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We Need to Talk About Drinking

I'm a little nervous to write this, because for most of my life, I've been made to feel badly about the fact that I don't drink very much.

Actually, for most of my life, I didn't drink at all.

Now, I do it every so often, but it's still not something I really get a kick out of--mainly because I can't get past how medicinal most alcohol tastes, and I'm a control freak who can find no joy in the idea of purposefully putting myself in positions where I'd be dependent on other people or just unable to take care of myself.

But I've grown accustomed to making it super clear to everyone around me--including people I've dated--that drinking is totally cool with me.

In fact, I've probably gone overboard, because I've always been told that I have a problem because I don't drink.  That it's something I should feel weird about.

Years ago, I went out on a date with a guy and when he found out I wasn't planning on drinking, he got up and walked out of the restaurant.

(I also had a really weird haircut at the time, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't why he left.)

People have called me judgmental when it comes to not drinking even when I went out of my way to let them know I wasn't judging them.  I've heard people say things like--

"I don't trust people who don't drink."

I've heard jokes about it.

There have been times when I was taking care of someone who was way, way too drunk and I would continually let them know that it was totally fine with me and that they had nothing to be embarrassed about and Yeah, this is all super normal and please don't feel strange about the fact that I just saw you puke three times in ten minutes all over someone's Christmas decorations.

But you know what?

I'm a thirty-five year old man, and I have to say--

I think you might have a drinking problem.

And by "you" I mean--

Like, a lot of you.

And I don't feel bad about saying that.  Not anymore.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about drinking in his new book "Talking to Strangers," and he details how heavy drinking has become a huge problem on college campuses, indicating that it accounts for a large number of sexual assaults.  Whether you believe that or not, the idea that people, in general are drinking way more than they used to doesn't seem like something anybody can deny.

And what's worse--heavy drinking has become normalized.  It's something we joke about.  We're all aware that America is suffering from an opioid epidemic, but tweets about blacking out seem to still be pretty funny, right?

When I was in my twenties and people drank too often, I usually heard it written off as "Well, that's what you do when you're in your twenties."

It never seemed to occur to anyone that if you develop an addiction when you're young, there's a very small chance that you'll just grow out of it.

Recently, I was talking with someone about a mutual friend of ours and their drinking came up.

"They really have to knock that off.  It's not cute anymore."

I felt like saying--

"It was never cute.  And you can't just knock off an addiction."

Am I an expert on these things?

No, not at all.

But I do have a pervasive feeling that there is a collective enabling going on right now in this country when it comes to drinking.

A friend told me last week that they couldn't go to an event because "there wouldn't be any alcohol there."  I told them I thought that was ridiculous, but three other friends immediately backed them up and said they wouldn't go either.

For a second, I came to the logical conclusion that if I was being out-voted, it meant I was wrong.  But then I thought--

Wait a minute, if four of you are saying that you cannot be in a social situation where you can use alcohol to make it more bearable, then you have a problem.

Call it a drinking problem.
Call it a problem with anxiety.
Call it whatever you want, but--

It's a problem.

Now look, I have my own vices when it comes to calming my anxiety in a social situation.  It's called "I refuse to look up from my phone at this party until I find a friend I can attach myself to."

That's certainly its own issue, but it's not going to slowly erode my liver.

While working on a writing project with two other writers, one of them told us that she has "a few glasses of wine a night every night" I sent a separate message to the other writer saying "I don't really drink, but--Doesn't that seem like a lot?"

Their response was--"No, lots of people do that."

My concern is that a lot of people doing something in no way makes it healthy, smart, or unworthy of scrutiny.

At one point, there was some push-back on this issue, but slowly, it seems like we've just given up that fight, because oh boy, so many other fights to have.

When I mentioned to someone that drinking alone on a regular basis can be a red flag, they acted as if that was the most insane thing they'd ever heard.

"Listen," they said, "Some people need to do that to unwind or get through the day."

It's strange to me that we've agreed--as a culture--that when you someone says "I need to _____ to get through the day" certain things do not belong in the blank, especially if those things have addictive properties or if using them can be seen as self-medicating, but alcohol fits that bill, and somehow, it's fine to throw it in that sentence.  In fact, it's common sense, right?

People have to drink.

To be clear, I get that everybody has their thing.  I get that the world is stressful.  I'm no healthier than anybody else in the grand scheme of things.

But excessive drinking is one of the ways to cope that can have negative consequences beyond just looking like you're always on your phone.

Drunk driving is not an extinct phenomenon.
Alcohol poisoning is still a thing.
Ingesting something that simultaneously renders your decision-making abilities compromised and essentially turns you into a cave-person is not a great idea.

I'm not saying "Don't ever drink," but we need to start acknowledging that moderation is important, drinking too much is not funny or silly, and we need to talk about what constitutes "too much," because the more I talk to people about this, the more I get the impression that many people feel like "too much" is something that varies from person-to-person.  While it's true that different people have different alcohol tolerance levels, it's also true that you can't reliably predict how even a single drink is going to affect you.

We really need to stop shaming people who simply choose not to drink, because even though there's nothing wrong with reasonable drinking, there is something wrong with projecting your own insecurities about your drinking onto others.

And if you're reading this thinking, "Wow, people who don't drink are just like the guy writing this and they really are judging me," please know that I got paid a decent amount of money to write about how frustrating it's been for me being a non-drinker for most of my life, and we're living in the age of the think-piece, so some of you had to know this was coming.  I can assure you, I don't particularly care about your drinking habits.

But maybe you should.

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