At the age of 21, alcohol wasn’t all that important in my life. Sure it was fun to go to a party, but as far as the booze went, I could take it or leave it.
But over time, I became emotionally addicted to alcohol. I thought it was vital to my enjoyment and relaxation. And believing that alcohol is vital to life is pretty miserable.
I had to reverse the trend and now, at 37, I no longer drink. Amazingly, I find an alcohol-free life to be full, happy, and beautiful. Although I don’t like to harbor regrets, I do wish I would have been warned about the insidious and addictive nature of drinking. If I could go back to being 21, here are five things I’d tell myself about alcohol:
1. You don’t need alcohol to have fun.
You laugh a lot—and it’s only on occasion that your laughter is accompanied by a drink. Remember this. Remember all of your amazing memories without drinking because as you get older, and begin—as is the social norm—to incorporate drinking in every area of your life, these memories will fade.
You may come to believe that the alcohol (rather than the friends or the experience) is vital to laughter and having fun. That is not true! Alcohol doesn’t actually make any activity better. It actually dulls your senses and emotions and sucks the fun right out of you. Those good memories that you have are all about what you were doing and who you were with. You are remembering laughter, relationships, good conversations. All of that is possible without a sip of alcohol.
Your greatest memories will be from skiing with friends, drinking hot chocolate around a bonfire, and laughing until your cheeks and stomach hurt.
2. Be conscious of your relationship with alcohol.
In our society, it’s incredibly easy to slip into everyday drinking. But that pattern may cause you problems in the future. Be aware of what you are putting into your precious body, on all accounts, but especially when it comes to any addictive substance. Remember that every drink has a cost in terms of calories, overall health, and tolerance—so take care of yourself.
You may not notice it taking a toll on your body now, in your 20s, but drinking regularly will catch up with you. It leads to restless sleep, excess weight, premature aging, and is associated with more serious things like cancer, stroke, diabetes, and even death.
Alcohol also tends to contribute to poorer health choices overall. You skip the gym because you’re hung over, then drink a bloody mary or a mimosa to feel better in the morning. You chow down on greasy food while drinking. All these little things add up quickly and create a lifestyle that is far from ideal.
3. Sex is better without booze!
We all think that alcohol leads to amazing sex. It loosens you up, lowers your inhibitions in the bedroom, and can make you more open to spicing things up. But the truth is that one of alcohol’s primary physiological effects is to dull your senses—including your sense of touch. Drinking may increase urges—but once the action begins, sexual performance and sensory pleasure actually decrease.
Alcohol is actually the main cause of sexual dysfunction in men—making it harder for them to become and remain sexually aroused. Both women and men are more likely to remain aroused without alcohol.
Alcohol slows down your brain function and its ability to receive information from your senses. It turns off one transmitter, glutamate, which increases brain activity levels and energy. So your brain receives information from your body more slowly. Instead of realizing that what you’re feeling is amazing and out of this world, your brain barely registers what is going on.
So when you shut off your body’s ability to feel and respond to pleasure, you can imagine what that does to your sex life. Sober sex, though? It is A-MAZ-ING!
4. Alcohol is not a stress reliever.
“I need a drink.” We often speak those words, but we tend to forget that a drink is a temporary stop gap. It’s a Band-Aid for a wound much bigger than its size. A 2012 study proved that alcohol makes you less capable of dealing with stress and anxiety. Researchers gave mice doses of alcohol for a month, then ran tests to compare the mice who had been drinking to normal mice. The mice were put in stressful situations to measure their reactions. Alcohol literally rewired the mice’s brains to make them less able to deal with anxiety and stress.
The reality is that when you sober up, unless you’ve done something to actually improve the situation, your stress remains. All you are doing by drinking is building up a tolerance to alcohol and creating a new set of problems for yourself.
The only way to relieve stress is to deal with the source of it. Rather than avoiding uncomfortable situations by drinking—a breakup, toxic friends, or a job you hate—face those situations so you can move past them and find true relaxation without alcohol.
5. Drinking to relieve pain is the most dangerous drinking of all.
Alcohol is a tricky devil. It will convince you that it is there in your times of need to make you forget. Drink enough and you will eventually feel as if it is cathartic. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety to the point where one often finds it difficult to cope with everyday stressors. What were once small, daily problems that were nothing more than an inconvenience become an insurmountable mountain when alcohol is involved.
Alcohol creates a vicious cycle in which you begin drinking to dull the pain of one problem, and, upon encountering other small obstacles, you feel overwhelmed, reach for another drink, and put dealing with reality off until tomorrow. Before alcohol, you would have just handled the situation as it came. Alcohol makes you rely upon it and think that without it you can’t function. When used to self-medicate, it becomes your motivation to wake up in the morning, a pick-me-up to get through the day, a reward for getting through the day, and, finally, an elixir to help you sleep. Meanwhile, it is actually robbing you of every pleasure and joy you deserve.
Life is better without alcohol. I wake every morning with a clear head, I know what I did the night before, and I have friends whom I don’t need alcohol in order to be honest with. I get to feel my emotions fully every day and enjoy every moment as it comes—fully and completely.