If you’re a twenty-something, you’ve probably realized that drinking plays a big role in how we socialize and interact with each other. Whether it’s a work party, your friend’s birthday, a girls’ night in, or an extremely uncomfortable first date, we often find ourselves in situations where drinking is not only encouraged but almost mandated. It’s not unusual to grab beers with a coworker on Monday, split a bottle of wine with a significant other on Wednesday (or drink a double bottle of Barefoot by yourself and cry over how single you are), and binge drink at a bar or club every Friday and Saturday. For the most part, this frequent drinking is never considered problematic or worrisome. It’s just how our generation works.
I’ve used this “how our generation works” idea to justify my own binge drinking. I’ve planned outings with coworkers and friends just to have a socially acceptable excuse to drink. I’ve told myself drinking three nights in a row with coworkers is okay because it’s “networking”. Drinking regularly with friends is okay because it’s “bonding time”. To an extent, I’ve let alcohol become the center of my social life, and in the process, let it become the center of my personal life too.
The tricky thing about drinking is that it can appear to be a quick-fix for a variety of issues. Drinking is a quick fix for depression. It’s a quick fix for when you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or socially awkward. It makes interacting with people you don’t like more bearable and makes you let loose in ways you never would while sober. At some point, it becomes a blanket solution for any problem, and when something becomes that prevalent and pervasive, it becomes extremely difficult to determine when and where you should draw the line with it. And often times instead of creating those lines yourself, you give that thing the power to be present in every part of your life.
A few months ago, I found myself drinking close to 5 nights a week. I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and work uncertainty, and so I turned to wine as a coping mechanism. I’d drink half a bottle every night and would try to pressure my roommate to drink with me so I wouldn’t feel guilty about my decision. Whenever she’d turn down my offer, I’d refrain from drinking, but feel disappointed and frustrated that I wouldn’t get to. I’d even go through withdrawals where I’d be irritable until I drank again.
As the child of an alcoholic, I’m very familiar with the signs of alcohol addiction, and as I continued to drink I couldn’t ignore the reality that I was exhibiting them. I knew my drinking was a problem when I realized why I wasn’t telling anyone about my alcoholic tendencies—it was because I was afraid someone would take alcohol from me if they knew I had a problem. At that point, I realized I was developing a drinking problem, and that if I didn’t get my habit under control that I’d spiral into alcoholism. And so I made the decision to pull back.
Now I try to go a week at a time without drinking. I’ll go out with coworkers and make the conscious choice to not drink, and if I go out to dinner or hang out with friends I’ll limit myself to one glass of wine. And if I’m being honest, it’s been difficult. My social life has taken a bit of a nose dive, and I’m definitely not as animated when I’m out as I used to be. If I go to a bar with friends, I’ll find myself tired and less social than if I had been drinking. I’ve refrained from going to any sort of club because I know I wouldn’t be able to tolerate those environments while sober. Alcohol has become such a big part of my social identity that I’ve kind of lost sight of how to have fun without it.
I’m hopeful though that I’ll be able to someday strike a balance and draw the line of when and where drinking is appropriate. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to be my social self without needing alcohol as a crutch, and I pray that I’ll be able to deal with my issues in a meaningful way instead of using drinking as a band aid.
Because the reality is drinking plays a big role in how we socialize and interact with each other. But it doesn’t have to.