I'm 21. Should I start drinking?
January 31, 2005 4:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm 21. Should I start drinking? [MI]

I've abstained until now because of a history of alcoholism in the family. I didn't actually witness said alcoholism first-hand (or at least can't remember it), and the household was always bone-dry. I was generally given the impression from a young age that alcohol causes families to break apart, and that because of my genes it would happen to me if I ever drank.

Reflecting on college, I'm probably one of the few people who enjoyed the social scene in high school more. I felt like a social all-star (within my peer group), but since all my friends started drinking (and now also in college), I've been pretty self-conscious and uncomfortable in social situations.

I would have to think that my risk for alcoholism is considerably lower since I haven't had a drop before now. Are social benefits worth drinking for? Am I missing out on an important human experience? How would I create a distinction between alcohol and other drugs (which had all been in a general category of "don't do this or you'll fuck up any future family you might hope to have")?

Thanks for your opinions. I love you, MeFi!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (79 answers total)
Are social benefits worth drinking for? Am I missing out on an important human experience?


Alcohol causes different reactions in different people. Some are happy or silly drunks. Some are angry or belligerent drunks. Some just pass out on the floor. It's a depressant, remember.

The drinking age in the US is set arbitrarily high, and as you are aware most people begin drinking much earlier. This gives them the benefit of knowing their limitations and tolerances before they become adults. You don't have that benefit, and when you drink with your friends you might find yourself in compromising or uncomfortable situations that you might have otherwise anticipated.

Given your family history, why start? I don't see a good reason. There's certainly a taboo against those who choose not to share in particular human experiences. Sex is the primary example. However, I think that those who choose not to drink are on the whole enormously respected, since a large percentage of those who do drink likely regret some aspect of their drinking.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:30 AM on January 31, 2005

I don't drink. I have never regretted it.
posted by Ryvar at 4:31 AM on January 31, 2005

Just because you haven't drunk anything before now doesn't mean that you're not susceptible to alcoholism. I'd even go as far as to say that it makes you more susceptible.

The problem here is that there is no way for you to know how you'll take to drinking without first starting drinking. If you are really worried about it, then my advice is to not do it. I believe that the social uncomfortability will wear off as you get used to being a drink related outcast.

As for missing out on an important human experience. I would say that you are, but the numbed lack of control drink gives you isn't for everybody.

As a counter argument, I'm of the opinion that the term "Alcoholism" is over-used. By most American standards, I should be standing in a small room, introducing myself as an Alcoholic and telling people about how I regularly binge drink. Ask your parents to define the level of alcoholism they suffered, and ask yourself if you could cope with that for the rest of your life.
posted by seanyboy at 4:41 AM on January 31, 2005

The positve benefits for not drinking far outweigh the negative ones. Any person worth their salt will be able to handle your not drinking. If they do have a problem, my money is they are projecting their fears onto you.

Just don't start preaching the benfits of not drinking. They might punch you when they are hammered.

Also, parlay your non-drinking status into a useable resource: the designated driver is a valuable resource but don't let them take advantage of you.

If you must, try a one time binge drinking. The hangover might put the idea of becoming a drinker into the far netherworld. But this is only if you feel you are missing out of a experience most of your peers have had. Being drunk is never that much fun to those watching.
posted by Dagobert at 4:43 AM on January 31, 2005

You shouldn't start drinking just to fit on. On the other hand, you shouldn't not drink at all just because you are worried that you are a secret genetic alchoholic. I think being conscious of the possibility for trouble is a good starting point. If you're curious about the drinking scene, give yourself some parameters and try to stick to them [along the lines of "I'll have a glass of wine or two with dinner" or "I'll have one beer while I'm at the superbowl party"] and see if you enjoy alcohol, as well as whether you have any problems once you experience its effects. Enlisting a friend who you are pretty sure knows how to drink reasonably is a good thing to do.

I would argue that you're not missing out on an essential human experience, but that it's not a bad idea to have some familiarity with drinking culture in the US because it's so ubiquitous, and can be fun. My history is not entirely dissmilar to yours: one alchoholic family-break-apart parent, one adult-child of alcoholics parent. No real sane education about how "normal people" drink, just lots of oogie-boogie stories and what I could witness which was unpleasant but pretty hard to generalize from. I had what I would consider a drinking problem in high school and then quit entirely for a decade and now I drink occasionally, but pretty rarely. I find that when I do drink I have problems with limits but I'm in a pretty supportive relationship where those problems don't translate into real world issues like having to drive home drunk or going home with strangers in bars that I normally wouldn't go home with. I enjoy drinking in fairly specific situations and don't feel inclined to drink at other times. I get very occasional grief about not drinking from friends; it doesn't bother me.

As far as alcohol vs. other drugs, I find the biggest difference is just the legal vs illegal culture around them and all the things that go along with that [risk, stigma, etc] Everyone will have their own opinions on drugs, but for me personally [and my drug-taking path mirrored my drinking path along a later timeline in some ways] I found that while I didn't see drugs as a "fuck up your future" sort of experience, I just got less interested in all drugs and alcohol as I got older. Drugs are in a general sense much easier to avoid and much easier to have a solid reason for why you don't do them, alcohol is a little fuzzier and you're more likely in an average situation, to meet someone who thinks your not drinking is weird, compared to your non-drug taking.

Ultimately, it's your decision, but I'd say if you're curious try it and if you don't like it, just never do it again. Have a buddy or a partner to keep you company and keep you honest with yourself, and see what you think. On the other hand, there is nothing at all wrong with not drinking and I agree with seanyboy, social situations do get a lot easier to deal with over time.
posted by jessamyn at 4:45 AM on January 31, 2005

i don't drink, and i'm constantly surrounded by people that do and try to pressure me to do so.

i figure, if you're happy not drinking, then carry on that way. and as you're asking, are you missing out on human experience? well, not to my knowledge.

if you feel pressured to do so, then decide what you want and go with it.
posted by triv at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2005

i had "issues" with alcohol because someone close to me used to drink on antidepressants when i was a kid, so i associated drink with scary emotional extremes. this led to a few uncomfortable experiences later in life - i once worked for a company where i was told, at my annual performance review, that i should go to the bar "with the lads" more often.

i don't know if your case is similar, but fwiw, i found that starting to drink a small amount, but refusing to get smashed, worked well. i now drink regularly (my parents are currently visiting, so dad and i are sharing a bottle of wine with each evening meal, for example). however, i've never drunk enough to be ill, or have a hangover, and i'm quite happy with the balance.

so, ignoring whether alcoholism is inherited (either genetically or through learnt cultural attitudes) - something i know nothing about - i'd say drink a moderate amount and see how it goes.

however, having said that, one things worries me about your post. maybe it just means you're more socially aware than me, but i never felt pressure from other people was a good reason to drink. in fact i found people who got seriously drunk pretty stupid (stronger than that - almost repulsive), so the idea that i should behave like them never crossed my mind. i'm not at all sure drinking will solve your social problems. that sounds more like confidence. you need to learn how to think "fuck'em, i'm me, and how they deal with it is their problem, not mine". in my humble opinion.

that doesn't really answer your questions, i guess. trying more directly - i don't think drinking is a "necessary" experience. it's a pleasant feeling - it relaxes you, removes a few inhibitions - when things are good, but it's not so good if you're unhappy or frustrated (in my experience). i don't see morally how it's different to other drugs, except in various details (like how well its effects are known, relative likelihood of addiction, etc), and in the eyes of the law, of course, but, having said that, i've never tried other drugs (the childhood experiences i mentioned associated not just drink, but "losing control" with "badness", so there's a similar hurdle for other drugs and i don't see any point in trying to cross it).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2005

If you do decide to start drinking, my advice to you is to start slow (basically for the reason Saucy Intruder and seanyboy pointed out - you aren't used to it). Perhaps have a glass of wine with dinner a couple of times. See what that does to you. Then make a decision.
The good thing is, despite feeling the pressure from the whole social drinking scene, you've resisted till now. Good for you, you should feel very proud to have stood by something that is important to you (absolutely no sarcasm here). You've shown a lot of strength in the face of social pressure. That said, I've seen a lot of people start drinking late and become real booze-hounds. Not alcoholics, just heavy drinkers who made a lot of mistakes while drunk.
posted by nprigoda at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2005

