Help convince me that alcohol isn't terrible!
December 20, 2013 10:16 PM   Subscribe

I don't drink at all and I'm happy that way. What I don't like is the strong aversion I have to other people drinking. Help me understand why people drink and why it needn't be all that evil! :)

I grew up in a wonderful teetotaler Buddhist family. When I was very young I had some close friends whose fathers frequently got drunk. I'd watch them being out of control/sometimes abusive, feeling absolutely no respect, a bit of fright, and plenty of disgust. As a teenager, I hated seeing my peers drunk and throwing up and usually stayed away from social situations involving alcohol.

I'm now nearing thirty. I've never had a full glass of alcohol; I've had sips of various alcohols and felt the slightest bit tipsy once, but to me alcohol is a sort of unknown mysterious evil! My husband doesn't drink, many of my close friends don't, and I don't socialise with other good friends over alcohol. In the rare occasion that I'm in company with alcohol around, I feel a strong revulsion that I suspect is not entirely healthy. I dislike the slight change in people, their eyes, and the atmosphere, when they are even mildly tipsy.

When I think of my siblings or closest friends drinking, I feel slightly scared and unhappy about the thought. I sometimes try to persuade them not to drink. I wonder how I'd respond to a child of mine drinking (as they are likely to do when I have any!).

I think the feeling of revulsion must be dealt with in a general way through awareness and meditation. But I'd like to at least think about it differently to begin with. I've often thought the very nature of alcohol is to alter one's normal state and to escape from reality. Is that not so terrible? Would you really compare alcohol with chocolate or tea?
posted by miaow to Human Relations (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The examples you cite are all of people having far too MUCH alcohol. Many, if not most, people who drink are not overindulging in such a way, and don't throw up or get out of control. Yes, this does certainly happen, but that's not really what drinking is about for many, including me. For me, is about relaxing, lowering my inhibitions, and enjoying the taste. I no longer drink to get very drunk, and I don't enjoy doing so.

I've often thought the very nature of alcohol is to alter one's normal state and to escape from reality.

Yes to the first part, no to the second. I would not call altering one's normal state 'escaping from reality,' because all sorts of things alter our normal states. You say you meditate- you'd never call that 'escaping from reality,' I imagine. It's just a different lens through which to experience reality. This also happens during hard exercise, or sex, or when you're very tired... there are so many ways to experience the world, and drinking is one of them. In moderation, many people find it to be a pleasant one.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:24 PM on December 20, 2013 [20 favorites]

I think often our upbringing or experience early on affects things like, in your case, how we see alcohol. But, I also think our individual temperament impacts this as well. For instance, your awareness of how it changes people may be because you are sensitive, yes? I grew up in a family that always drank responsibly (some wine here and there). But, I also tend to be sensitive to things so I notice the change in people as well. But, I also know that sometimes getting a little buzz can be fun! To your comparison of alcohol to chocolate I don't know about that, but I have to say too many pieces of candy (or lack there of) makes my girlfriend a little crazy!
posted by learninguntilidie at 10:25 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's the same as someone eating junk food until they are 500 pounds and immobile -- do you hate the thought of your siblings eating potato chips? In moderation (see: small amounts), alcohol can relax people and help them unwind. For people like me with social anxiety, alcohol makes me feel more comfortable being myself and connecting with people, which is really important and not only harmless, but helpful.

Alcohol is also part of an elaborate chemical process and appreciating a fine wine or an aged liquor shouldn't be something connected with reckless behavior and using a controlled substance. Apparently scientists say that when we taste chocolate, it releases a flood of endorphins to our brains the way being around someone you love does. The fact is, all things we consume cause changes in our bodies -- whether it's chocolate, or Nyquil, or bourbon. As long as we don't overload on any of those things, we shouldn't be deprived of whatever benefit they offer in small doses.

I wonder if you might benefit from allowing yourself to get a little intentionally buzzed once -- not drunk, just slightly tipsy -- and understand that the slight change you notice in other people is not a new form of reality or a significant state change, but just a little more relaxation and comfort with their surroundings. If there was a way for people to achieve this without drinking alcohol, I'm sure we'd all do it all the time. But maybe you can appreciate what they are feeling without feeling disdainful or like they are privy to some alternate reality you aren't apart of.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:36 PM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I hope it is okay to add this— I realise I left out one of my biggest questions/apprehensions about drinking. I've also seen several older people (like my father in law) who have drunk alchocol responsibly all their lives get quite dependent on it, drink more when they go through hard/lonely patches, and sometimes even overuse it. It seems a sort of journey you undertake when you let alcohol in your life— at times you drink more, at times less, but you probably can't expect to be in full control of what you choose all the time. Don't you find this frighterning? Or can you be totally sure and disciplined and expect to remain that way?
posted by miaow at 10:58 PM on December 20, 2013

Maybe you'd find it helpful to spend time with people when they're drinking some alcohol but not getting tipsy? Say, having one beer or glass of wine with dinner? For most adults, except those who are very small or thin, one drink's worth of alcohol has basically no discernible effect, so seeing people drink and be no different afterwards might help you get past that gut-level revulsion.

