A good friend sent me this excellent email on drinking in moderation:
When I started drinking after my year off it was a slow process, for the first couple months I consciously limited myself to no more than 1 drink a week. Then after a few months I upped it to no more than 3 a week.
The key for me has been to remain super conscious about my drinking. It’s never been good enough for me to just not have a plan of drinking a lot, I specifically have to have a plan to not drink a lot.
It’s tough. I have to decide at the beginning of the night, what sort of night is this going to be, what is reasonable for this to be? How long am I going to be out, what is the scenario? If we’re going to dinner I might decide, ok, I’ll have one cocktail at the the beginning of the night, and the wine pairing with the food, and that’s all. Or if I’m going to a brewery with friends, no more than one beer an hour for 4 hours. And then I have to work to stick to that. Regardless of the circumstance, I have an ever present goal of never drinking so much that I have a hangover.
It is not easy. Since I began drinking again in 2016 there have been a few occasions where I did not live up to my own goals. The worst of which was my bachelor party, and that one I, and my wife, had given me permission to drink more, though in retrospect I’m not very proud of that as a ‘reward’ type activity. I will say that I have gotten increasingly better at this. I definitely drank more than I planned to more frequently in the first year after resuming alcohol. But such occurrences have become less and less frequent, because each occurrence not only makes me feel physically not well, but also a sense of failure and shame at not maintaining my goal. This kind of negative reinforcement works for me, though it may not for everyone.
This sort of moderation does sometimes fee like it limits the fun of drinking. It can take you out of the moment. “Oh I’m having so much fun with my friends… wait, this is drink number 4? That’s enough.” And alcohol is amazing at making more alcohol sound like a good idea. It’s really easy to start out with a plan of only 3 drinks, and those drinks make it seem super reasonable to have one more, and one more. Alcohol dilutes your focus as well, so the very thing that you need to be doing to maintain control becomes harder to accomplish.
I read a lot of articles about drinking moderation and different levels of alcohol abuse before I decided to start drinking again, some people had more success with it than others, and there were a lot of different factors why, some people are bad at impulse control anyway, and so sticking to a pre-imposed limit is almost impossible in the face of a drug that further limits impulse control. Some people who were successful at alcohol moderation eventually decided that it wasn’t worth all the effort to control their intake so they decided to totally abstain as it was simpler. I’ve had that thought myself, I definitely found it easier to not drink at all than to constantly consciously limit myself, and I sometimes think that may be where I wind up eventually.
I did dry January this year to sort of recommit. I’d noticed it had been awhile since I’d gone more than a week without a drink. But this weekend I am planning to do my yearly trip to Idaho with my law school buds, and the primary activity there does consist of drinking cheap beer. Fortunately, I’ve found it a lot easier to moderate my intake of something I don’t really enjoy, in this case Rolling Rock, and it’s low alcohol enough that if I have no more than one ever hour or two and have some water in between I’m honestly fine. Except for all the unnecessary calories I consume, and the horrible farting the next day…
Which sort of begs the question, why? Why am I bothering with all the effort just to continue consuming something that is bad for me?
I’ve thought about this one quite a bit, and I have come to a couple of conclusions that are true for me, but may not be for another person.
1) I enjoy alcohol. It’s my drug of choice, I like the way it makes me feel, I like the taste of many types of alcohol. The big key here for me has been realizing that it is the smaller pleasures of alcohol that I like. I like the way that I feel after 2-3 drinks, I don’t like the way I feel after 8-9. If I’m going to drink more than 2-3, then the goal is to maintain that level of feeling, and that means slowing way down, and even then it’s only possible to a degree.
2) A lot of my socialization features alcohol as a catalyst to some degree. Most of my friends enjoy alcohol, and even if I’m not drinking a lot I really like to be able to say “Yeah man, I’d like to try that special beer you bought at some obscure brewery.” Or “Sure, let’s check out that winery and do a tasting.” To be sure I definitely have built some unhealthy drinking habits with my friends, and that can be an extra level of difficulty to overcome, but I have found that honesty and openness really helps with that. If I tell my friend, hey I’m trying to limit my alcohol intake. I’ve never had them say “Pussy! DRINK UNTIL YOU DIE!” I’ve always found support. But if someone invites me to hang out, I want to do that, and honestly hanging out at a brewery without trying their handiwork is less fun.
This has gotten pretty long-winded, but I hope there is something here helpful to you.
The short summary would be: Drinking in moderation is possible for me only with consistent conscious effort, and even then I have failed at my goals from time to time. Not drinking at all is easier to maintain, and whether or not the struggle is worth it to you is a question only you can answer.