This post is part of an ongoing series in which I discuss what I consider to be major problems with our national culture and touch on some possible solutions.
In my first post Fight or Flight I mentioned that one way Americans run from problems is through substance abuse. While prescription and illegal drug abuse are major problems in our nation, I believe they pale in comparison to the problems created by our national Alcohol Culture.
I want to make this very clear: I don’t think drinking is inherently destructive, wrong, sinful, or anything of that sort. Despite being raised in a conservative evangelical denomination, which for decades propagated the bizarre myth that every mention of wine in the bible refers to grape juice, I’ve done my share of drinking. I started drinking, and by drinking I mean “binge drinking,” in high school. I love booze: wine, whiskey, beer, or tequila, it’s all good to me.
Another thing I want to make clear: I am not, nor have I ever been an alcoholic by any definition.
Despite enjoying alcohol, I recently started to reconsider its place in my life and in our national culture. This has undoubtedly been sparked by a) being in law school and b) living three blocks from Beale Street.
The positive effects of alcohol are obvious: it’s an excellent social lubricant when applied in reasonable quantities and if you don’t drink too much, it makes you feel good.
The negative effects are just as obvious: mistakes, accidents, weight gain, etc.
So I’d like you to ask yourself some questions.
Why do you drink? Most likely because it makes you feel less awkward in social situations and relieves some stress.
You enjoy drinking, right?
When do you enjoy drinking? I’m not asking “when do you drink?” But rather, when do you enjoy the effects of alcohol?
Obviously you enjoy drinking while you are drinking.
When do you not enjoying drinking?
Are you still enjoying your drinking experience at the end of the night?
How often do you feel sick at the end of the night?
How often does drinking interrupt your sleep?
How do you feel the next day? Are you hungover the next day? Are you more tired than you would have been if you hadn’t drank? Did you wake up regretting something you did while drunk or just tipsy?
Do you feel like you have gained weight as a result of regular drinking?
Do you feel like you spend too much money on alcohol?
Back to my first question: why do you drink? After considering my other questions, do you still feel like alcohol makes you “feel good” in the long run? Does it really relieve your stress, or does it just add to it?
I asked myself these questions.
In my personal experience recently, it worked out something like this:
I enjoyed drinking while I was out. Often by the end of the night I wasn’t feeling so hot. Sometimes I slept later than I would have liked. I had even missed class because I slept through an alarm or just didn’t feel like getting up on time.
Over the last two years I made several major life mistakes as a result of drinking.
Occasionally I would spend way too much money on a night out.
I had gained weight and I was no longer happy with my level of physical fitness.
I don’t think my experiences with drinking are uncommon.
I’ve never had a problem with drinking and driving. I’ve never gotten a DUI or been in an accident.
I did however experience the drunk-driving related death of two childhood friends the month before I left home for college.
I have on some occasions gotten really sick while drinking. However I’ve never needed to go to the hospital. (When I jumped off a moving car freshman year, I was sober).
One of the friends who I had drank with during high school was not so lucky. He died due to the lethal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.
For years I looked down on people who didn’t drink. I made fun of my friends who chose to wait until they were 21 to drink. I assumed that the only reasons someone wouldn’t drink were legalistic religious beliefs or because they were a recovering alcoholic.
I was wrong.
Now I’m six weeks into a year-long commitment not to drink.
This was my last drink for a year. Classy, I know.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. It is. You don’t realize how many social outlets for twenty-somethings involve drinking unless you don’t drink.
I’m not asking you to stop drinking. In fact, I’m still buying my friends drinks and throwing parties as if I hadn’t stopped.
I’m just asking you to open your mind.
Sometimes freedom means choosing to abstain from something because you can. It’s a choice.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you enjoyed something at one point in your life doesn’t mean you always will. Just because something is right for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you.