Apart from that, bear in mind that yes, drinking in larger quantities does bring on a loose, relaxed, disinhibited state, but people choose that they want to be in that state and use alcohol as a means to get there. If I could consciously reach within myself and choose to dial up my relaxation 30%, maybe I'd do that (it would save money!) but I can't, so I take steps that I know are likely to bring out that 30%-more-relaxed version of myself. The point being that I know that version of myself, it's not a stranger; it's just as much a facet of me as amped-up-after-watching-an-action-movie me is me, or blissfully-relaxed-waking-up-from-a-nap me is me.

Finally, bear in mind that while it's probably good that you're trying to get rid of the revulsion part, it's fine to not like to be around people in that state of mild disinhibition. Some people -- totally open-minded, nonjudgmental people -- just don't.
posted by ostro at 11:01 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're totally right to feel revolted when people drink so much that they go out of control, become abusive, or throw up. But it sounds to me like you've overgeneralized this revulsion to all instances of drinking, even where it's out of place. As an analogy, you might feel revolted or scared or unhappy if someone you loved was in the habit of eating so much ice cream that they'd throw up, but you wouldn't extend that same feeling to someone else who occasionally had a scoop or two, right?

The way you describe your early exposure to other people's drinking, it's completely understandable that you might make this mistake, but it really is a mistake to think of having a glass of wine with dinner as being in the same category as going off your face. It definitely is comparable to a strong cup of tea or some dark chocolate, yes (in degree, not in the specific effects). Rather than an escape from reality, it makes more sense to think of moderate, responsible drinking as going on a short pleasure trip: you decide to spend a couple hours in a slightly different place just for fun, knowing you'll come back safely.

I have a couple of practical suggestions for you:

First, if there's someone who's close to you who has a drink from time to time (I'm talking about sane, responsible drinking, not getting hammered), rather than trying to dissuade them, ask them about the experience. What is it like for them? What do they like about it? If you can get some first-hand descriptions from people who you personally know to be trustworthy and reasonable, you might start feeling that alcohol is less foreign and threatening than you do now.

Second, what about a small experiment? You say you've only been tipsy once in your life. What if you had a glass of wine, to see what it's like? Think of it as, dare I say it, a mindfulness practice. Observe what happens to your awareness, and you'll gain some insight into why people drink; and realizing that you haven't turned into an out-of-control monster as a result should help lend some proportion to your feelings of fear and revulsion.
posted by zeri at 11:06 PM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

you probably can't expect to be in full control of what you choose all the time. Don't you find this frighterning? Or can you be totally sure and disciplined and expect to remain that way?

To echo showbiz_liz, this is true of anything with a significant effect on you, not just alcohol. Love, sex, exercise, gambling, religion, politics... all of these are things where you risk going out of control, of damaging yourself, your relationships, your loved ones.

In some obvious ways that you've experienced, alcohol is often more easily attributable as the cause of problems, but for many it's enjoyed in moderation as part of a rich life, and that takes no more discipline than anything else does. Perhaps you're not noticing these good examples around you because you've trained yourself only to spot confirmation that alcohol damages people.
posted by fatbird at 11:38 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I didn't drink until I was 24. I had always associated it with frat boys and alcoholics, never really understood the appeal.

Trust me, there is truly nothing better than going out on the town and getting drunk with a few good friends. Alcohol does something to the brain that makes it possible to bond with another person in ways you just can't when sober.

People have been drinking alcohol for many millennia. Our bodies are able to process it and even use it for energy. It's not an accident that wine is a part of many religious ceremonies and traditions. For instance, on Passover we Jews drink three cups of wine.

I would argue that drinking alcohol and even getting drunk are essential parts of the human experience. Five stars!
posted by hamsterdam at 12:02 AM on December 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Mod note: miaow, moderator here. It's fine to ask a question you want help with, but Ask Metafilter is not a discussion space, and not a place to post just to explain, defend or argue your feelings about something. If you want help with the stated problem of desiring to overcome "the strong aversion I have to other people drinking" that's okay, and people will offer ideas to help, but if you want to chat about the subject, sorry, that isn't the purpose of this site. See "chatfilter" in the FAQ. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:04 AM on December 21, 2013

Just as a data point in response to your follow-up: I have many people in my life, including some who I suspect are older than your father-in-law, who drink occasionally and responsibly. Not one of them has ever (to my knowledge) gone through a period of dependency like you describe. It's certainly not inevitable.
posted by wyzewoman at 12:23 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Greek symposia had drinking.