Genetics is not destiny. Communal drinking is a good way to bond with other people and create shared experiences with friends, provided it's done (as with everything) in moderation (If I'm going out, I always deliberately underestimate the amount of cash I'll need so that when I run out of money I have to stop drinking). But then, white-water rafting and singing in a choir can provide the same benefits. Drink if you feel like it, or not. Either way your total sum of happiness will be about the same.
posted by Ritchie at 4:50 AM on January 31, 2005

I chose not to drink, for reasons similar to your's. I still don't wish to start now, but when I look back I find I sometimes regret not trying to fit into that culture. Drinking is like a religion, it's all over people's t-shirts and ball caps, and it's all some people ever talk about, often as a means of trying to connect with others they have just met. So much that is social revolves around drinking. Because I have social hangups, I always feared becoming too reliant on it. I think it would have been better, in retrospect, to be a moderate social drinker rather than a complete abstainer.
posted by TimTypeZed at 4:51 AM on January 31, 2005

I don't abstain, but I've never liked getting drunk. So I usually have one glass of wine and then stop. When I was younger, this did cause me some social problems. One time, it even caused me trouble at work. I had a manager who liked to bond with his employees by buying them beer. Besides being a very light drinker, I hate the taste of beer have trouble even swallowing it without gagging. Because I wouldn't accept beer, my employeer took a dislike to me. This was in London, and drinking is even more a part of the culture than it is in the US.

I had other problems which added to my non-drinking problem. I have a kind of straight-laced look. I'm really not "sqaure," but that's the impression my face gives people. And when they see that I don't drink, then they're sure they have me pegged. So then there's all sorts of stuff they don't say around me. Then, when one day I drop something on my foot and yell FUCKING PISS CUNT SHITHOLE!!!! they are totally shocked.

All of these social problems have decreased as I've aged. At 39, it's not much of an issue.
posted by grumblebee at 4:59 AM on January 31, 2005

It's just no fun--even for someone who likes a drink--being the only sober person in a crowd of drunks.

I've heard that those who start drinking later in life are less likely than early-adopters to develop alcohol-dependency problems. But a genetic predisposition for alcoholism might trump that.

If you do decide to try drinking, then maybe, as others have said, try to keep your imbibing habits relatively healthy by only partaking when you're out for a meal, say, with an aperitif & a glass or two of beer or wine with your food. Advice, limits, etc. with regard to alcohol (even of the self-imposed kind) can be hard to follow, though, as drinking, amongst other things, lowers inhibitions & impairs judgement.

I drank recklessly when I was at college, and while there were plenty of great times, there were also a few accidents & injuries (fortunately, I was the only casualty of these) & many nasty, nasty hangovers. More generally, even though I've over-used alcohol at times, I don't regret being a drinker.

The simplest way to look at alcohol with respect to other drugs is from a legal point-of-view: you won't get arrested for possession of a bottle of vodka.
posted by misteraitch at 5:05 AM on January 31, 2005

I don't think it would be a big deal if you were to try out drinking, but if you decide not to you can rest assured that you're not missing anything worthwhile. Sure, you might enjoy the buzz created by one quick drink, but you won't enjoy feeling mentally and physically impaired after a number of drinks. You'll hate feeling sick and hungover. You won't like the hole alcohol can eat into your budget, especially when you're a college student. And then, of course, there's the added risk from your family history of alcoholism.

If you're going to continue to not drink, don't make a big deal out of not drinking - just matter-of-factly order a pop or juice. Especially avoid the phrase "I'm high on life" (this was a deal breaker on a first date for me once, and I hardly ever drink). You can be perfectly social with those who drink and hang out in bars where you enjoy the atmosphere, but avoid those people who try to pressure you into drinking. Such people are not your friends - they're controlling people who probably have substance abuse problems themselves.
posted by orange swan at 5:07 AM on January 31, 2005

Excellent responses so far.

andrew_cooke, I'm not really feeling pressure from anyone else to drink. I think the fact that I've stayed sober this long in the US is a good sign that I can resist peer pressure, and most people don't bug me about it anymore. I don't have any desire to get seriously drunk or stupid, but I wouldn't mind being able to relate to my friends without this (probably) irrational fear hanging over my head.

TimTypeZed, I often wonder if other people notice how pervasive the drinking culture is. There are even references in kids' movies!
posted by stopgap at 5:09 AM on January 31, 2005

ok, sorry if that came across too critical. good luck.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:10 AM on January 31, 2005

I didn't start drinking until I was 19 (which I know is only just above the legal requirement, but it's traditional in the UK for people to start drinking at a reasonably young age (albeit surreptitiously). I'm glad I started drinking, because I've had a lot of fun on nights out drinking, and I think the only reason I didn't before was because I was scared of losing control.

That's only my response, you have to make the decision for yourself, but I personally think that people who don't drink are missing out on one of life's little pleasures. And there is nothing like a good glass of wine.
posted by ascullion at 5:17 AM on January 31, 2005

I didn't start drinking until I was 21 either, but now I drink like a fish. I set limits on my drinking (nothing after 10 on a worknight, no more than 4 on a work night, must have two days off a week, etc) to prevent it from interefering in my life. You can set rules and know that if you start to bend or break them, then your drinking is a problem that needs stopping.

If you decide to start drinking, start in a friendly, small atmosphere. Large groups of people at a noisy bar can lead to drinking more than you mean. A few folks playing a board game or watching a movie together, though, that can be more manageable.

If you want to nurse your drinks, consider being a drink snob or at least a picky drinker. That gives you ample reason to drink little in many situations (I pay and extra buck for the decent beer, why would I chug it and lose the flavor?). The quest for the right beverage of choice will also give you some time to experiement with drinking itself. Consider a wine tasting at a local liquor store.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2005

Don't drink because of peer pressure. But don't be afraid of just the act of drinking. There shouldn't be an irrational fear of trying alcohol. It's not that interesting, but if you have never experienced a change in consciousness, you're missing out. I also think Dagobert overgeneralizes. The effects of drinking 3-4 glasses a week don't compare to a regular drinking habit. This idea of treating alcohol consumption, by itself, as a vice, seems to be transferred on moderate consumption by the real troubles that excess use has. But occasional use is nothing to be wary about.
posted by Gyan at 5:25 AM on January 31, 2005

Drinking is not necessarily to get fall-down, toilet-hugging, blackout drunk. If you approach it for the flavor, not the buzz, while keeping the personal risk (family history) not too far from memory, it could be a nice new angle for you. Maybe you're just more mature than the people around you who are still in the party till you puke phase.
posted by yoga at 5:31 AM on January 31, 2005

I witnessed heavy alcohol use and some drug issues with parents. Possibly as a result, I spent a lot of my life never having drunk a drop of alcohol, until I was quite a bit older than you. Since my late teens however, I have taken drugs on rare occasions, for recreational purposes or for the purposes of insight and exploration.

Recently I have tried alcoho for the first time. But I am not a drinker per se. I think going through my teens watching people drink very heavily, and then seeing drinking become a prerequisite and absolutely expected part of everyone's daily grind (here in the UK, where some people will drink during their lunch hour) put me in a mindset of feeling that drink is probably the most dangerous drug of all. Partly this is because of its all-pervasive nature (it's pretty easy to get hold of, though in the city it's rarely as cheap to drink as to do most drugs) but partly because a few people tend towards big personality changes on booze or get violent.

Still, I agree with Andrew that alcohol is not morally better or worse than other drugs. There is, however, a social acceptance of alcohol which makes people treat it with far less respect than a drug should be treated. I see people on a Friday night so drunk they fall over in gutters, zig zag across traffic, and vandalise street furniture. I've never even been able to get that drunk, which I think is a measure of just how much booze some people consume to get in those states. Because it's acceptable, even though a tiny amount of drugs (which usually have a much less unsavoury effect) are seen as verboten.

I would recommend that, were you to ever be interested in alternative mind states, it would be better to start off with drugs (eg cannabis, ecstasy), in a safe and pre-planned environment, than with booze. I think doing so has given me an understanding of the relative potential harm of alcohol, plus a knowledge of things such as set and setting... and it's made me realise that doing any kind of drug (including alcohol) is never intrinsically going to solve your problems or make you happy.

