Why I Decided to Stop Getting Drunk

I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided I was going to stop getting drunk. I was in Rio de Janeiro, laying in bed, the sand in the sheets scratching my sunburned legs. The air was heavy with heat, which would’ve made sleep impossible had the argument I’d just gotten in with my boyfriend and my impending hangover not already done so.

He and I and a group of friends were in town for Carnival. We’d just gotten back from our first real night of revelry. It would be our last. 

Earlier in the week, we’d gone to the block parties and attempted to dance samba in the street but always as observers. That night, we decided to participate. We dressed up, doused ourselves in glitter, killed an extra-large bottle of cachaça in 30 minutes, and headed out to a block party where we joined the parade.

Things went south fast. No one had eaten ahead of time, there was no drinkable water to be found, and our group, drunk and messy, quickly fractured. My boyfriend and I found ourselves on the beach, far from our friends, fighting about the fact that he wanted to make sand angels and I wanted to go home. 

Hours later, after I’d stormed away, gotten lost, and been nearly trampled by a rogue samba queen, we were both back in our friend’s apartment, laying in that bed, very much worse for the wear. I vowed to myself: this was not fun, and I would be doing it no longer.

 

Drinking to Excess, Also Known as Thursday

To be clear, it had probably never been that fun, the drinking to excess. But it was what we did. It was what we did in college, going out two to three times a week and downing pregame shots of whatever bottom-shelf vaguely-fruit-flavored vodka someone had in the freezer, then $1 margaritas at the bar, then big, sugary saucers of 50% ABV punch while we cooled off from the dance floor.  

Then, it was what we did at work, hitting the company Christmas party and becoming far too acquainted with the three open bars or going for drinks with the team and bonding over beers. And it was what we did on first dates when both of us were too nervous to make good conversation, so we ordered rounds and rounds of whiskey with soft, bitter cherries, sipping them till our throats glowed and the words came out easier. 

Even as I did all this, and even as I dealt with embarrassing mistakes I made while doing it, I knew it wasn’t good. I’d filled out the questionnaires at the doctor’s; I knew the definition of binge drinking for women was drinking four or more drinks in about two hours. I knew that meant that I almost never drank without it technically being a binge. I knew regular binge drinking could shrivel my liver and lead to chronic disease.

But we were all doing it, and we were all fine. Right? 

It felt like the only way. 

What was the point of drinking if you weren’t going to get drunk? For all of the real-adult habits I’d picked up during and in my first years after college, actually liking the taste of wine or whiskey wasn’t one of them. Alcohol served only one purpose: to change the contours of a situation. I didn’t need it per se. I could go out without drinking; I did it regularly when I didn’t want to spend money or couldn’t spend the weekend hungover. I never thought I had to drink to be fun or chat up someone new or be willing to do the splits on the dance floor. 

But drinking did make things unpredictable, and unpredictable was fun.

Until it wasn’t.

 

 

I Guess This Is Growing Up

Showing up for a brunch that turned into bar-hopping around the East Village on a quest to find the best picklebacks started to get old. Waking up the morning after a professional event and wondering if I’d said something inappropriate to a boss was very much not enjoyable.

Things were changing. I was getting more protective of my limited non-work time and wanted to spend it reading and exploring versus nursing increasingly-worse hangovers. I was saving for a year-long trip abroad which made it much harder to drop $15 on a cocktail. I’d come to actually enjoy the tastes of certain beers or wines and would want a pint or a glass for the experience of drinking it, not as a vehicle to inebriation.  

 

Things were changing. I was getting more protective of my limited non-work time and wanted to spend it reading and exploring versus nursing increasingly-worse hangovers.

 

Self-care was taking over every lifestyle publication, heralded as a salve to millennial problems. It could be done with little money — drugstore face masks, $2; canceling plans to read, free — which was key, since we’re poorer than previous generations. And its holistic approach to dealing with stress — hitting the yoga mat versus hitting the bar — meshed with our general generational preoccupation with wellness.

All of this — my circumstances, gentle pressures from mass media, my peers’ habits — meant that I stopped drinking so much. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what was happening.

Then I started traveling, and my focus was on seeing new things and trying new food and salsa dancing until three in the morning, not on cozying up to the hostel bar and drinking myself into a stupor before Ubering to a generic nightclub that played the same music I could’ve found back home. (I did do that once or twice, which confirmed that it was not worth it.)

I wasn’t the only person shying away from alcohol. A drop in drinking among millennials has been the subject of many a media investigations in the past few months, with journalists speculating that it’s because our generation is replacing alcohol with ever-more-legal weed or worried about reputation-damaging blackout photos surfacing on social mediaI read the pieces, and some of them resonated with me, but the overall reasoning behind why I started shying away from booze two years ago and why I made a conscious decision to no longer drink to inebriation four months ago was missing. 

For me, it’s simple: alcohol doesn’t make me happy, and I’m now in the habit of pursuing only that which does.

 

 

For me, it’s simple: alcohol doesn’t make me happy, and I’m now in the habit of pursuing only that which does.

 

 

Not Totally Teetotaling

I can’t say it’s not nice to have that buzzy-head feeling when you’re a few champagnes deep and the world just feels right. That does make me happy, sure. But it’s such a small part of drinking. The rest of it — the monetary cost, the opportunity cost, the lost possessions, the bad decisions, the dry mouth, the aching head, the roiling stomach — doesn’t make up for it.

I’m not saying that I’ll never be drunk again; I’m sure there’ll be a birthday or a bachelorette or a pride party or a wedding that gets a little out of control, as those things are wont to do. 

But overall, I’m drinking less and staying in more, and while it’s not as catchy of a lyric, I can fully recommend it as a lifestyle choice. Cheers to that.

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