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Why I drink (in moderation) 
14th-Nov-2011 10:08 pm
lucie, miller time
I recently read John Scalzi's Thanksgiving Advent post about not drinking alcohol, which reminded me of Amy Sundberg's excellent post about why she doesn't drink alcohol. There were two things I found quite striking about these posts: First, that despite being a moderate drinker myself, I agreed with a lot of what they had to say. And second, that it was frankly a bit odd that it's those of us who choose not to indulge in a mind-altering, toxic*, and potentially addictive substance who find themselves having to justify their behavior.

So, in the interest of fair play, I thought I should write a post about .

I suppose the first part of the answer is that I was brought up in a household where moderate social drinking was perfectly normal. At most dinners, the adults would have a glass of wine or beer. If my parents had friends over, they would serve wine or cocktails. If we as a family were invited over to someone's house, and we weren't bringing food or another gift, we would always bring a decent bottle of wine. (To this day, I still have a hard time arriving at a dinner party empty-handed. This has resulted in my unwittingly foisting bottles of wine on very gracious teetotaller friends. I do generally remember not to do it once I'm clued in.) My maternal grandfather, who was raised by a French mother and a French-Canadian father, has always been adamant that even quite young children should be allowed a taste of wine on celebratory occasions.

So that pretty much set the model for how I drink alcohol: in moderation, nearly always with food, and always with company. (I can't ever remember having an alcoholic drink without at least one other person present. It's not a deliberate policy of mine, but drinking alone just feels weird.) My habits were pretty much formed long before I gave much rational consideration to the question of whether I should drink. I could have decided to quit, of course, but there never seemed to be an entirely compelling reason to.

Like many of my friends who don't drink, I am quite concerned about the downsides of consuming alcohol. I'd never want to do something dumb that I wouldn't do sober simply because I'd had too much to drink. And I'd never want to rely on alcohol as a social disinhibitor or a way to relax. I never regard alcohol as mandatory in any given social occasion. I often go for months without having a drink. My general rule is that if I do drink, I have one drink. Maybe two if I'm not driving.

My commitment to moderation is greatly aided by the fact that, as far as I can tell, being drunk just isn't as fun for me as it is for some other people. If I stay in the one to two drink range, I sometimes experience a brief buzz where I get a bit chattier than usual. But beyond that, if I drink enough alcohol to notice it having an effect on me, two things happen. First, I get self-conscious about whether the alcohol is affecting my behavior and start analyzing everything I do or say for signs that I'm getting stupid. Second, I get really sleepy. It's probably the flip side of my being able to drink ridiculous amounts of coffee and still sleep like a log, but it doesn't take a whole lot of depressant to start shutting my brain down. So much for alcohol as a social lubricant. Nothing says "Party Time!" like being withdrawn, self-conscious, and sleepy.

The one time I can recall really feeling like I'd overindulged, it felt almost exactly like playing a first-person shooter on a system with really bad lag. And it was about as much fun. I was perfectly steady, but it felt like there was a pronounced delay between my brain initiating any action and my body executing it. I can only assume that it's different for other people, or that other people have weird ideas of fun.

One area where I do differ from many of my non-drinking friends is that I do enjoy the taste of alcoholic beverages. Not of every alcoholic beverage - most of them are pretty nasty. But a glass of good wine paired well with a dish can add something to a meal. And there are taste experiences to be found in a good sake or single malt scotch that I've never come by anywhere else. It can be an odd sort of pleasure - some of the things I taste in good scotch are things I'd normally expect to be cleaning up with hazardous materials spill kit - but it's a pleasure, nonetheless.

Finally, while I'd like to think I'm above such things, I have to admit that being a moderate drinker is socially easier than being a non-drinker. Statements like, "Oh, no thanks, I'm driving," or "No thanks, I got up early this morning and a drink will just make me sleepy," raise a lot fewer eyebrows than a flat out, "I don't drink." Once in a while, I get hassled by someone who is clearly planning on getting tanked and wants social cover for overindulging, but I don't often hang out with people who do that sort of thing. And there was a bit of family rumor-mill hilarity one time when a relative observed me not drinking on two consecutive evenings and decided that the only plausible explanation for this must be that I was pregnant. But for the most part, unremarkable behavior doesn't get remarked on.