However, you are totally right to recognise that not drinking can cause you social problems. It's not YOUR problem, it's THEIR problem - because people you meet may be uncomfortable to find out that you're not drinking. They may not even consciously realise it, but a lot of people don't feel they can "let themselves go" unless they feel that the person opposite them is drinking too. Hence the rather nasty habit of some drinkers to top up their partner's glass, or to talk their friends into drinking more than they'd like.

It's only as I've got older that I've realised people did gravitate very slightly away from me when they found I didn't drink. I could still be the life and soul of the party, but some used the fact that I don't drink as a value judgement which made them think I wouldn't be fun or couldn't line up with what they wanted. (This is especially so in a romantic sense.) One might argue that these people weren't "worth their salt", but it still doesn't feel nice to find people you're interested in drift away for some apparently trivial reason. This may not be how we'd like the world to be, but it IS how the world CAN be sometimes, with certain people. Hence Orange Swan's advice - not to say trite things like "I'm high on life" - is very sensible. Don't make your non-drinking into something people latch onto.

Finally, this thing about don't do drugs (or don't drink) because it'll fuck up your chances in life or family... sorry, that's pure nonsense. Whether or not you become an alcoholic or a drug addict is, at least in my opinion, up to you and your personal attitude to addiction. The fact that you're aware of the potential for addiction and respectful of it seems like a fairly good indication in your favour that you are intelligent, conscientious and will avoid harm. All things in moderation and moderation in all things... I think it's better to try these things and know your limits than to avoid anything out of fear or propaganda.
posted by skylar at 5:35 AM on January 31, 2005

I think you might want to ask yourself if you have any indicators of an 'addictive personality'--do you find yourself doing any behavior despite the negative consequences it brings you? Do you have trouble setting (and sticking to) limits? Do you have any issues that you're really ashamed of? I'm not a scientist or psychiatrist or anything, but I'm inclined to say that if the answer to all of these is no, you're probably safe if you stick to moderation when drinking.

You won't be missing out on an important human experience (along the lines of say, love, sex, fellowship, etc.), but you might find it a worthwhile one. I was a teetotaler until I was 21, myself. (I'd been brought up in a home where I could sip from my parents' drinks when I was young and so alcohol never had a forbidden fruit aspect to it, and I never had much to rebel against). At 21, I started drinking and learning both my limits and what tasted good to me. I quickly learned that there is a sort of bonding that goes on between people who drink. If you're a non-drinker at parties with these people, there's a sort of distance between you (at least there was in my case.) But that gap quickly fills in, and they're likely to look out for you if you've had a bit too much to drink. It's like you've finally joined their club and they feel connected to you. I realize that you say you feel pretty socially connected, so maybe you won't have that experience. Also, all of that said, I recommend you never lose sight of the difference between true friends and drinking buddies.

Finally, re: your "I love you, MeFi!" I find that (particularly ask.)mefi makes me wanna give everybody a big hug at least once a day!
posted by kimota at 5:37 AM on January 31, 2005

What others have said about not doing it to fit in, and not avoiding it out of fear of ending up in the gutter.
Personally, I can't imagine a good dinner without a bottle of wine on the table.
Drinking doesn't have to mean getting sick on cheap beer at a frat party. It seems you're old enough now to have avoided that early definition anyway. As others have said, try a nice glass of Bordeaux with a steak and see what you're missing.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:51 AM on January 31, 2005

drink is ace. The things people do when drunk make great photographs, memories, anecdotes. Relationships are born, friendships are cemented, lives are woven together. This probably more in the UK than elsewhere, owing to those now-fading social strictures. Still: it's topp.

Just the other night, my friends were going on wistfully about waking up in fields at 5am, or lying in a stairwell, or at the end of the trainline.

Non-drinkers just don't get any of these benefits, and are definitely missing out.
posted by bonaldi at 6:03 AM on January 31, 2005

plus what skylar said about addiction. There are addicts in my extended family, and there are those who are conscious of the risks.
posted by bonaldi at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2005

I didn't start consuming alcohol until I was 18 (and in university in Ontario, so I was much nearer to legal), and was in fact the non-insane breed of straightedge in high school. So I wasn't very concerned with fitting in, I was very used to saying "no thank you" and people left me alone on the issue. I started drinking when I did because I was curious, not because I was pressured in any way. I had extremely supportive friends, who when I expressed a desire to try beer, made sure I never had more than one, and eventually two when I was a new drinker. As such, I started very slowly, and stepped up to more and heavier drinker only as I felt comfortable, and remained in control.

Two and a half years later and I still have never had enough to make me truly drunk, I don't drink past "silly," and I've never puked or had a hangover (although I hear this has something to do with the length of your relationship with alcohol, not the intensity). I've never had to regret anything I've done while under the influence because I have no interest in "testing my limits" which sounds similar to what you want to avoid. I was fortunate in that I'm a happy drinker, if I had been anything else I would have given it up immediately. As it is, I am glad I tried it, but I also very glad I didn't start any earlier than I did.

I'm sure that you know, as I do, how to have a relaxed and good time with others without alcohol, so I think you can be confident that you can keep it from becoming a crutch like it seems to be for so many people. I still have nights where I choose not to drink, and no one likes me any less for it. I agree with what many posters had said that drinking in no way requires you to be self-destructive or lose control. Start slow, find out for yourself if its something you want in your life, and know your own difference between having fun and being stupid.

As far as how to "distinguish" between alcohol and other drugs, just continue to say "no" to all those other things you don't want to try. I have no interest in smoking anything, and I never have. Don't hang around people who demand you define yourself in terms of what substances you use, your body means your choice.
posted by nelleish at 6:26 AM on January 31, 2005

Have you ever drank? If not, regardless of your decision, I strongly urge you at some point to take a weekend or something to "check out" alcohol. You may like it, you may not, but I think that drunkenness is a seminal aspect of Western art (esp. literature and the theatre), and that you can't understand it unless you experience it.
posted by mkultra at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2005

I'll just quickly add myself to the list of children of alcoholics who still manage to drink responsibly. I'm glad I drink -- I've learned to appreciate the subtleties of good beer and whiskey, and I'd say it's enhanced my appreciation for all foods.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:31 AM on January 31, 2005

A very close friend of mine in high school shied away from alcohol for a long time because his father pretty much drank himself to death. In college, he got over that and probably overcompensated, which worried me a little. He's since settled down and does not, AFAIK, have a problem. Another friend of mine was once a heavy drinker, swore off it entirely for years, and only after about 10 years on the wagon did she feel like she had gotten to a point where she could drink at all without going overboard (mostly because of other issues in her life). For my own part, I do enjoy good beer (and sadly for my wallet, good port); I occasionally enjoy getting a little buzzed, but I've never liked getting plowed.

I think your caution is reasonable, but if you're curious about alcohol, try it. Ask a friend you trust to slap you around a little if you start getting stupid with booze.
posted by adamrice at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2005

I agree with everyone who says that if you know you don't like to drink, there's nothing wrong with that. But how can you possibly know what you like? You're 21. That's a time of life for trying out as many different ways of living as you can, and learning which ones are really for you, which ones you don't like much, and which ones you can't handle.

So go ahead and get drunk, and do a million other things that your upbringing never exposed you to. You'll screw some things up and do things you later regret. You'll also discover all kinds of new worlds, understand other people better even if you don't want to live like them, and find out who you really are away from the preconceived notions you grew up with.

Learning what kinds of addictions you fall into, and how to handle them, is something you'll have to do eventually. Better to do it while you're young and adaptable. If you don't like to do something, don't do it. But don't avoid things just because you think they might be bad.
posted by fuzz at 6:46 AM on January 31, 2005

I can't imagine a good dinner without a bottle of wine on the table.

Same here. I gave up sodas and switched to wine, it's great. On select times, I like a hard-liquor or a beer. But for the most part, I just enjoy a red wine with dinner or while I'm working away on the computer.
posted by Hands of Manos at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2005

There is absolutely no need to "check out" alcohol. The reality is that it is a poison, screws up your body, impairs judgement, makes you (eventually) feel like crap.

