Giving up drinking alcohol was one of the biggest life changes that I have made.
In college, I typically spent three nights a week, not just drinking, but getting wasted. The weekend started with Thirsty Thursday and for many of my fellow partiers our goal was to get blackout drunk. I often said that a night was not successful unless I didn’t remember it by the end of the night.
I really enjoyed the partying and the drinking in my teens and early twenties and I considered it to be exactly what I wanted to be doing. I was living it up. But there was always at least a small part of me that knew I could be doing something better with my time… That there were much more important things than having sex with as many women as I could and slamming as many beers and shots as possible… The times that I felt this the strongest were when I was hungover. Those were the times I would feel regret for my decision to get drunk the night before.
I started drinking when I was about sixteen years old, when I was a freshmen or sophomore in high school. I went to university for 4.5 years at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. I didn’t drink all the time. During my summers I was working 80+ hours per week and didn’t have a drop of alcohol. But during the school year, back at university I spent way too much time drinking. I started to feel like I was over the partying in my Junior and Senior years of university when I was about 23 years old, but I continued to drink and to black out more often than I wanted to.
In Wisconsin much of the social life centers around drinking. I primarily drank at night for the sake of partying, but a lot of my friends liked to drink no matter what we were doing – watching football, playing catch, fishing, camping, playing poker. If I was in the woods or on the lake, drinking was not something I desired at all. I did like to get “day-drunk” sometimes but not as much as many of my friends. This meant that even when I didn’t want to drink, I got wrapped into it. I would do it because my friends were and it was the social construct that we had created. It was what we were used to doing. And that also meant that when we got together, we went right to drinking, because it was what we knew to do together. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was all my friends. I was often the one instigating the drinking too.)
After university, I went on a six-month trip, where I drank very little and when I got back to Wisconsin, the heavy drinking and blacking out continued, to a lesser extent, but still, it was what a lot of my friends wanted to do, so I did it.
Because of these patterns, it was not until I moved out of Wisconsin in 2011 that I got away from drinking. In San Diego, California I met and spent time with people who didn’t feel they had to drink in order to have fun. With them, a good night out could be done without having a single drink. Getting away from drinking successfully was made possible by surrounding myself with people who didn’t want to drink. One of the crowds that I fell in with were studying at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, practicing traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy and herbal medicine. It was a very healthy group of people to be with and they had a positive influence on me and helped me transition away from drinking. Many of them drank some and got drunk, but to a much lesser frequency and extent. During my first couple of years in San Diego I also spent my fair share of times at the bar and had circles of friends where our standard activity was going to the bar and playing drinking games at home. I still blacked out some, but that was to a far lesser extent.
It wasn’t until 2013, that I finally conquered my drinking habit. I decided to bike across the United States and practice sustainable and healthy living to a deep extent. I decided I wouldn’t have a drop for the entire 4,700 mile, 104 day bike ride. I successfully made it without having a drop. It’s now 2020, about seven years after setting out on that journey and I’ve been drunk just a handful of times, maybe even less than five. I generally go months without having a drink or thinking about it. If I do have a drink it’s generally a quarter of a beer or a glass of wine and I almost never drink hard liquor.
Many people think that giving up means going without. But in reality, by giving up drinking I found so many benefits and have gained so much more in life than I gave up.
Here is why I decided to give up drinking and how it benefited me.
I wanted to reduce my involvement in the monetary system and live with less money.
It was not unusual for me to spend $50 in a week. That wasn’t just on me, as I could easily spend $100 in a night buying drinks for friends. That is about $200 per month or over $2,000 per year that I realized I could save. Buy giving up drinking I have saved an incredible amount of money. This freed up my money to do things I really wanted to do rather than spending it on drinking.
Besides the direct cost of alcohol, I was often reckless when I was drunk and often burnt money. I broke a lot of my stuff and lost things. I broke cell phones numerous times and lost jackets just to name a few things. In college, there was recklessness that resulted in a couple of tickets. This all added up to thousands of dollars. I also burnt money when I was drinking on unnecessary food and who knows what else. Again, giving up drinking saved me thousands more dollars in this way.
