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.