That said.... I drank for a number of years, probably to the point that it was a problem, although I would have denied it at the time.

A personal crisis of huge magnitude precipitated an increase in amount and frequency.. I eventually (after about 5 years of this) came to my senses.. The scary part is believing that you will not survive or be able to function without drinking...

I've since pretty much quit, I have about a six pack of beer a year (good on a hot summer day)... never more than one or two at a time.

I feel better, I don't make huge mistakes in judgement, I don't feel like crap the day after..

If you haven't yet, don't start, there is NOTHING good to be gained by it. The idea that it will enhance any part of your life is rationalization by those that need a reason...
posted by HuronBob at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2005

I was pretty much in the same situation as you were. My early-life experiences involving family and alcohol were ugly. I never drank alcohol until I was about your age. I was, as you are, very concerned about a predisposition towards alcoholism.

But alcoholism is not predestined. Although in my early experiences with drinking I overimbibed on a few occasions, this had to do with a lack of experience as much as anything else. It turns out that I don't like getting drunk. I hate getting sick. However, getting drunk and/or sick are not the inevitable conclusions of drinking, if you drink in moderation. What I did like, and still do, is the general relaxation of one or two drinks with dinner, or a pace of about a drink an hour (for lengthy cookouts or other social occasions).

What I really like now is the added texture that wine or beer brings to a good meal. Honestly -- it helps that I'm a snob. I'm an obsessive chowhound, and I'll spend the extra time and money to sniff out good wine and beer just as I would a good taco or hamburger. It often seems that the stuff brewed or vinted for taste is mutually exclusive of stuff made primarily to induce drunkenness.

This may or may not be the case for you. The fact that you're reflective about these things at all is a good sign that you are mature enough to handle drinking in moderation. But ultimately, you're the only person who can answer that question about yourself. You have to know yourself, understand your limits, and accept that both of these things are ongoing learning processes. Respect your own decisions, respect the decisions of others, and expect the same in return, and you'll be fine.
posted by casu marzu at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2005

I don't think it would be a big deal if you were to try out drinking, but if you decide not to you can rest assured that you're not missing anything worthwhile

What crap. Of course drinking is "worthwhile"; a bottle of wine transforms a meal into a social occasion, a few beers helps a group bond, and furthermore a really good drink (a top-notch Burgundy, a Belgian abbey ale, a single-malt Scotch) is an esthetic experience in itself, as worth savoring, discussing, and remembering as a poem or painting. You might as well tell someone thinking of remaining a virgin "you're not missing anything worthwhile." Sure, you can do without alcohol or sex and still lead a perfectly decent life, and many do -- but that's not the same thing, is it?

I think that drunkenness is a seminal aspect of Western art ... and that you can't understand it unless you experience it.

But the poster isn't asking about drunkenness. I'm astonished at the number of responses here that equate drinking with drunkenness. Sure, the former can lead to the latter, but it needn't, any more than sex has to lead to sleeping with everyone in town. Furthermore, "you can't understand it unless you experience it" is obviously true in some sense, but that's a silly argument: do you join the army and rush off to Iraq because you want to understand War and Peace? One reason for reading is so you don't have to experience things in person. I've been spared a lot of grief because of what I learned vicariously. In fact, I suggest reading Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano; not only will you get as close to understanding alcoholism as is possible without becoming an alcoholic, it will make you never want to go down that road. Plus it's a great novel.

On preview: Right, HuronBob, because you had a bad experience, everyone should avoid alcohol. You sound exactly like those "recovering Christians" who feel the need to rant about how awful religion is at every opportunity.
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on January 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm not really feeling pressure from anyone else to drink. I think the fact that I've stayed sober this long in the US is a good sign that I can resist peer pressure, and most people don't bug me about it anymore. I don't have any desire to get seriously drunk or stupid, but I wouldn't mind being able to relate to my friends without this (probably) irrational fear hanging over my head.

Sounds like you have a sensible enough attitude toward this that turning into an alcoholic is not something you need to worry about too much. I'd say go for it; the earlier suggestion to become a beer, liquor, or wine snob is a good one, as not only will you be more inclined to savor your drink, if you are like most 21-year-olds, and if you're snobby enough in your tastes, you won't be able to afford to drink too much.

Being drunk doesn't have much going for it, but drinking a few with your friends is a pleasant experience not to be missed. I find I'm less easily bored when I'm out drinking socially than when I used to go out and abstain, and I'm more easily able to relax and enjoy the company.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:36 AM on January 31, 2005

I second LanguageHat but in a more courteous manner.
posted by inksyndicate at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2005

You don't NEED to drink, but if you do want to drink in a social setting, beer is awesome. Beer is my friend. It has a low alcohol content compared to just about anything else (and doesn't have the insane quick-alcohol-in-the-bloodstream effect of sugary drinks), you'll always have a drink around, you won't have to worry about anyone mixing you an insanely powerful drink, and no one looks down at people drinking beer, because, well, it's beer (this may work better as a female, because it's kinda unexpected, at least among the college crowd). You'll likely get buzzed but avoid the falling-down-drunk puking stuff, which is totally not worth it.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:50 AM on January 31, 2005

But the poster isn't asking about drunkenness. I'm astonished at the number of responses here that equate drinking with drunkenness. Sure, the former can lead to the latter, but it needn't, any more than sex has to lead to sleeping with everyone in town.

My point is regarding drunkenness as "being drunk", not "being a drunk". It's simply not something that can be communicated empirically. I think this is true of any consciousness-altering experiences.

Furthermore, "you can't understand it unless you experience it" is obviously true in some sense, but that's a silly argument: do you join the army and rush off to Iraq because you want to understand War and Peace? One reason for reading is so you don't have to experience things in person.

Aw, come on. "Checking out" drinking requires about $20 and a couple days, at most. It doesn't require travelling around the world and putting your life at risk.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2005

Well, a drink--even a good one--is not a 'work of art' (at least not in my book). I agree with languagehat, though, that there are many, many positives to drinking in moderation.

Speaking personally, I was a teetotaler all through high school and for about half of college. I don't know why I began to feel more comfortable with it, but eventually I did. Now I am very, very happy to have wine with dinner, or to meet friends for a beer. I have no regrets about being a moderate drinker. Drinking doesn't mean being a drunk, as languagehat says, and the vast, vast majority of people I know are responsible and sensible drinkers who enjoy it for reasons other than getting trashed.

So, anyway, I'd say avoid the hyperbole on both sides from folks that claim that drinking is either a) an aesthetic experience on par with the great art of Western civilization or b) the jaws of hell itself gaping open to swallow you. Next time you go out for a burger, order a beer; next time you go out for a fancy meal, order a glass of wine; next time you're at a social occasion and everybody's drinking a mixed drink, get one and nurse it very slowly. If you're nervous about it, don't start drinking Beast at a huge keg party; have your first drink with friends at your favorite place to eat or hang out. I think it's possible to make drinking into something much larger than it really is. It can be a pleasant, and small, part of your life.
posted by josh at 8:04 AM on January 31, 2005

Another vote for moderation. Having a drink or two, if you're not planning on driving, won't hurt anything, and it's generally quite pleasant. Getting stumbling, puking, can't-remember-anything-in-the-morning drunk is not so pleasant, so you're not missing out on much by not doing that.
posted by squidlarkin at 8:05 AM on January 31, 2005

mkultra: I think languagehat's point still applies. You can drink without being either drunk or a drunk.
posted by biffa at 8:08 AM on January 31, 2005

I guess what I want to know is, do you want to try out drinking? I see a 'should I' and pros and cons, but to me, the most important question is do you actually have the desire to find out, or are you just curious and want to see what people will say?

If you actually want to find out, then go find out. Have a glass of wine or a beer or a nice spiced rum and cocola with a meal. Your curiosity will be satisfied, and if you don't like who you are when you're tipsy, don't do it again.