In moderation.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:57 AM on December 21, 2013

Best answer: I've also seen several older people (like my father in law) who have drunk alchocol responsibly all their lives get quite dependent on it...

That's not responsible.

Responsible consumption of alcohol means that yes, you are in full control of what you choose all the time. It is a conscious, aware choice... as is oft discussed in meditation books. Excess consumption of anything... media, religion, chocolate, pot, alcohol, political theories - whatever - even too much broccoli (eventually) isn't good for you, and certainly not when you're using it as a crutch. Some people enjoy being drunk occasionally and will choose to do so in specific company, just like some people occasionally pig out at a buffet, splurge on a handbag, or whatever.

Don't you find this frightening? >> No. I am in no way concerned that having a glass of wine with dinner once in a while will turn me into an alcoholic at some random point. I've never been drunk, and don't enjoy overindulging in anything, really - it's not fun (for me). I don't like buffets either.

Or can you be totally sure and disciplined and expect to remain that way?
Me? Personally? Yes. I think maybe this is maybe a side of yourself you need to think about and explore in a controlled way.

No one in my family is an alcoholic, and my siblings, dad, aunt, and grandmother all have/had the occasional drink their whole adult lives to no ill or dependent effect.

That said, brains are wired in all sorts of ways, and some people ARE predisposed to becoming more addicted to things more easily than others. Other people may be self-medicating, or may be dealing (as best they can) with severe amounts of personal trauma, or be conforming to cultural expectation (Japanese salarymen, for example). So for some people, having one drink IS a slippery slope. For me? Not so much.

Why do I like the occasional glass of wine? I am very reserved and quiet, and somewhat awkward in social situations; sometimes I am just very stressed out. Having a glass can be thoughtful and ritualistic, it helps me relax (physically) and worry less and laugh more and sleep better that night (oh, and it makes my feet warm! yay!). It isn't what I need all the time, and it isn't the right choice all the time. Often I choose other things.... to shower, to meditate, to do yoga, take a long walk, talk to my cats, and yes every once in a while I make the considered choice to have a glass of wine. Just like I also sometimes eat chocolate, but not everyday.

It's normal to be afraid of the unknown, and for you, responsible alcohol consumption is an unknown. What if you sipped a glass of wine at home in a safe (non-party non-social) place and meditated? Just think about what it tastes like, what it smells like, what it feels like in your throat. Insight meditation style... think about how your feet feel, how your thinking feels. Think about the sun that ripened the grapes, the hands that picked them, etc. Even if you decide it's not for you, you may find that familiarity ameliorates the aversion if you understand how other people feel when they're having a glass. (Often people feel nothing... I drink so rarely one glass is all I EVER drink - not even enough to feel tipsy, just warm!)

I feel you. I took my 2nd grade lesson in "Alcohol! Oh no!" far far too seriously, and when I got home I threw out 2 cans of beer my dad had bought to make me tempura (and hid, of course). At that age I had never seen anyone drink - I had NO frame of reference. I was SURE he was an alcoholic and I was trying to save him!

You're right about your kids. I think it is far far better to teach young people how to make responsible choices. Moderation.

Have you seen the movie Sideways? Yeah, some people just REALLY like the way it tastes, too (my dad's cousin likes Scotch... but not just ANY Scotch!). There are some very poetic passages about wine in that movie, that have nothing to do with the fact that it's alcoholic. It's the way anyone talks about a thing they love.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:13 AM on December 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

Nelson Mandela used to drink; in fact the family has a winery.
posted by Segundus at 1:14 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tl;dr: Nothing is inherently good or bad, but human use of it can be either constructive or destructive. Wine isn't anything - it's just wine. It's fermented grape juice. That's all.

Pema Chodron has some good things to say about this in Things Fall Apart.
Memail me if you want - I was very much you all through high school and well into college.

It may also help to look up medical definitions of addiction and dependency.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:32 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you ever seen people do a wine-tasting? You probably wouldn't enjoy participating yourself, but perhaps seeking out some videos, or observing a food-matching session at your local gourmet shop or food fair might show you a different angle. You would see people choosing an alcoholic beverage for its taste and the way it interacts with different foods, rather than to get intoxicated.

On preview, seconding jrobin276's point about the movie "Sideways," too.
posted by rpfields at 1:42 AM on December 21, 2013

(Dear mods.. this is a little rambly, but relevant.)

I drink coffee to make my brain work 'better?'. My late first wife suggested that caffeine made me unpleasant. (In fact, I am unpleasant for many reasons! Caffeine is ever present in my blood, so she might have been right? Hmmmm....)

