An Open Letter to Anyone Who has a Love/Hate Relationship with Alcohol

Dear friend,

If you found your way to this part of the internet, chances are you’ve been doing some thinking about your relationship with alcohol. You might be here for Dry January after an indulgent holiday season. You could be one of the many people who are becoming more curious about drinking less in general. Or, maybe you know for a fact that you don’t want to drink anymore at all, but you have no idea where to start.

At first, it can seem really scary and foreign to consider a life without alcohol – but trust me when I say that a sober life truly can be the most awesome life. I promise you that it does not have to be not a boring life where you have to miss out. You can still participate fully in all of the adventures that life has to offer – just without the hangover or alcohol-induced anxiety.

But before we get into some of the good stuff that you can look forward to, let’s talk a bit more about what brought you here.

If you’re asking a question about whether or not you should be drinking as much alcohol, then you probably already know that you want to be drinking less alcohol.

You’ve probably tried to be more intentional about moderation, but it just hasn’t done the job. You still feel anxious when you do drink (hello hangxiety) and it takes days to feel 100% again, even after just a glass or two.

You are pretty sure you want to cut back on drinking – but you have no idea where to start, or if it’s even a thing to stop drinking without going to AA or calling yourself an alcoholic. Historically, these have been the only options known to people who choose not to drink. Your drinking might not even appear problematic by most people’s standards, which has led your options to appear extremely been limited.

So, you’ve continued to roll the dice on moderation and feel regularly disappointed in the outcome you’re getting. You’re met with recurrent anxiety; disturbed sleep; mood fluctuations; sluggishness; and maybe even regrets after a night out.

Herein lies the problem with moderation. Once you commit to being a “better moderate drinker”, the quest to moderate ironically becomes a very time-consuming, energy sucking, and oftentimes, losing game.

This isn’t because you have done anything “wrong.” Alcohol is an addictive substance that usually wins (even if you are not technically “addicted to it”).

Moderation goes against the way your brain is designed to work, which is why it’s so hard to succeed at. (It’s not you, it’s alcohol!) Our brain is wired to pump our system full of dopamine when we have an enjoyable experience – and because alcohol rushes your system with feel good neurotransmitters, it codes that experience as “necessary for survival.” Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that logically says, “I don’t want to drink as much,” and unfortunately this part of the brain gets overpowered the next time you are presented with alcohol. The survival brain floods your system with messages about how you need to drink, because it is falsely linking alcohol with survival. Cue the losing battle.

You certainly could spend your life continuing to seek moderation. Some people actually can moderate well and feel perfectly content with their relationship with alcohol. There are no sweeping judgements here that everyone should stop drinking – this is a personal choice and there’s no “wrong” answer! If you choose to drink regularly and it works for you, by all means – do you.

However, to consistently achieve that “sweet spot” of “just enough, but not too much” is a bit of a unicorn phenomenon that takes a good amount of effort for many people.

Most people say that it feels like a gamble as to how they will feel emotionally and physically the next day after one too many drinks. Maybe 9 out 10 times, things are “fine” – but that 10th time of one too many always ends with “I’m never drinking again.” However, this is quickly forgotten when the weekend rolls around again, and it’s way too easy to jump right back into dopamine rollercoaster that alcohol takes you on.

The reality of it is, if you’re in a pattern of having to think pretty hard about how much and how often you’ll drink, moderation is most likely already an uphill battle. While you could certainly try to plug away at the moderation effort, and possibly even succeed at it, another very important question presents itself.

Do you want to spend the rest of your life thinking so much about alcohol?

When your main goal is to drink less of it and have it become a smaller part of your life, it seems counterintuitive that moderation would you lead to think more about drinking – but this is what tends to happen.

When you are trying to moderate better, you are constantly evaluating when, how often, and how much you will drink. Even if you only have one drink all night, chances are, you are spending a lot of mental energy on keeping it to that one drink. You are constantly in a state of making decisions about drinking, and a lot of your time is spent in indecision on this topic.

“Should I have one more? Should I drink Friday and Saturday or just one night this weekend? Should I do liquor or just beer? Should I have water between each drink? Should I space my drinks out more so that I can drive home? Should I take a few weeks off? Should I try organic wine instead?”

And so it goes.

Indecision is one of the greatest thieves of joy. And making a hard decision (like not drinking at all) can be much more rewarding for some than living within a cloud of constant indecision.

When you consciously decide that alcohol isn’t in the picture for you anymore, all of that energy can go toward living and enjoying your life and being the highest version of yourself.