If you only think you should want to find out, screw it, don't bother. Drinking is like casual sex- the people who have it, love it, the people who don't, dont, and we can all go back and forth on whether casual sex is necessary or unnecessary, but ultimately, it's a question you can only answer for yourself.
posted by headspace at 8:10 AM on January 31, 2005

In vino veritas.
posted by magullo at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2005

There are two schools of thought on this:

1) You can't start soon enough.
Life sucks. Thunderbird is your helmet. Get some. Who needs nasty gnashing teeth anyways?

2) Don't start until you can't handle life anymore.
As above, but wait until your life is ruined beyond hope of redemption and THEN hit the sauce. That way you need less to get the same altered state effects that will help you limp into a thankfully early death from liver failure.

/I kid. I kid.

Moderation in all things. ALL things.

Do I drink until I'm puking drunk? Nope. I've only done that once; haven't since (10 years) and never will again. But I really enjoy a good vino, brew, or single-malt.

The only advice is be socially responsible: do not drink and drive.

Have fun.
posted by C.Batt at 8:14 AM on January 31, 2005

I also have a family history of alcoholism, though not in my immediate family. I didn't drink at all in high school, also because I was scared of becoming addicted. I know drink a little, probably about 15 drinks/ year.

Because I don't drink much, I have pretty low alcohol tolerance, and I'm generally a little tipsy before finishing the first drink. Not so anyone else would notice, but enough that I feel it. I rarely have more than one drink on any occasion.

Despite the fact that I do drink, I am often the only person not drinking in a group of people who are. This is because I don't drink beer or wine, or pop (or drinks mixed with pop). I don't like the taste of beer or wine (I never understood the idea of acquiring a taste -- why not just drink something I like instead of drinking something I don't like in the hopes that I will eventually enjoy it?). Pop makes me sick. So basically there are situations where there's nothing with alcohol for me to drink. And sometimes when there is something, I just don't feel like it. Other times I'm driving, so what I feel like is irrelevant.

So even though I drink, I experience both of your options -- joining in and being the one hanging back. And I can tell you this: My levels of fun/social bonding/etc. are pretty much the same in both situations.

Nobody has ever thought it strange that I wasn't drinking alcohol or pressured me to drink. The only situation I can think of where it might be awkward is if the other people were outright *drunk*. Drunk people are never fun to the sober. If this is a situation you're in regularly (where all your friends are drunk), the problem isn't your abstaining.

As for this...

... a bottle of wine transforms a meal into a social occasion, a few beers helps a group bond, and furthermore a really good drink ... is an esthetic experience in itself, as worth savoring, discussing, and remembering as a poem or painting.

All of these things are easily achieved by other methods. I don't think we would think anyone strange for deciding they don't like pot-luck dinners (which make meals more social), white-water rafting (which helps groups bond) or discussing poetry.

Only you know how vulnerable you are to addiction, and no one knows how you'll react to alcohol. Try not to be afraid of alcohol, but don't waste your time worrying that you're missing out if you don't drink. You're going to miss out on millions and millions of things in your life (there are all sorts of things you will never eat or drink, sports you will never try, books you will never read, and concerts you will miss.) You don't fret about those things; don't fret about this.
posted by duck at 8:16 AM on January 31, 2005

Something to keep in mind, too, if you decide to try drinking-- different drinks lead to different drunks. A few tequilas will give you an entirely different (much more hallucinogenic) buzz than a few beers. Vodka is an entirely different buzz than wine. A friend of mine can't stand hard liquor or wine, but practically bathes in beer. So if you try a few drinks and don't like them, don't write off the entire drinking experience, but rather try a few different kinds of drinks.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:22 AM on January 31, 2005

Alcohol is one of he great boons of mankind, right up there with fire and indoor plumbing.
posted by LarryC at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2005

I would recommend that, were you to ever be interested in alternative mind states, it would be better to start off with drugs (eg cannabis, ecstasy), in a safe and pre-planned environment, than with booze.

I can't recommend ecstasy, but I'd like to second the idea that marijuana is safer and more enjoyable than alcohol.

I drink once or twice a week, on average, but almost never excessively. It's been a year or so since I drank to the point of being sick. I'm a college student and a member of a fraternity, but I decided awhile ago that every time I get too drunk I end up feeling sick and depressed and regretting it. However, I can have six or seven drinks and be pretty intoxicated without experiencing much of the negative side.

That said, weed has never caused me any problems. My method of choice is a vaporizer, so that allays some health concerns. I get stoned to some extent on most days, depending on what else I have to do, but I've never felt compelled to do it; I've gone weeks without doing it at all and have been perfectly fine. In general I find it pleasant, relaxing, and enjoyable. Sometimes it's inspiring, although I don't rely on it for that. I do, however, feel like I can get things done when I'm high, whether it's writing, reading, working, or whatever. Being drunk tends to make other activities extremely difficult.

In my experience, stoned people like to relax and act silly in a childlike way, whereas drunk people tend towards aggression or depression. I've met very few people whose bad sides are brought out by weed, but many who are not fun to be with when they're drunk.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2005

Incidentally, this might be something worth discussing with your doctor when you go in for your next physical. He/she could probably give you a more realistic view of how elevated your risk of alcoholism actually is (maybe call him/her ahead of time and let them know you have this question so they can look stuff up ahead of time).
posted by duck at 8:31 AM on January 31, 2005

Hmm, I guess I disagree with duck. (This is an interesting thread.)

First, I think you really do acquire a taste, and it really is worth acquiring. And actually in your life you acquire (or should try acquiring) all sorts of tastes--for cultural things that are strange and difficult, for sports that you don't love initially, etc. And I think it really is true that the taste gets acquired pretty quickly.

Second, I think it is possible to get freaked out by drinking. (I'm not saying you're freaked out duck--just to be clear--these are just my thoughts.) In my experience people approach drinking in all sorts of bizarre ways. Some people don't drink until later in life, and then they fetishize it: every time they drink it's a big event, they get 'drunk' really easily, they're either drinking quite a lot or not at all. Some people don't ever drink and develop some vaguely moral attitudes about it. In any event, drinking is cultural and social thing, and so it's complicated in that sense.

Now, as opposed to all this complicated stuff, there are a lot of people, like me, for whom drinking is very straight-forward. I drink at meals sometimes and socially with friends. I *do* find, despite what duck says, that a drink makes a social gathering more fun. It's not a big deal for me, I don't think about it, I am not in any way addicted, and it's all very easy and uncomplicated. I *would* feel as though I were missing out if I didn't drink; and unlike books, concerts, and the like, I have opportunities to have a drink all the time. But I'd stress again that drinking for me is very normal, straightforward, untortured, and pleasant.

There are many people for whom, for whatever very real reasons, drinking is an "issue." As I said above, one day it simply stopped being an issue for me: whatever it was that had made me so uncomfortable about it disappeared. I would say that drinking should be easy and fun, not a mountain to climb, a cultural opportunity to explore, or a social rite of passage. If you decide that you're going to start drinking when it still seems difficult for you, then you will not like it. You'll think, 'This tastes terrible and makes me feel weird--and look at those freaky people singing karoke and looking nasty.' The fact that people like it and don't like it says to me that there is no objective truth about the experience of drinking. It's all in the palate of th drinker.

So, I say put all the good and bad stories aside, since they won't tell you anything, and drink when you're comfortable doing so--when it's not an issue, but a fun thing to try.
posted by josh at 8:40 AM on January 31, 2005

All those typos in my post are because of my broken keyboard, by the way, not because I'm sitting here at noon with a drink in my hand--although the funny confluence of typographic error and subject matter may make it seem that way!
posted by josh at 8:43 AM on January 31, 2005

In my experience, stoned people like to relax and act silly in a childlike way, whereas drunk people tend towards aggression or depression. I've met very few people whose bad sides are brought out by weed, but many who are not fun to be with when they're drunk.

Well, I've known plenty of people who can be made quite paranoid and agitated by weed, myself included if it's potent and not mixed with alcohol. The buzz one prefers probably has a lot to do with biology and personality types, but I'll leave that to the scientists. In my experiences, though pot tends to make me feel like I'm floating away helplessly, whereas booze makes me feel like I'm sinking comfortably into the couch.