Some folks drink alcohol incidentally, as in it's hard to find wine without it (in a restaurant) and there isn't really a non-alcoholic substitute for brandy or bourbon or scotch.

Others drink alcohol to manipulate their brains. It undeniably moderates/extinguishes judgment and inhibitions, and as a brain hack, has few peers. In fact, because of its normal effects, it may be alone. Other recreational intoxicants do other things.

While I don't drink (anymore), it's only mildly annoying to me to see folks plastered, and not a problem at all if they aren't impacting me directly. If they are, I consider it to be an environmental risk, and will seek to remove myself from a situation. If they are with sober or less horked companions, I'll trust that they will control them, but a crowd of dangerously drunk folks is a recipe for trouble.

You can't really 'get over' how you react to that kind of stuff. Maybe some of your reaction is to danger, instead of prudishness. Tolerance for sober crazy/fun behavior might be the discriminant. Do you feel the same way about whacky adult shenanigans from sober folks? If so, maybe some meditation on tolerance might be in order.

Regardless, you are entitled to feel however you wish. Personally, I like to have a good time without booze to show that it can be done. Some folks with problems need a demo. You might fill that beneficial role, and if you are like me, you will endure pressure from some members of the drinking public to join in. I just smile and explain that it doesn't do anything for me but cause problems and enjoy my buzzed friends. I often am the DD for some close folks.

Some friends think it prudish. Most don't care. The stuff is useful to some people for some purposes and trouble for other people for lots of reasons. It is associated with violence in ways that pot, for instance, is not. It's the major reason to be wary of places where it's being overused.

That said, I do wish there were recreational intoxicants with the beneficial upsides of booze and maybe not the downsides. I haven't tried them all, but those I have tried fall short in fun. Oh, well.

It's hard to avoid in normal life, and being a problem non-drinker is not much fun to the large population of folks who do imbibe. They are your friends, though. The challenge with friends is accepting them, even when they aren't a perfect match for your life. Alcohol is just one of many potential differences. It's totally up to you where you draw the line.
posted by FauxScot at 1:48 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't really compare alcohol with chocolate or tea, but I would compare it with sex, running, reading a novel, or going to the movies. Yes, it is an intentional state change, but I don't know that anyone can get away from reality. Being drunk is a type of reality, as is being raptly caught up in a movie, exercise, sex, etc.

Also, it's true that people can become compulsive with alcohol and suffer (and inflict suffering). But people can become compulsive with a lot of things.

Basically yes, there are bad ways to use alcohol, but that doesn't mean that it's evil. A knife can be a murder weapon or it can be an instrument with which you cook dinner.
posted by feets at 1:49 AM on December 21, 2013

It seems a sort of journey you undertake when you let alcohol in your life— at times you drink more, at times less, but you probably can't expect to be in full control of what you choose all the time. Don't you find this frighterning? Or can you be totally sure and disciplined and expect to remain that way?

You say you were raised Buddhist, so it might help to look at this from a Buddhist point of view – it is a form of letting go. Of accepting that, indeed, we are never entirely in control of our lives. Yes, alcohol does accentuate that. One of the reasons I enjoy drinking wine (responsibly, meaning one glass a day in the evenings, with a meal, though I do drink a bit more at parties, which occur maybe three or four times a year), is that it is very much like meditation. The alcohol is merely a vehicle, and part of drinking responsibly is recognizing that. So long as alcohol is in its proper place, as one means among many to attain relaxation/letting go, it's pretty hard to abuse it.

Pretty much every type of well-made alcohol is also intimately linked with Earth. I happen to love hearty red wines, but also know that whiskeys, for instance, can be similar. My favorite whiskey is Laphroaig, which means I practically never drink it because, dang, it is expensive. It tastes like peat and oak were married in the springtime and feted their wedding with crystal-clear water. This is linked to where it's from and how it's made, which gets into encyclopedia territory when it comes to wine. I love taking time to read wine labels, imagine where the vineyards are, imagine who the people who made it are. Wine labels say a great deal when you know how to read them: location, acreage, family, organic methods (or not).

Not an hour ago, I bought two bottles of red Côtes de Provence for a dinner with friends. Red, because we all enjoy reds. Côtes de Provence means it's from our region, and as an AOC label, it suggests that the winemakers take their craft seriously (although there are mass-produced AOCs). The label further confirms that: "Yves, Michèle Gros, et leur fille Christelle, Vignerons". Not only do the winemakers have their first names on the bottle, they've put their daughter as part of their winemaking family! They specify the location of their vineyard, Domaine les Fouques: Les Borrels, Hyères, Var, France, a beautiful forested area in the hills above the coast. They have not one, but two organic labels, the first of which is bio-dynamic, and the second which is more generic: demeter and AB (Agriculture Biologique). They mention that they raise chickens and ducks who have free run of the vineyards. (This is not an expensive wine, by the way. Generally, Côtes de Provence are pretty reasonable, at least in France.)

