1/1/2022 marked exactly 5 years since I quit drinking alcohol on a whim. Yep, I did most of my Ph.D. without drinking alcohol. Crazy, I know.
I had my last drink on 12/31/2016, and it was a Moscow mule at a local bar during a New Year’s Eve event. At that moment, I honestly didn’t think it’d be my last drink. I wasn’t mentally preparing myself to stop drinking alcohol; it wasn’t even a plan in my mind at that time.
I have never been the type of person to make a big deal about resolutions. I decided to stop drinking and see how long I could go. I didn’t put any pressure on myself. Quickly, that itch to drink after work and in social situations left my system, and I didn’t miss it very much.
Before I knew it, I had not had a drink in months. Then, months turned into years. 5 years feels like a significant enough milestone to take a second to reflect on the time passed and how I feel now.
Here are 5 ways that going sober improved my life:
1. I did my body a favor.
I know, I know. Everyone brings up how red wine is good for you in moderation. Go for it, knock yourself out. I loved drinking red wine and I miss it on some occasions, so I get it.
However, it’s been well-established that alcohol is damaging to so many organs and systems in the body. It can damage your liver, pancreas and GI tract,1 as well as your brain and nervous system.2 It can even damage the heart.3,4 Knowing just how toxic it is to so many organ systems is more than enough reason to keep me away from all the drinks I used to enjoy.
I could barely handle any amount of alcohol anyway; I got really sick to my stomach, threw up, and had hangovers the next day. I just don’t need that in my life.
2. I don’t spend money on alcohol.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Drinking adds up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey found that average alcohol expenditures in 2018, 2019 and 2020 were around $500 per consumer unit (defined as families, single persons living alone or sharing a household with others but who are financially independent, or two or more persons living together who share major expenses).5
I felt like the money I spent on alcohol could be spent on way more interesting things, not to mention more healthy things. That money could go towards a weekend getaway, road trip, concert tickets, lessons for a hobby, and so much more. It was a no-brainer to me.
Cocktails and mixed drinks in my area easily cost over $10, and it never felt right to me to pay so much just to feel terrible a couple hours later.
3. I feel more confident in my interpersonal skills and ability to hold my own in a crowd.
Alcohol acts like a crutch for a lot of folks.
I’ve noticed some of my friends rely on alcohol to be able to socialize, date, and generally interact with people that they don’t know or aren’t as comfortable with. There were definitely times in the past where feeling tipsy felt like that social lubrication I needed to take part in conversations I didn’t have to endure and make it through other slightly unappealing situations.
When I meet new people, I feel perfectly comfortable knowing I am able to think clearly, have control over what I say, and represent myself in the most genuine and optimal way. My confidence and interpersonal skills have grown tremendously since I stopped drinking, and I feel totally fine being one of the few sober people in a crowd.
4. I am more appreciative of, and have stronger connections with, my friends who don’t drink.
When I stopped drinking, I began to notice friends and acquaintances who also didn’t drink.
Back when I did drink, those folks definitely crossed my radar, but I didn’t notice them as clearly as when I had stopped drinking. In addition, I didn’t “get” them. I thought they had medical issues, or had some big presentation the next day, so they were being forced to not drink for whatever reason.
It didn’t fully register to me back then that they were simply making a different decision than me, and that not drinking was an option in life that people happily selected.
Once I got to know them, I learned that most of them weren’t necessarily 100% sober, but on many occasions when they had the option to, they just didn’t drink alcohol. It was cool to be able to connect with them on that level and support each other’s decisions.
Alcohol just wasn’t a big part of their lives, and they honestly seemed to have the healthiest relationship with alcohol. They also tended to be people who were more understanding and less inquisitive about why I wasn’t drinking.
5. I tend to find myself in healthier environments now.
I don’t seek out alcohol, so bars, clubs, and beer/wine-related events (like beer festivals, brewery/winery tours, etc.) don’t appeal to me. Feeling better physically means I have more energy overall. Because I’m not bound to social pressures and drinking isn’t a part of my life anymore, I gravitate more towards activities that suit me better, in places I want to be – and that’s where my money tends to go instead!
Rather than doing activities that I thought I had to do, in places I thought I should be, I’m spending my time and energy doing things that genuinely feel more fulfilling. They include things like attending workout classes, getting a membership to access a local botanical garden, and investing in supplies for my creative hobbies.
I know different folks have different relationships to alcohol. I was very fortunate to be able to commit to not drinking anymore with relative ease. I recognize it’s not the case for everyone, and that in serious cases, alcohol can seriously damage one’s life and the lives of those around them.
I hope that this post inspires you to take a look at your own relationship with alcohol, see what you can do to be more mindful of your intake, or get inspired to go for a dry month.