If you're curious about alcohol and whether you'll like it or can handle it, here's a description of what it feels like. In small doses, a relaxed, warm feeling. A little more and you feel pleasantly punchy, somewaht similar to the way you might feel after a good game of football or good sex. A nice loosy-goosyness and feelings of omnipotence can happen, too. A little more and there's blurred vision, slurred speech, and loss of inhibitions, which can be fun or a massive pain in the ass depending on circumstances. There's also always the hazards of puking, passing out and the like. And the wonderful experience that is the hangover.

The main dangers are that you'll hate the experience or like it so much that you'll want it all the time. But that's what it's like. The rest is up to you.
posted by jonmc at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2005

I drink, sometimes too much, but after a few years of trying it (in party situations and bars and clubs etc) I've found the target amount of drink that's comfortable and fun for me. That said, I dont really drink all that often, a party once a month, going out every so often, and it's not a big deal. Both my parents are alcoholics, and not in an overused sense, I saw what their abuse did to them, and it's a good model for me to stay away from. I agree that a lot of people that are 'alcoholic' are mis-labeled and are actually just low on the willpower.. but there are people who do have the disease.
I'd say try it, dont binge the first time, just enjoy a couple of drinks with some people, and dont let them egg you on...after a while you'll find where you're comfortable.

...and it's never a bad idea to let a freined know of your concerns. so that if you seem to be going too far, you've got someone to remind you to lay off, drinking's not so important.
posted by nile_red at 8:50 AM on January 31, 2005

You know your personality better than anyone else. Could you exercise the self control to enjoy a drink now and then without being tempted to overindulge? Would you drink for enjoyment or drink to get drunk and fit in with your peers? Do you already feel pressure like you NEED to start drinking, or are you simply curious? Look to yourself for your best answers.
posted by rushmc at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2005

Josh: I feel like I should respond because your comment was directed at me and because I think you misunderstood some of the things I said, so I probably wasn't clear.

First, my relatively low levels of drinking these days is mostly due to the fact that I'm not normally in "drinking situations". I have more opportunities to go to concerts and discuss books than to drink. I suppose I could drink at concerts, but I don't like to lose my spot to go to the bar, and I wouldn't spill my drink on somebody while jumping up and down and cheering.

Though I was initially scared of drinking and possibly could have been classified as "freaked out" by it, I'm not any longer. And the decision to drink a shot of vodka or a glass of iced tea is no bigger to me than the decision to have chicken or salmon. It's just a matter of what I feel like at the time and what's available.

I agree that tastes can be acquired, and I'm sure it can be worthwhile. I didn't mean to suggest people shouldn't acquire tastes. I was just explaining why I don't drink beer or wine (and thus why I'm often in situations where others are drinking and I'm not). If my goal is to enjoy this evening as much as possible and I know that I will enjoy *this* evening more with a lychee martini more than with a glass of wine, I'm just not willing to delay gratification for the chance to become a wine-lover a month from now. Not suggesting one *shouldn't*, just that I don't.

And yeah, alcohol can add to an experience. My point wasn't that it doesn't, it was that lots of other stuff does, too. So if someone chooses to abstain from alcohol, they shouldn't feel like they're abstaining from being social or have aesthetic experiences.

You may still disagree with that (I'm going to guess you'll still disagree at least with the last point and say that you would feel like you were missing out without this particular form of being social even if others were available).

It occurs to me that my not feeling like I'm not missing out, may have to do with the surrounding circumstances. As I said, most social situations I'm in wouldn't involve drinking anyway. Your situation is different. Also, I may be in a different situation because even in drinking situations I'm in, there's almost always at least one person not drinking (because they're driving, because they don't drink, because they're on meds, or whatever), so if I choose not to drink on a particular evening, I'm not generally the only one.

I suppose it's possible that if I were frequently in situations where I was the only person not drinking, I might feel like I was missing out. I don't know. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't feel very comfortable in frequently being in that situation, so I would probably select out of social circles where that would be the case.
posted by duck at 9:06 AM on January 31, 2005

Re: acquired tastes. I'm short on the evidence (maybe someone else can provide it), but most things are acquired tastes. It's just that you acquired many of them when you were a child and didn't realize it. Spicy food is a good example -- it's simply that the children in many cultures (e.g. Thai) acquire it very early, whereas in many Caucasian cultures you have to do it as an adult (or not at all). There are also many factors which affect the ease of acquisition, which vary with the individual. Personally, I think it's easier to acquire a taste for good wine and beer than cheap swill (but as I said, I'm a snob). Note that with wine and beer (and I'm sure, good liquor) it is not simply the "taste of alcohol" -- it's a complex combination, of which alcohol is merely one (necessary) component.

I should note that I am on a mission to acquire all tastes, since it's a necessary condition to my larger goal of becoming a perfect omnivore (see Jeffrey Steingarten). Obviously, this may not be for everyone. It's up to you to determine whether not a particular taste is worth acquiring.

Sorry for the derail.
posted by casu marzu at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2005

Re: acquired tastes. I'm short on the evidence (maybe someone else can provide it), but most things are acquired tastes. It's just that you acquired many of them when you were a child and didn't realize it.

Er...maybe this should be the point where I confess that I'm a probably a fair bit more neophobic than most adults. I just started eating vegetables 4 years ago (after becoming ill and realizing that perhaps this was a taste worth the trouble of acquiring.) In fact, I will quite readily admit that I am far more freaked out by most vegetables than I am by alcohol. I'd rather get puke-and-pass-out drunk than eat a plate full of mashed potatoes.
posted by duck at 9:21 AM on January 31, 2005

Hey duck, I agree with everything in what you just said. What your original post brought to mind was my own experience, which I could probably summarize more compactly than I did.

I was ~definitely~, at one point, 'freaked out' by drinking, for reasons that were perfectly real and very powerful for me. During that period, every time I was in an alchohol-oriented situation, I felt weird, and when I did occasionally drink I thought it was nasty and unappealing.

Then, for various reasons that are still obscure to me, my feeling of being 'freaked out' went away, and when I was around drinking and had a drink myself I enjoyed it very much. In a very Freudian sort of way I suppose my drinking 'complex' dissolved and it became easy for me. Conversely, people I know who were still 'freaked out' by drinking didn't respond well if they made themselves try it: they just got more freaked out, in different ways. I don't know what it was in my life or my mind that changed my feelings towards drinking. Not to be an armchair analyst, but I have lots of negative images associated in my mind with drinking from when I was a kid; as I hung around people who drank in a positive way those images receded somewhat. Maybe.

Now, I'm not trying to be prescriptive at all: I don't think drinking is 'normal' because it's just a cultured behavior, as you're saying; if you're around people who drink all the time that's 'normal,' but if you're around people who don't that's normal too. What I mean to say is that, when it didn't feel normal to me, I didn't like it; when it did feel normal, I did. I know this is a tautological way of putting it, but I think it gets more to the essence of the discussion than some of the general statements in here that say things like, "Drinking has benefits X, Y and Z; wine is great / horrible because it has qualities P, D, and Q," and so on. Really not just the taste of alcohol, but the entire universe of its consumption and enjoyment is an acquired taste.

So the advice I was trying to give was really something like this: don't drink if you're freaked out by drinking. If, for example, you are freaked out by the concept of addiction, and the people in your crowd are the sorts who evoke that image of alcoholism, that would not be a good setting in which to make yourself try alcohol. For me, I wanted to try drinking when I developed a circle of good friends who seemed to enjoy drinking in moderation very much, and so I felt comfortable joining in. But because of the tone of the question--e.g. "I was generally given the impression from a young age that alcohol causes families to break apart, and that because of my genes it would happen to me if I ever drank...I've been pretty self-conscious and uncomfortable in social situations"--I think it's not necessary to try alcohol in a context where you're freaked out. Much better to wait or find another context in which you're comfortable. I don't know about stopgap's social life, but I've never felt comfortable drinking in a frat situation, say, and have never done it.

In other words: if you want to have a positive experience with drinking, you need to try it in a positive environment and state of mind. If you try it in this negative way--despite yourself, if you're uncomfortable--it doesn't seem to me the best way to go. There's a lot more to it than the 'properties' of alcoholic beverages and the effects they create: there's the setting and the crowd and the state of mind of the drinker, and those things seem way more important to me in terms of the question than whether or not good port is like a work of art, etc.
posted by josh at 9:34 AM on January 31, 2005

I don't drink. The reasons are many but the two main ones are that there is alcoholism in my family and I have a pretty addictive personality. It's a road I don't want to start down.