That's just one example among thousands. It's an adventure, one that brings you closer to people, agriculture, geography, and thousands of years of wine history. You can go on vineyard tours that last for weeks and only buy a couple of bottles if you want. You see all the different ways people interpret their grapevines and winemaking; the different personalities; when wines clash with their makers, but the best is when they complement one another. When they genuinely love their craft, and love talking about it, and if you want to listen, you can learn things you never imagined. There are wines I drink because I know the people behind them and loved listening to their stories, just as much as I enjoyed the taste of the wine.

It's just a "thing". The genuinely important part is relationship. As long as alcohol is in its proper place, it can be one of many "things" that help we flawed humans relate to one another. Even when I drink alone, I know someone cared enough to brew the delicious wine I'm drinking, which inspires me to relax, take my time, and recall other people and experiences like that in life.
posted by fraula at 2:14 AM on December 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

It seems a sort of journey you undertake when you let alcohol in your life— at times you drink more, at times less, but you probably can't expect to be in full control of what you choose all the time

This is not true. Use or abuse of alcohol is dependent on individual dispositions (caveat, see below) and choices. Some people have more trouble making sensible choices in their lives than others. It's a matter of foresight, strategies and self-discipline. it's not inherently a matter of the substance, gadget, behavior, etc., one is making decisions about.

[This remark does not address alcoholism, which is usually defined as an addictive illness, and would be a special case scenario in the framework of your question]
posted by Namlit at 3:54 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Help me understand why people drink and why it needn't be all that evil! :)

People drink because it can be fun and most people are able to do it in moderation.

It needn't be "evil" (!!!) because when used appropriately it harms no one.

I suggest you refocus your hatred of alcohol and those who use it, and instead try to remember that those around you (with the exception of your teenage peers in high school) are adults and should be permitted to make their own decisions free of your judgment. You are not the morality police.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:50 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My parents never drank when I was growing up, so I never had more than a sip of alcohol until I was twenty. Even then, I didn't much like drinking because it was always done in a binging party context. I especially didn't like beer, and thought of it as a cheap legal drug. It took several more years before I met some older friends in their 30s who were beer aficionados who taught me how to appreciate a good beer with a meal. Then I started to learn all the varieties of beer and now I greatly enjoy it.
This isn't to say that you need to try to like beer, only to point out how your perspective shapes how you view drinking. if beer is a cheap intoxicant that you use to escape reality the way alcoholics do, then of course it is a sad thing to be drinking. If it is a drink enjoyed with a meal, it becomes more like a dessert, a treat to be enjoyed with friends and on special occasions. Like cake and ice cream, alcohol isn't really nutritious, but taken sparingly it isn't dangerous.
posted by deathpanels at 5:42 AM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: First, I've been thrilled by the many many helpful and understanding responses pouring in through the day. Thank you all — hearing all your perspectives is really helping me relook at this. I found the suggestions to try getting mildly buzzed and actually feel it out helpful; I have often thought of trying that, but your reasoning has helped me feel more sure about doing it.

And second, before more "you are not the morality police" comments start to come in, that is not the case or the problem here. I'm NOT interested in going about judging people who drink; I asked this question here only in order to open up a long-seated reaction/fear that has a subtle (and not problematic) effect on my life and current relationships, but might have a larger part to play in something like a parental relationship.

Again, thanks very much!
posted by miaow at 5:43 AM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

In terms of why people drink- Why do you eat good cheese? Or a juicy peach? For many adults, alcohol is one of their enjoyable "splurges" in their overall balanced diet - just as a good cheese or a fresh, juicy peach would be. I enjoy the taste of big-bodied red wines, either by themselves or paired with a meal. It is something I enjoy savoring in company - it is even more enjoyable when someone else who likes wine is drinking it with me, because we can discuss the wine (as we might the cheese, if we were both cheese fans). I also like hard cider, particularly the European kinds that are not particularly sweet. I enjoy the fizz on my tongue and the taste of the alcohol.

As a young adult, I drank to excess frequently - but that was a phase. At this point in my life, I frequently go weeks without drinking alcohol, but generally will have a 1-2 glasses of wine 2-3 nights a week. I consider alcohol a treat - much like the aforementioned cheese, or candy. It absolutely has an impact when I've had it - but I'd argue that other eating habits are similarly impactful, such as the somnolence inspired by tryptophan consumption (turkey!), or overeating or eating greasy food causing sensations of torpor and inertia.
posted by arnicae at 6:50 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dislike the slight change in people, their eyes, and the atmosphere, when they are even mildly tipsy.

