicago. It wasn't totally about the drinking, it was mostly about my reduced desire to go out to bars 1 on 1 in general, but it definitely had a tough effect on our relationship for a time while we were navigating alternative ways to connect.
I think that's the biggest thing, is choosing which relationships in your life you care about, and finding alternative ways outside drinking to continue to make space/time for those people.
Friends will often be like, hey a couple won’t hurt. Or just drinking with me won’t be an issue. And they are right but for me opening the door at all means getting back on the horse, because if I have a drink with one set of friends, and others find out about it, it becomes personal for them, oh you’ll drink with them but you won’t drink with me. A blanket nah, I don’t do that works really well.
For stigma, another one that I used a lot was “I’m not drinking right now”, and it’s true because the original effort wasn’t to totally quit for me. It was to see what life looked like without booze. People are really cool with the idea of a break, fast, or diet, so having it as a thing you’re trying “right now” makes it easier on you and them. And it always is just for now. I can pretty easily not drink today but it gets tiring thinking about it for the rest of my life.
My friend I quit drinking with 4 years ago decided to start again within the last few weeks. You can always go back if you want. I will say having a partner in it helped me get this far. If you want a buddy, I’ll be your buddy.
2. Situations where drinking is the norm:
- I don’t bring up the not drinking except when I’m offered a drink. If you don’t make a big deal about it most people will also not make a big deal about it.
- The not drinking right now thing is unbelievably helpful.
- Drugs. Tbh most heavy drinking situations are better with sub a gram of mushrooms or some Molly, or a little low dose weed. The trick is not just using it as a replacement but an enhancement. If you lead all situations with “what do I want out of this/what is my priority?” You’ll usually find your answer.
- One of the biggest game changers since I started for making it easy have been NA beers. Prior to them rolling out, other NA options didn’t exactly match the same feel, but NA beers have made it a million times easier to participate in the social moments.
- Keeping in mind that quitting drinking legit makes you feel like you have super powers. My memory is better. I’m faster, happier, more comfortable in my body.
- What really helped me, even tho it’s the opposite of what AA will tell you is knowing that I CAN drink any time I want to. It’s just really that I don’t want the downstream effects.
This is a topic I’ve spent literally thousands of hours on. Sorry if it’s rambling, and I’m sure I missed some stuff, and sorry it took so long, but hey, here’s what I got.
Happy to talk through all of it/none of it. It really does just come down to what you want though.
I then found out about Adirondack's thoughts about quitting and I reached out to him, forwarding him the emails above.
On Mon, Oct 31, 2022 at 10:25 AM Annapurna wrote:
This is a convo I am having with a friend who's been sober for four years (by choice, he didn't have a drinking problem).
Looking forward to hearing in detail your thoughts. I've now been sober for 30 days, feeling fantastic.
On Tue, 1 Nov 2022 at 00:49, Adirondack wrote:
Your friend, you and I approach this from the same angles in many respects - it’s remarkable actually. I’m really mostly annoyed at how I feel the next several days post drinking, and agree that I feel like a superhero after cutting it out for a while, particularly mentally, but also physically and emotionally.
On weight. I cut for 3 months before a mountaineering trip in 2015 and it set me up for success - really it was the threat of bodily harm that meant I had to cut as much weight and be as strong as possible going on that adventure. I wish I was more simply and regularly motivated. I need some goals. I have a desire to climb harder things and am breaking into 5.11s but know I could send the world…if I was climbing without a “25 pound weight attached to me”
Post drinking, I’m straight up moody - it’s idiotic to invite that into my life. Also, the drinking anxiety is real. I used to get that when living and partying a lot in NYC. Fortunately I don’t go that hard anymore.
I also have a hard time regulating in social situations, similar to what you say - I’ll just keep going. For me, I can follow strict rules, but I can’t seem to figure out what the structure should be for drinking. Is it 5 per week, but with a max of 3 per day / or two per day during holidays, but then what is a holiday? Where would longer breaks fit in? It’s chaos, and it’s hard to see how an approach like this would work.
I was at a halloween party on Friday with a giant bottle of soda water. That was a stupid approach (though challenging now because I can’t have sugar on whore30 - so limits fun NA options). I genuinely do not care about what other people think about my drinking or not, but this was too much of a statement in hindsight. During the above mentioned 3 month break, I would get a highball glass of soda water, splash of cran. It was a great approach and made me feel fancy. Nobody would really bother me - it was good to have something I could always order without delay. A go-to drink eases the questions and looks really confident. People are less inclined to bother you when you know what you want, assertively.