I've run into people who've come right out an said to me they "don't trust people who don't drink" which seems a little weird to me. I've speculated it is because they feel the only way to truly get to know someone is after their inhibitions have been muted by alcohol.

I'm not militant about my decision. People never know unless they offer me a drink and usually I can get away with a polite "no thanks".

My only regret is a slight jealousy of the choices available to drinkers. Any decent licensed restaurant will probably have greater variety of beers available than all their non alcoholic beverages combined. A place that is proud of their wine cellar or bar will have hundreds of choices of wine or hard liquor respectively. I love to try new things and the variety so close but off limits can be a little depressing. I hate the consolidation of the soda market but that's a rant for another day.

Anyways to answer your question I don't think you should think you need to take up drinking. Lots of people never touch the stuff and still manage to lead happy lives. One thing that maybe of concern for you is that teetotalers tend to be a self selecting group especially in your age bracket. You probably won't find yourself hanging out with people who go to bars 2,3,4 times a week unless one of them is really hot :). In my extended group of friends in college probably less than 5% had a drink more than once a month and none were the go out and get wasted every weekend type. Besides which drinking can be expensive and we had all our funds tied up in women, wheels, and RPGs.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 AM on January 31, 2005

I think you might want to ask yourself if you have any indicators of an 'addictive personality'

yeah - the behavior of your parents can't determine your own predispositions; it can only make you aware of possibilities. Both my parents have alcohol problems, but I've never felt any dependency issue. I like to drink occasionally, but it's never a regular part of my life (i never drink alone or at home, eg), and I take "fasts" (from a variety of less than fully healthy products) here and there if I'm feeling like I've taken in too many toxins recently or over a certain period (I'm having a clean jan/feb, because I was a bit indulgent over the holidays, eg).

Basically, you shouldn't be afraid of a substance. You can choose to abstain from it, but don't imagine that it will sneak in and destroy your autonomy after one magical sip, or something. If you try it and you feel like you like it a little too much, and can imagine yourself giving up a lot of more important things for the feeling it provides, then you will have to tread carefully. For me, it just enhances an evening in a certain way, but has some negative effects as well, so that I like to indulge on occasion but not on every occasion. I also think some people (cf. parents) come across pretty badly under the influence and would like to avoid that. I have friends who honestly dislike it, though. One friend of mine literally doesn't understand why people like alcohol; it just makes him feel ill (but he likes pot, which I don't particularly "get" - it just makes me feel out of it).
posted by mdn at 9:40 AM on January 31, 2005

You are a thoughtful person with your eyes open. I think it's unlikely you'll get into trouble with alcohol.

Some beverages are very pleasant parts of a meal - they are part of the food experience. In addition to this, the inebriant and anxiolytic properties of alcohol simply feel nice to a lot of people. A minority find them aversive, and those folks simply aren't troubled by alcoholism.

Necessary part of life? Nah. I have a drink 3 or 4 nights a week with dinner, but if I had to give it up I don't feel like I'd be missing much. I don't indulge in other psychoactives (unless you count the caffeine.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:42 AM on January 31, 2005

I'll add another (probably outlying) datapoint. I'm 40 years old and I've never drunk alchohol. I doubt I'm at risk for alchoholism, but I just never had an interest. Whenever I'm around people who are drinking, I find them less interesting and more annoying than when they're sober. I've never felt any social pressure to drink, but that may be due to my self-selection of friends and social activities.

Your situation may very well be different. If you do decide to start drinking, I second all the recommendations to enjoy only in moderation. All of the benefits to drinking that people have listed above are related to occasional light/moderate drinking. Most of the downsides are related to heavy/regular drinking.
posted by tdismukes at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2005

While I'm not pressuring you to drink, it really is anticlimatic. I can only name one drug that seriously affected my outlook and personality without me being aware of it (my roommate and I lay (or used to) our pills out at night to remember to take them... me two Zantac, him two Adderall -- we were in a rush and long story short I was Mr. Obsessive and Personable, he Mr. No Heartburn).

Your first time drinking, do it with a few close friends you aren't embarassed about doing it in front of. Since it is a new experience you'll have the tolerance of a baby rabbit, keep this in mind. Don't push yourself, for me at least my body stops me from drinking more, especially with beer. Things only get bad with drinking games and other assorted debauchery which relies on consuming alcohol faster than your body can process it ergo getting drunk without feeling you need to stop. I'm guessing you don't hang out with the frat guzzling drinking games kind of crowd so this won't be a problem.

With the reduced energy on the next day, and your bodies own "ew I feel bad" response, drinking is self-limiting for those who don't wish to impress people -- I assume you.

So in summary:

- Stick with beer for awhile. Even wine has the chance to get away from you. You're learning your limits and you dont' want to learn them the hard way.

- Contrary to advice here, don't do pot first. People I know who smoked and didn't drink turned into huge pot heads since the experience was so great. Not that there is anythin wrong with enjoying pot but the current social atmosphere frowns upon those who make it habitual. Keep with the respected order of things: alcohol -> pot -> hallucigens -> cocaine -> heroin.
posted by geoff. at 10:17 AM on January 31, 2005

My family has a strong history of alcoholism and addiction in general - four generations at last count (my grandparents down to a couple of my nephews). I have avoided addiction thus far (except for food and I'm working on that). Most of the family is clean and sober at this point.

I didn't drink until my 21st birthday in fear of being an alcoholic. I've never really developed a taste for it (I'm 38 now). I may have up to ten drinks in a year as long as they're mixed drinks where I can't taste the alcohol. I've never taken/used illicit drugs (aside from an accidental pot brownie when I was 8 or 9).

Drinking or not drinking is up to you, of course. Just keep in mind that your family has a propensity to alcoholism. Do not let anyone bully you into it because "it's cool" (the stupidest reason to do anything), but don't be afraid of it either.

And hey, it is fun to be the only one sober. You can point and giggle at the antics of the drunkards.
posted by deborah at 10:33 AM on January 31, 2005

As someone who did not drink until college, and then not a whole lot til I was 21, anyway, I think it's a good idea to experiment within your personal limits. Personally, my best friend and I spent one whole year getting completely tanked at least once a month, and pretty tipsy two out of three of the remaining weekends. I've never had more fun before or since. We were safe - we kept track of one another, to the point of being annoying to other people; we didn't drive; we always slept where we planned on getting plastered. The next year, for a variety of reasons, it wasn't as much fun anymore, and while we still drank, we didn't go through a bottle of tequilla and a bottle of vodka in one weekend anymore. For a lot of people, their drinking behavior is a pendulum -- I've had my extremes, and now I'm comfortably in the middle. It's finding that middle safely that a lot of people screw up, and my middle is probably very different from your own.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2005

- Contrary to advice here, don't do pot first.

I wouldn't say you should do pot first, although I don't think it necessarily leads to disaster. Most of my friends and I had drunk before we first smoked, though.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2005

If you must, try a one time binge drinking. The hangover might put the idea of becoming a drinker into the far netherworld. But this is only if you feel you are missing out of a experience most of your peers have had. Being drunk is never that much fun to those watching.

posted by Dagobert at 4:43 AM PST on January 31

Wow! is that ever bad advice. 'Whatever you do, don't drink responsibly...you might enjoy it too much!'
posted by goethean at 1:57 PM on January 31, 2005

languagehat: One reason for reading is so you don't have to experience things in person.