Oh, man, I had a boyfriend like this my freshman year of college. For my part, I felt this incredibly painful pang in my heart whenever I saw the change in HIM, in HIS eyes when he judged me for drinking.

I think trying it out may be a good idea- just so you can get an idea of what buzzed feels and looks like from the inside, as it were. I hope you're not sharing with the people that drink around you your feelings about their drinking. If you told me this, I would feel quite hurt - and rather than change my behavior (which, as I mentioned above, is drinking in extreme moderation - sometimes I'm a teetotaler for weeks at a time), I would likely seek out your company less. Please keep in mind however you end up working on this that finding ways to accept people where they are and who they are without imposing yourself on them is a wonderful way to love the people around you. Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 6:52 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you ever worried that because you (I'm going to assume) enjoy sex and feel good when you have it, you're eventually going to become so overcome by the endorphins it produces that you're going to want to do nothing but have sex for the rest of your life and you're going to become so hooked on that feeling that you will have sex with people you don't like and put yourself in dangerous situations to get sex and use sex for emotional validation instead of actually making real connections with people?

Are you ever worried when you see people you know enjoying shopping and feeling sort of a "buzz" when they buy cool new things, they're eventually going to develop oniomania and will spend all of their time and money shopping and will neglect the things that really matter in order to buy shiny new trinkets?

Are you ever worried that because you (or if not you, someone else you know) enjoy exercise and get a "runner's high" after a good workout, you're going to someday become unable to resist doing it all the time, and you're going to waste away from overexercise because you're just going to work out constantly and compulsively until you pass out?

I'm assuming that when you read those questions, your answer was something like, "No, of course not. I like those things, sure, but I don't like them more than other things in my life, and the positive feelings they produce don't overpower my rational faculties in such a way that I want to do only those things forever and give up all the other things in my life that I like equally as much, if not more. Plus, I recognize that even good things are only good in moderation, as a part of a balanced, full life, and I want to experience everything life has to offer, not just that one thing. And the rest of my life is awesome enough that I don't feel the need to escape from it all the time. And just because I like something is fun and pleasurable, that doesn't mean that I don't also want to do all of the other awesome things in life that are also fun and cool."

That's how people who have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and with life, feel about drinking. People who are not physically or psychologically addicted to alcohol like it, but they don't like it more than they like everything else in life combined. Alcohol is just one of many pleasurable things in life. Getting a little relaxed, or even tipsy, can be a fun diversion, but if you're a generally happy person with lots of other cool things going on, you don't want to be diverted all the time. It can be a way of bonding with other people, like sex, and a way of slightly and safely temporarily altering the way your body feels, like exercise. But if you noticed that you were doing it too often, or in a way that interfered with other things in your life, you'd take a hard look at everything else in your life to try to figure out what was making you unhappy enough that you felt the need to escape from it so often.

It's completely understandable, given your past experiences seeing people abuse alcohol, and your general unfamiliarity with healthy alcohol consumption, that you would see alcohol in a negative way. Just as if you grew up surrounded by people with anorexia, you might believe that all weight loss or dieting was dangerous and psychologically damaging, if your primary experiences of alcohol are observing people abuse it, you'd naturally conclude that it's dangerous and bad. But realize that your sample is skewed, and that the overwhelming majority of people are not alcohol abusers, and that most people have no desire to be drunk constantly, nor do they drink to the point of becoming physically ill or violent. People who behave that way are aberrations, and their drinking habits say less about alcohol than they do about those people's generally dysfunctional psychological states.

It may be that you never become comfortable with alcohol. And that's okay. There are many people who never or very rarely drink because they don't like it. But just as you know in other contexts that it's okay for other people to like things you don't like, and vice versa, know that other people can like alcohol without that being a sign of some sort of dysfunction.
posted by decathecting at 7:08 AM on December 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also, it might help you to look at some data about people's actual drinking habits. I'm not sure where you're from, but in the US, for example, about a third of people don't drink at all. Among those who do drink, the average number of drinks consumed per week is about 4, with about 80% of drinkers saying they have fewer than seven drinks per week. And more than three-fourths of drinkers say no when asked whether they sometimes drink more alcohol than they think they should.

Yes, there are people who have problems with alcohol. And those problems can get very serious, both psychologically and physically, for drinkers and the people around them. But that's not most people. Most people who drink do so moderately and in ways than enhance their lives, not disrupt them. You don't have to be one of those people; you can be a non-drinker forever, and that's absolutely fine and good. But empirically, you have to accept that most people who drink are not problem drinkers like the ones you witnessed when you were a child.
posted by decathecting at 7:14 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't you find this frighterning? Or can you be totally sure and disciplined and expect to remain that way?