I like cocktails, I love the artistry, smells, and presentation. This will be a challenge for me going forward, to figure out what, if anything, is enough or too much. Seldom are they worth the after effects. Can I have one per week? Back to the rules discussion above…I’ve gone down this path and then often retreated from my own rules, leading only to disappointment (for myself).
In close, I recognize that alcohol is not only inherently a highly addictive substance, but also one that we can be pre disposed to. I’m thinking about taking a test, though family history is already a strong indicator. I guess the point here is that we’re fighting a strong foe, we need superior weapons and support. If you find that somewhere, please share, and also feel free to reach out on your journey.
I then responded to both of them (separately) with the following email (I changed a handful of things in my response to Chicago):
It's interesting that once I set myself on this path I start finding people with similar thoughts about the subject of drinking alcohol.
Random thoughts ahead:
Today is my 30th day without drinking. It's also my last day in India, a place where it's easy not to drink. I am also with my partner who also barely drinks because she is also an athlete. I am heading to Malaysia which should be easy to avoid drinking as well. The real test for me will be Bali (two weeks from now) then home (Everyone in my family is a social drinker and it's christmas time so consumption increases).
It's incredibly curious to me how there are so little resources for people like us: adults who decided to just not drink. I don't think you or I have alcohol dependency issues: it's more that our social surroundings throughout our adulthood encourage the consumption of alcohol.
My biggest concern if I quit drinking outright is how my relationships with my family and friends will change. Other concerns are whether I would miss the taste of certain drinks. Examples are: a cold beer after a long day of exercise, a well made old fashioned, an aerated bottle of Barolo.....but in my head I say to myself: I also really enjoyed the taste of fast food, yet I can and have gone years without the taste of a Big Mac. Is the taste of a nice bottle of wine really something that I am going to miss to the point that my happiness is affected? I think the answer is no.
Not sure if the answer for you is outright quitting, but for me, more and more I think it's the way to go. Will keep you posted on my journey. Maybe when I start leaning towards drinking again I will just re-listen to Huberman's podcast on alcohol and see what happens.
Stay in touch,
Thanks, that was really helpful. I've been having those same thoughts about alcohol for quite a while. It's never been a big dangerous problem, but it's a mild drag on me mentally, physically, and emotionally that I'd like to get rid of.
The typical AA framing turns me off: pseudo religious, complete helplessness, etc. The ideas from you and your friends are a much better fit for me. Some of those tips sound useful, like having a drink in my hand so friends don't feel the need to offer me one.
We are the minority but I think our minority is not so small.
I also agree with you that the AA framing turns me off. I wonder when western society will stop seeing people who don't drink as someone who used to have a problem?
One missing consideration here seems to be the overall group dynamics. Hanging out with a group of friends that have all taken molly for example is a totally different experience than hanging out with a mixed group where some are rolling and some not.
I've noticed the same occurs with alcohol to a slightly lesser extent. Ability to mirror the energy, jokes, conversations, etc. when not in the same state is often reduced (sometimes significantly).
For large parties, this effect is minimal to non-existent, but with smaller groups, I've found it can change the overall group dynamics. Hard to find the right word, but it can lead to less comradery and a less cohesive experience for every member of the group.
This can be true but it varies a decent amount with expectations I think. As my friends get older and more of us have kids to think about it's becoming more normalized to have a mix of sobriety levels at what would have once been drunk parties.
What I fear is being left out of certain social outings because I don't drink and you out it succinctly.
After my fair share of drinks during university, I rarely drink in the last 7 years – approx. since I joined the Rationalist communities –, even when others in my group are drinking hard.
Bit of a counterpoint to the post. Usually, I can trust a person more once we've gone drinking together; but interestingly, I can Rationalists relatively quickly without any drinks. (As a person, not necessarily as a friend.) Maybe this is because of the much stronger internal consistency of the community members, and that their statements can very often be taken at face value? There are still people in the community whom my intuition does not fully trust (not for tangible reasons), and I believe our relationship would benefit from drinking enough that both of us feel the lack of self-inhibition in the other person, effectively acting as a Veritaserum. (I don't insist on alcohol; open to suggestions for other drugs.) Unfortunately, I haven't had more than a couple beers with any LW community member, that would probably be an interesting experience.
However, some of the best gatherings I've had were with sober people (almost always in the LW community), and these were great partly because everyone was sober. If for nothing else, I applaud your experiment and the mindset you and your friends described.