*Yes, there's evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is good for you. But any substance that makes your liver go, "Woah. Hang on a mo, gotta deal with this!" when it hits your bloodstream is a toxin in my book.
15th-Nov-2011 11:28 am (UTC)
Being a non-drinker doesn't have to be that much more difficult socially. You just avoid saying "I don't drink" and instead say things like "Not tonight, thanks." And excuses like the ones you mention above work fine if they happen to be true, or if you're willing to lie.
15th-Nov-2011 12:42 pm (UTC)
In general I have been working on offering fewer social excuses. It's amazing how often they are proving to be unnecessary when I can just say, "Oh, none for me, thanks," or, "I'm so sorry, I won't be able to," without specifying exactly why.
15th-Nov-2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
Yes. I think there's a part of our brain that feels that it's more polite or less arguable-with to offer a reason, but it often has the opposite effect of inviting quibbling or problem-solving around the proferred reason.

In some situations, I repeat to myself, "It's not a math test. It's perfectly fine to give the answer without showing your work."
15th-Nov-2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
That's true, and the non-drinkers I know don't tend to make an issue of it. Still, it's clear from Scalzi's and Sundberg's posts that it does come up as an issue sometimes, and that they've gotten flak for it that I've never had to experience as a moderate drinker.
15th-Nov-2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
Ditto this. As someone who has a drink perhaps three or four times a year, I've never had a problem with people hassling me about not drinking. I think it comes down to not offering excuses. A simple 'not tonight' or 'I'm good' has always worked just fine.
15th-Nov-2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. I've enough friends in recovery that I'm used to hearing , "I don't drink." And then I offer other refreshments. If people are pushing things on you at a social function, that's tacky at best.

I see less drinking in my future as part of my Carry Less Weight Up That Wall program.
15th-Nov-2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's really not unusual in my social circle for someone not to be drinking. When I host parties, I put as much care into selecting the non-alcoholic refreshments as I do the alcoholic ones.

It does seem that drinking is not conducive to weight or fat loss, although people do argue about whether it's just a matter of calories (of which alcohol has plenty) or whether the alcohol actually affects your metabolism.
15th-Nov-2011 03:10 pm (UTC) - Ironic icon is ironic
I agree with all of this. I love tasting wines because the complex flavors and taste sensations aren't in foods (at least, aren't in any foods that I know of) and drinking fun, overly girly cocktails with umbrellas in them is a rite of adulthood (as far as child me was concerned.) (I mean, really, there's still a little part of me that, no matter how dignified the occasion, wants to squee with excitement when she sees a fancy cocktail on its way to the table.) But the flip side is that too much alcohol makes me headachey and melancholy, and then may be followed by stomach upset the next morning. Since one of my life goals is to avoid throwing up, drinking to excess just doesn't cut it for me.

Anyway, bravo! Next time you visit, we should to someplace with nice appetizers and have one fun girly drink each. :)
15th-Nov-2011 06:27 pm (UTC) - Re: Ironic icon is ironic
Ah, yes, that was something I didn't really touch on in my post - the lore and the ritual of drinking. The special glasses for different drinks, the little rituals involved in things like approving a bottle of wine that the waiter brings you at a restaurant, the elaborate cocktails with funny names - it's fun. It's not completely unique to alcohol - people can get just as obsessive about coffee and tea. But it is part of the experience that I enjoy.

And yes, next time I'm in town, we should have that girly drink together!
15th-Nov-2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
I'm a moderate drinker married to a non-drinking husband, so I get both sides of the story. It's very frustrating when people either assume that they are the perfect person to persuade him out of a decades-long decision - "But this drink is really good!" - or that he's a recovering alcoholic, which he isn't.

Ironically, I had a colleague come up to me yesterday and say that he had noticed that I hadn't drunk a lot of my beer at the previous faculty outing, and was it that I just didn't like beer, or something else? I explained fairly honestly, although most of it was, that, well, without a very active social life here and not generally drinking alone, my tolerance has gotten low, and I knew I was driving home through a snowstorm.
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