I think this has a lot to do with your relationship with control. If you need to feel always in full, rational control of yourself and your surroundings, drinking will be frightening. If you are capable of self-monitoring and self-correcting, and forgivingly understanding when you overstep, but can take steps to adjust your path, then it is not frightening - it's just something you keep an eye on as part of your general health management, like overeating or not exercising, and you rely on yourself to set the boundaries and to get help if you can no longer do that. It's not "discipine" in the traditional sense; it's self-love and self-care that keep people from walking down that road of dependency.
posted by Miko at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry if I offended you with my comment about the morality police. I'm sure you aren't trying to judge others for their modest drinking. However, bear in mind that comments like

I sometimes try to persuade them not to drink.

alcohol is a sort of unknown mysterious evil!


In the rare occasion that I'm in company with alcohol around, I feel a strong revulsion that I suspect is not entirely healthy.

all point towards some (perhaps unintentional?) judgment. You can't help that you feel revolted by the sight of booze, I suppose, but you can certainly stop projecting that on to others by requesting that they not drink.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:59 AM on December 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had an experience similar to yours in many respects. Didn't drink at all, through my twenties; always somewhat uncomfortable around others drinking because of reasons similar to your own. I was lucky to have social groups where this wasn't a huge problem, but it was a low-level problem, and I missed out on some professional opportunities because I was never out with colleagues at the bar.

Finally, when I was about thirty, I was in a comfortable and settled life state, and decided to give it a try. I had a really nice cosy brewpub near by, and a couple of friends that I felt 100% comfortable with... so I would make a practice of going and having a nice beer (started with one half-pint, then eventually one pint) with dinner once a week. It turned out to be lovely. It was just a nice little thing -- a nice environment, with good company, and having a drink just made everything seem even a little warm-and-cosier. And different fancy beers have very different characteristics, so that is kind of fun - trying out different tastes, etc.

I encourage you to try it. My whole attitude changed after I had been doing this for a while, to an attitude that is much more sustainable and realistic - much better perspective than I had before. I still don't have more than one drink at a time, and usually no more than once a week except in rare circumstances, and I only have a drink if I'm with people I really like and trust, etc. I still don't go to occasions where people are getting drunk - but thankfully, the workplace/social pressures have changed with age, so I don't have much contact with people who get drunk at all now - but even when I'm in a situation where friends are having more to drink than I would, I don't feel as weird and uncomfortable about it.

So: I started drinking in moderation, and it is just fine. This is from a former teetotaller and nervous-about-booze person -- it is nice to have one less thing in life to be sort of concerned and uncomfortable about. Plus it is a source of (moderate, modest, non-scary) fun.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:10 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I kind of felt the way you do when I was younger (mostly before I was 21 and legally able to drink). Now I love going to bars and having a drink or two. I hardly ever get drunk; it's more about the taste and the experience. I would still never go out just to get drunk, but I've found that drinking in moderation makes me more tolerant of others' drinking habits.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:32 AM on December 21, 2013

Like you I grew up in a family where there was no drinking. I only knowingly saw one person who was drunk before I was 18, and that was a neighbor who was a known alcoholic. From what I pieced together from my parents, church and books I figured that bars were very violent places and that people who drank were all alcoholics and became out of control and violent or sexually inappropriate when they drank.

When I first went to a bar - and this was a dingy bar near my college campus - I was shocked that people were mostly well-behaved. Over time I gained friends who would have one or two drinks with no big changes to their personality - no yelling and cursing, no violent behavior, no ripping the clothes off the bartender and having at it.

Your childhood experience of seeing your close friends' fathers drinking and becoming out of control and abusive, is key here. It's completely understandable that you would feel uncomfortable around people drinking. You could try hanging out in nicer bars in the early afternoon or evening (drinking water or soda) just to be around people who are drinking and mostly being responsible about it. Maybe. But you could also just accept that you aren't comfortable with alcohol because in your early childhood you saw your friends abused by alcoholic fathers. That's totally legit and you don't have to change it.
posted by bunderful at 8:37 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it would help for you to practice "loving detachment" around drinking with your friends and whoever else drinks in your presence. This is about having good boundaries and focusing on taking care of yourself and your own needs, while simultaneously not taking on the role of caretaker for other people.

It is not your job to manage other people's drinking, even though it makes you feel anxious and worried or upset. It is actually your job to take care of yourself and soothe those feelings of anxiety. If that means not being around people who drink, period, you can do that - find a graceful way to excuse yourself when people start drinking, and make it about yourself and your own needs, not about their drinking, because that is truly what this is about: you. If it means just calming and soothing yourself in the situation, and practicing non-judgment and awareness of your own thoughts and feelings, then do that as well as you can.