Whether it be your inner peace; your mental health; the health of your relationships; your bank account; your skin; or the time wasted not feeling well after one two many; there are so many parts of our lives that even moderate drinking impacts.

And even when you logically know these things, it can seem terrifying to breakup with alcohol in a society that is completely obsessed with alcohol. Every event is infused with alcohol, and historically, the only people that stop drinking are people who are labeled as being alcoholics and hit a big rock bottom for all to see.

Society puts people into two categories: people who are addicted to alcohol or the people who “drink responsibly.” This is an outdated, and frankly, unhelpful way to conceptualize who is “allowed” to stop drinking.

What you need to know is that there is a huuuuuuuuuge spectrum of reasons why people are questioning their relationship with alcohol. The above-mentioned categories are just two bookends of that spectrum.

You don’t have to label yourself or put yourself in a certain category to do that (unless you find a sense of community, healing and purpose in a label – many do, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for everyone).

Here’s the truth: you can actually stop drinking for ANY reason you choose. It’s way less taboo than you think.

Here are other, less talked about reasons:

  • People who want to stop drinking for the health of it.
  • The guy who wants to run a marathon next year but can’t train hungover.
  • The woman who is building her business from the ground up and needs a clear head to do it all.
  • The college student who has high aspirations for the future, and keg stands on the weekend aren’t going to get them there.
  • The new mom who subscribed to “mommy wine culture” during the stress of the newborn phase and now recognizes how much drinking when the baby is asleep is giving her crushing anxiety.
  • People who have chronic health conditions that want to heal.
  • The person who has anxiety and depression and wants to stop messing around with their brain chemistry with alcohol.
  • People who just don’t like the way alcohol makes them feel anymore and don’t want to. Period.
You’re at a crossroads now where you get to decide if a life of constantly thinking about moderation is worth it to you, or if you would rather double-down on your own potential and take a chance that could change your life.

An alcohol-free life is going to ask a lot of you. It calls you to question everything you’ve been taught about life and yourself. It is hard work.

The payoff is SO worth it.

  • You get to be 100% present and clear for every moment of your life.
  • You wake up with no regrets every single Sunday morning.
  • Your body is healthier – the “sober glow”
  • Your sleep is better.
  • Your bank account will thank you. You could save thousands of dollars a year not drinking alcohol. What else could you spend that on?!
  • Your neurotransmitters will no longer take a hit from the chaos that alcohol introduces to your brain, which equates to better mental health.
  • There’s a major respect factor for not drinking.
  • You get to experience a full range of emotions without numbing yourself. This means you can face the hard stuff head-on, and also experience more profound joy.
  • You have more time and energy for hobbies.
  • You get to feel proud of the life you are building and your ability to do really hard things.

As articulated by Briana Weist,

“Your new life is going to cost you your old one. It’s going to cost you your comfort zone and your sense of direction. It’s going to cost you relationships and friends. It’s going to cost you being liked and understood. It doesn’t matter. The people who are meant for you are going to meet you on the other side. You’re going to build a new comfort zone around the things that actually move you forward. Instead of being liked, you’re going to be loved. Instead of being understood, you’re going to be seen. All you’re going to lose is what was built for a person you no longer are.”


Resources to get you started
(…and there are SO many more).

News

The New Sobriety (New York Times)
Generation Sober: 10 Reasons Why Millennials are Opting out of Booze to Socialize (Forbes)
Why Gen Zers are Growing Up Sober Curious (BBC)
The Rise of the Sober Curious: Having it All, Without Alcohol (The Guardian)
Millennials and Gen Zers Embrace “Life Can Take You Higher than Alcohol” (NPHIC)

Blogs

In 2021, What Even is Sobriety? (Sober Black Girls Club)
The Big Chill: How to Tell People You’re Not Drinking (Laura McKowen)
OCD and Alcohol: Why You Should Not Mix Them (NOCD)
Hangover Anxiety: How a Night of Drinking Can Tank Your Mood (New York Times)
Top 25 Recovery Blogs (Annie Grace)

Quit Lit

We Are the Luckiest, by Laura McKowen
Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker
This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace
Sober Lush: A Hedonist’s Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life, by Amanda Eyre Ward & Jardine Libaire
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, by Catherine Gray
Sober Curious, Ruby Warrington

Online Support Groups/Memberships

The Luckiest Club
Sober Black Girls Club
Sober Mom Squad
This Naked Mind


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