I was on a path to living a healthier, more conscious life and alcohol was a very logical thing to cut out to achieve this. After giving up drinking, I lost about fifteen pounds of fat. The alcohol was a source of completely unnecessary calories with nearly no nutrition. I was eating healthier and was more physically active as well, but no doubt the reduction of alcohol played a central role in weight loss. When I was drinking I’d often end up eating late night junk food and when I was hungover I’d eat unhealthy comfort food. I was able to cut this out. I believe drinking also slowed my metabolism and made my digestion less effective.
I know a lot of people who say they don’t have the money to eat healthy but they spend hundreds of dollars each month on booze. I myself fit that description. I didn’t want to spend the money to eat truly healthy food, yet I was willing to blow my money on booze. I realized a $50 bill at the bar could be a week’s worth of healthy groceries. Freeing up this money by giving up drinking allowed me to prioritize a healthier diet. I was waking up to the reality of the food I was eating at this same time and you can read From Clueless Consumer to Real Food Dude for that journey.
I generally always enjoyed the partying, but I just kept finding that the hangovers and the wasted time weren’t worth it. There were so many days that I wasn’t able to thoroughly enjoy because I was just trying to recover from the nights before. I found myself to be lazy when I was hungover.
Waking up refreshed, instead of hungover, allowed me to be more productive with my work. It allowed me to enjoy my hobbies and passions much more. At the time this was cycling, standup paddle-boarding, testing the boundaries of my body, spending time with friends, and generally trying to make myself a more sustainable human and make a positive difference in the world. I was so much more productive and successful at this.
Through this transition, I found myself in the best physical shape I’d been in my adult life. I found myself able to do things physically I’d never done before and push my body in a healthy manner beyond my perceived limits. I ran my fastest, cycled my furthest and moved my body in ways that it had never been moved. I so often surprised myself and it was an elating time to be alive. My physical health was so much better in every way that I could think of.
It wasn’t just the physical health though. It was also the mental health (and the two really should go hand in hand). When I was drinking, I had a blast. When I’m drunk I am often one of the outwardly happiest people you’ll ever see, hugging and loving everybody. But I would often feel depressed the next day and even more so I had a lot of anxiety. I would feel a deep level of anxiety in my chest and it most frequently would come after a night of drinking. I could feel the anxiety pumping from my heart and coursing through my veins.
This isn’t a mystery by any means. This is exactly what alcohol does and is a very straightforward chemical reaction that was taking place in my body. Giving up drinking drastically reduced my anxiety and depression. My emotions became much more stable.
To this day, when I occasionally do drink, the anxiety comes back coursing through my veins.
One of the absolute keys to physical and mental health is consistent and quality sleep. Not only would drinking reduce the number of hours I slept, by staying up far too late, but it also reduced the overall quality of my sleep. When alcohol is in the system the quality of sleep is drastically reduced. And I’ve found that I get my best sleep if I go to bed at a reasonable time. Even when I was exhausted on Sunday night after a night of drinking I would often sleep poorly because of the anxiety I was feeling. So drinking and late-night drinking was destructive to my sleep in at least four ways. After giving up drinking I found that my sleeping was better than ever and that I felt more mentally alert and aware than ever before. Along with sleep, being hydrated is one of the absolute basics to quality health. Instead of hydrating through the evening, I was dehydrating my body, having to start in a defect each morning and be working to bring myself back to even. I switched to drinking more water and also found kombucha – a fermented tea beverage, to be an extremely tasty and healthy alternative to beer that I truly enjoyed. I brewed my own.
(I highly recommend a healthy beverage for those trying to create a new habit and to be able to have a drink in your hand while socializing to feel more in place if needed. A lemon or lime with mint in sparkling water, 100% fruit juices, and simply water are a few other great options).
Now here is something that I definitely didn’t expect and was much more of a surprise. I found that when I drank that I had a stronger undesirable odor from my armpits. This is often the case while I’m anxious too (maybe not a coincidence). I know for certain that alcohol throws off my body chemistry and my theory is that it changes my chemistry in a way that produces a bad body odor. As I aim to live naturally, I found alcohol to be a very important thing to cut out to keep my body running naturally well. I quit using deodorant as I was giving up drinking and I can say that, without deodorant, and practicing natural hygiene my body odor is drastically less than it was before.