Words work if you're talking about a new really spicy dish with such and such a taste, or a place with this kind of scenery. The perceptual primitives are already known to you, so with some confidence and a good description, you can hope to assemble a good 'imagination'. Does not work for truly new categories of experiences, which aren't variations and assemblies of past experiences. Classic example: LSD. Despite the authority invested in anti-drug or pro-drug descriptions, they can't give you any flavor of what's to transpire. Alcohol is a weaker example, but nonetheless applicable.
posted by Gyan at 2:38 PM on January 31, 2005

That's true, Gyan, and I'm certainly not claiming that reading gives you an equivalent experience, just that you can learn important stuff about the experience. With regard to LSD, for example, my reading (plus observation of others) taught me that I didn't want to try it.

inksyndicate: Sorry if I came off as impolite. I really, really don't like people using their own failings, hangups, and bad experiences as a measuring stick for everyone else and using specious assurances like "you're not missing anything" in an effort to con others into adopting their attitudes, so I get a bit snarky.

josh: I'm sorry you haven't had the kind of sublime wine or single malt that is comparable to a good work of art (think sand painting or self-destructing sculpture if you like), but that doesn't mean they don't exist.
posted by languagehat at 3:07 PM on January 31, 2005

I do drink. I have never regretted it.
posted by esch at 3:20 PM on January 31, 2005

I don't drink. It just seems so unnecessary. It's not like you can't easily get hold of fresh fruit juice or filtered water.

If you truely enjoy the nightclub/bar/pub scene, then you'll enjoy it while sipping on a club lemon. If you find it tedious sober, why would you want to see if it's any better drunk?

You also save a lot of money, apparently.
posted by krisjohn at 4:17 PM on January 31, 2005

I'm 21, in college, and I don't drink. It's no big deal; I have a ton of good, good friends (most of whom drink, but luckily not to excess), and I go out to bars and parties all the time. I'm having a lot of fun, so why should I add something else to the mix? Alchohol just seems so unnecessary, and nothing is more sad than someone who thinks they need it to bond with someone or have fun somewhere. An old friend from high school is like this - for a long time she didn't drink, and now she doesn't think she's having fun anymore unless she's getting drunk, and the only topic she can converse well on are different cocktails she's tried and bars that she's thrown up in.

So, should you drink? If you're really interested in seeing what it's like, follow what other people have said and try it with some close friends. There's something to be said for experiencing everything life has to offer - we've only got one try at it. But I say don't drink, don't buy into this country's ridiculous alchohol culture, and if you find that people have trouble relating to you because you don't drink, fuck em. If their lives are so tied up with it they're idiots, and it's easy to avoid people who can only talk about how drunk they are, were, or are going to be. These are people without much else to offer anyway.

And you'll save a ton of money, too.
posted by deafmute at 4:56 PM on January 31, 2005

If you're going to drink, do it right.

Consider brewing your own beer. Learn about mankind's history with malted barley and yeast. Develop a taste for fine belgian ales (La Fin Du Monde is so very tasty). Taste fine wines, and learn what makes them so expensive. Experience single malt scotch, cognac, vodka, gin, ice-cold barenjager, and Jagermeister. Learn what makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad. Try Mead. It's good.

Stay away from Coors Lite, pumped from a keg into plastic cups at a frat party. In fact, be an alcohol snob. It's the way to go. Drinking can be a hobby instead of a vice. Be smart about things. Practice moderation. If you're driving, don't drink. If you're drinking, don't drive.
posted by mullingitover at 5:02 PM on January 31, 2005

I'd also be remiss if I didn't state that drinking can make certain things easier. Flirting with that cutie you've had your eye on? Much easier after a couple of pops. Same with speaking your mind, getting on stage on karaoke night, etc.

Of course that can all backfire on you, but hey, it's the truth.
posted by jonmc at 6:52 PM on January 31, 2005

I enjoy drinking a great deal, and I highly recommend that you try it. The fact that you don't need something to live, or even to have a good time, or that it costs money, or that too much of it can be bad for you, is not in itself a reason to avoid it.

What's more, while you should probably do your first drinking with an experienced friend, it is possible that as a novice drinker, you will throw up, or even have a hangover in the morning. If this happens to you, it does not mean that alcohol is bad, or that you are an alcoholic, or that drinking is not for you. It means that you drank too much, or too fast, or the wrong stuff for you, or you didn't eat enough beforehand, or some combination of the above. You experiment, you ask friends for advice, you try different things, you learn to pace yourself, you learn how much you want to pace yourself, what kind of drunkenness you're looking for, what level, and how best to get it.

It is fine to not drink, and it is fine to be the sort of person who drinks no more than, say, a glass of wine with dinner. But I'll tell you what, if I'm going to have wine with dinner, then I want the bottle, and I want a friend or a lover with me who is drinking a bottle themselves, or I'd rather not even bother. Most of my relationships have started with alcohol (I should note, none of them have ended with alcohol), and a great many friendships have been facilitated by it. I wouldn't go so far as to say I don't trust those who don't drink, but I do think it's fair to say that a friend who won't drink with me is a friend who doesn't really trust either me or themselves or both.

posted by bingo at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2005

Like you need this kind of headache? If you're worried enough to ask about it here, skip it. In a healthy and broad life, it's way down on the list of positives. In some unhappy lives, it's WAY up there on the list of negatives. So skip it.

If, years later, it independently occurs to you've to try some crazy drink, sure, try it, once you got that stable foundation in your life and understand your own stress reactions and coping mechanisms. For now, this question is just a source of doubt, so skip it. It'll be there if you decide it's time. There's no reason to agonize over any sort of close call decision.
posted by NortonDC at 8:20 PM on January 31, 2005

I didn't really start drinking until I was 21, and I have never had more than a couple of drinks in one sitting. At first, my reluctance to drink was based on similar reasoning to yours. My mother is a former alcoholic, and though she stopped cold turkey many years ago, I was afraid that the same tendency could be lying dormant within me.

When I was in college and feeling more at home with myself, I decided to give it a shot. As it turns out, I don't even have to remind myself to drink in moderation. I just don't have the desire to get drunk, and I don't care for a lot of alcoholic beverages (beer and wine, for example). I've also never had the desire to try other drugs, so I didn't really need to make a distinction between the two. I have to respectfully disagree with bingo - some people just don't like drinking, and that has nothing to do with trusting themselves or their companions. It's merely personal preference.

I've never had a problem socially as far as drinking goes. I usually nurse my drinks, so a single glass of cider can last me an entire evening. If I don't feel like having a drink, I politely decline or go with something non-alcoholic. A few times this has been a bit awkward, but my friends all respect my decision and I've found that most other people do too. I've never really felt as if I was "missing out" on anything, but that could be because I have already tried drinking and found that it wasn't quite my cup of (Long Island Iced) tea.

As a lot of other people have already said, getting in on some perceived social benefit is a lousy reason to start drinking. If you're genuinely curious about it and you feel ready and confident enough in yourself to try, there's no harm in having a drink or two sometime. Just start slow, do it on your own terms, practice moderation, and pay attention to how you feel when you drink. Learn what your limits are. And don't feel self-conscious about not drinking - most of the people around you probably forgot about it a few seconds after you placed your order/declined a drink, and the people that try to pressure you into drinking are making asses out of themselves.
posted by Aster at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2005

mullingitover's comments about being a booze snob got me thinking. How much of a practiced drinker do you have to be before you get to the stage where you can look forward to the pleasure of a simple pint of standard pub beer on a summer's evening or planned at the end of a country walk? A fruit juice just wouldn't be the same.
posted by biffa at 3:19 AM on February 1, 2005

I'd also be remiss if I didn't state that drinking can make certain things easier.

My skill at pool increases noticeably after the first beer, and reaches it's apex at the second.

I respect the choices of people who choose not to drink. It's unfortunate that so many of them clearly cannot reciprocate.
posted by casu marzu at 7:26 AM on February 1, 2005

I really have to say that my life is better for the drinking experiences I've had. But of course I work in the wine industry, so I've probably had better experiences than most. What I would suggest you do is to attend a wine, beer or spirit tasting or take a class. It's actually considered perfectly appropriate to spit out the sip you took after you smell it and swirl it around in your mouth. In fact you'll probably get the VIP treatment if you do, people who spit while tasting are usually very serious about their beverages. That way you could develop an appreciation for what's in your glass before you ever actually drink, which is the best way I know to encourage responsible drinking. Hell, you could become a connoisseur without swallowing a drop.

On a side note, there's a ridiculous amount of alcoholism in my family too, but it seems to have skipped me. I enjoy having a drink or two a couple times a week. Alcohol in small quantities (no more than a glass or two per day) is actually good for you, and if the alcohol is red wine it's even better.
posted by cali at 6:53 PM on February 1, 2005

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