Drinking CAN be used as a way to escape reality, but for many people it is not like that at all. It can be physically soothing and relaxing, like a hot shower or bath, and it can enhance people's enjoyment of food, like a condiment, and socializing, like a shared experience, and lower any slight social anxiety that might inhibit people from having a good time. That is how most people, in my experience, use it.

But even when people do use it in an unhealthy way, as escapism or to the point of hurting themselves, it is not my job to fix that for them. People really do need to figure out their own drinking for themselves. Your urging them to not drink or to drink less won't actually succeed - it will only stress you out and put a strain on your relationship. If you are upset about their drinking, your only job is to take care of yourself.
posted by Ouisch at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: LobsterMitten, I love your story. Inspiring and so similar. "it is nice to have one less thing in life to be sort of concerned and uncomfortable about"—yes! Also mile valentine's " I've found that drinking in moderation makes me more tolerant of others' drinking habits." Very interesting.

Schroedingersgirl thanks for the clarification. And yes, you're right, there is an unintentional prejudice/judgment here and that is precisely what I'm trying to overcome. Not terribly helpful just to point that out. But no, I don't usually impose this view on others or tell people who do drink what I feel. The "sometimes I try to persuade" situations I speak of are specific, personal and non-problematic situations in certain close relationships—I won't go into it and perhaps shouldn't have mentioned it at all because it isn't the problem. What I'm concerned with is my actual feeling of discomfort and aversion to alcohol. I'd like to see it/think about it a bit differently.
posted by miaow at 8:46 AM on December 21, 2013

I think the problem lies in the assumptions you have made and shared about drinking. They are not correct assumptions. If drinking were 100% miserable, evil, and awful, they would be correct. So continue to examine your assumptions, understanding they are mostly based on a lack of knowledge.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

My suggestion was just that- a suggestion, based on the information I had. You've received excellent advice on how to change/reexamine your thoughts, and I thought (based on the information you gave) that changing some of your behavior might also be a useful place to start.

Terribly sorry to have been a nuisance.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:44 PM on December 21, 2013

When I first went to a bar - and this was a dingy bar near my college campus - I was shocked that people were mostly well-behaved. Over time I gained friends who would have one or two drinks with no big changes to their personality - no yelling and cursing, no violent behavior, no ripping the clothes off the bartender and having at it.

Or as Charles Bukowski lamented "I went to the worst bar I could find hoping to get killed, but all I managed to do was get drunk again." Drinking is more often than not, just a good time. "Life's rose colored glasses" as someone else said it. Don't let fear of its excess to rob you of its benefits.
posted by three blind mice at 1:29 AM on December 22, 2013

There was an interesting tangent on alcohol tolerance in Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, a book about the 1854 London cholera epidemic. The author pointed out that having a tolerance for alcohol gave people a certain health advantage, since the water supply in crowded cities or farmland could be contaminated with diseases borne by fecal matter. Of course, abuse of alcohol can cause lead to death, but for some people it would have hit that genetic sweet spot where it kept you alive long enough to reproduce & pass that alcohol-tolerance gene on to your offspring.

You might also get something from the Ken Burns Prohibition documentary.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:27 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Forgot to say in my last comment. Without refrigeration, there are only so many ways to preserve foods - pickling, drying, smoking, making jam, fermenting, etc. So, for a farmer, making barrels of hard cider from your apple crop would be as sensible as making your strawberries into jam, or making milk into cheese. Just another front in the constant battle between humanity & food spoilage. Plus, if you made better cider/beer/wine than your neighbors, it gave you something to barter with. And, going back to your original question about comparing alcohol to tea, there is some similarity in that both processes are ways of making drinking water potable. Obviously, alcohol abuse causes enormous amounts of suffering, I don't mean to diminish that. But the history of how alcoholic beverages were created around the world is pretty fascinating. That Prohibition documentary is a really engrossing look at American history.

(Personally, I don't have much of an alcohol tolerance, I've got a one beer or wineglass limit, and only with food. Drinking on an empty stomach or drinking more than my usual limit leads to immediate headache & nausea/dizziness. It's possible that if I kept drinking past that initial 'I don't feel so good' feeling, that I'd get to some other level of drunkenness that's more fun, but, it could just as easily lead to a 'must vomit now' level or 'horrible next day hangover' level, so, I'm fine with respecting my body's existing limits.)
posted by oh yeah! at 8:24 AM on December 24, 2013

« Older I want to buy a fancy thing for my girlfriend, but...   |   Will a Kaiser doctor write an Rx that you can take... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.