During this transition, I also wanted to focus on mental clarity and making good decisions. Most of my bad decisions were made when I was drunk. Most of my mental fogginess was when I was drunk or hungover. So not getting drunk could mean drastically reducing the number of bad decisions I made and stupid things that I did. Getting drunk decreased the ability to control my brain. Today, I no longer enjoy being drunk because I really prefer to be in control of my brain. I’m really lucky that I made it out of my reckless drinking days without having hurt someone really bad or myself. Now that I’ve made it past that stage I have drastically decreased the opportunities for me to really screw up. When I was in my late twenties, I still had friends risking everything by drinking and driving and I urged them not to make that mistake anymore. Even if just buzzed on a few drinks it’s not worth the risk to make a tiny mistake and end someone’s life or damaging your career with a DUI, or just losing a ton of money from a ticket or an accident.
I strive to have good relationships and quality communication in all interactions whether it be with people who are dear to me or people who are just in my life for a moment. I had my most disrespectful moments in life when I was drunk. I made a lot of mistakes and did things I wouldn’t have done if I was sober. It became especially important to me to have the utmost respect for those that I was romantically and physically involved with. By removing alcohol from the mix, sex became more meaningful and healthier for both myself and my partners.
In the past, I would use alcohol to meet women and have sex, but it became more important to me to have more deeply respectful relationships rather than more quick relationships that might not be well-intentioned, thought out, or equally fulfilling.
Another one of the major reasons I decided to quit drinking was the sustainability aspect.
As I said, in 2013 I was cycling across the United States practicing sustainable living and the obvious thing to do was to cut out the unnecessary. In no way did I need these drinks to get me across the country. So I cut them out completely for the summer. Alcohol is one of the least efficient things to ship long distance, as it’s mostly just water. It’s very heavy and takes up a lot of space. There are few food items less sustainable to ship than beer and wine (hard liquor is denser and makes more sense to ship). A lot of resources go into producing alcohol and it was very easy for me to cut back on my usage of precious resources. Much of the alcohol on the market today is made from GMO grains (see Why I Don’t Buy GMO’s) and only a small percentage of the drinks you find at the typical bar or market are produced with sustainable and ethical farming practices. I found that drinking generally meant supporting companies that I didn’t support. Large multi-national companies that are pillaging the earth of resources and decreasing quality of life for people and other species. Not supporting these companies was not just about living more sustainably it was also about striving for a life that was more equal and just.
To sum it up, giving up drinking saved me a lot of money, helped me to be physically and mentally healthier, allowed me to pursue my deeper passions and purpose and break limits I didn’t even know were possible, be more balanced and content, enjoy life more thoroughly, make better decisions, make fewer mistakes, be less destructive, have better relationships, be more respectful to others, live more sustainably, boycott destructive industries and attain new levels of freedom. Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. But that is enough for me to stick to this. I can’t see myself ever getting into a drinking habit again.
With that being said, I do want to include that of course drinking can be done sustainably and responsibly and with thorough enjoyment. We can brew our own beers with locally grown ingredients, ferment our own wine and meads with homegrown fruits or honey, and even distill our own hard liquors. We can support local, ethical companies that care about our communities. We can drink responsible amounts of these beverages and for some of us actually improve our health and creative energy with these beverages. Humanity may not exist today without alcohol and I have a deep respect for bubbly elixirs and the brewers and fermenters who bring enjoyment with them. There are a lot of people who have a great relationship with these drinks and will continue to do so. I’m just sharing my personal story, largely to be helpful to those who are striving for the same as I am, to live a good life and treat everyone and everything with the love and respect they deserve. Many of us have suffered and missed out because of our relationships with alcohol and I hope this story is of service to those of you who can relate to me on that.
I wonder where I’d be now if I had stayed in Wisconsin. Would I have ever broken free from the drinking? Or would I have kept up the drinking patterns that many of my friends still have over a decade later? I know that it’s possible to break free because even during college there were plenty of people who never joined that scene and lived fulfilling lives. I have friends there today who didn’t leave but managed to break free. Some would call this “growing up” but have you seen how many of the people in there 40’s to 80’s drink?
I don’t know if I would have had the willpower to break free in Wisconsin. Maybe I have a harder time breaking patterns without changing my surrounding. Maybe others are just stronger than me. What I do know for certain is that I have so many people to be grateful for. I thank each of you who was a good influence on me and helped me get to this healthy and happy place I am in today.