Most people know that I'm a huge craft beer fan. From attending nearly every beer event in the country to even starting a marketing agency that focuses on the craft drinks industry, it’s obvious that I've got a big interest in the stuff. However, beer hasn't really made much of an appearance on my blog as of late. That's because back in September I decided to take some time off drinking alcohol and see how it affected me: my mental health, my physical health and my life in general.
Today marks 100 days without alcohol, which is a pretty big milestone for me. Since I’ve been of legal drinking age I don’t think I’ve gone longer than a week without some sort of alcohol - wine with dinner, a pint with friends or a glass of champagne at a birthday. This is pretty normal here in Ireland. 76% of the Irish population drink alcohol, with 53% of drinkers doing so at least weekly. Not only that, but we partake quite a bit in binge drinking too, which is defined as the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time (5+ units of alcohol in one sitting). I also fall into the demographic that drinks the most in the country too: males aged 25-65. All in all, alcohol plays a huge part in my life both on a personal level and a societal level.
In September I noticed that I was drinking too much and I needed to change something. There was always an event on, a birthday to celebrate, and an excuse to go to the bar. With the best of intentions, one quiet drink with friends ended up being a fully fledged night out. My pocket was suffering, my work was suffering and most importantly my body (especially my mind) was suffering. The world around me didn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, so I made the conscious decision to step away and see what improvements I could make.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from going 100 days without alcohol:
This is a pretty obvious one. Not buying countless drinks at the bar means there’s more money in your wallet. Especially with craft beer - that stuff is expensive. I moved from buying 5+ pints (average €6.50 per drink) to buying 1 or 2 non-alcoholic drinks (average €2.50) on nights out. Nights out in general became less frequent too, so that cut down on the amount I spent on taxis and late night food. I easily saved over €1000 over the last 100 days. However, if I’m being honest here, my spending did increase in other areas to keep myself distracted sometimes: trips to the cinema, more meals out, my much loved Nintendo Switch. Overall though my bank account is in a much better position than before.
As I explained earlier, alcohol is very much ingrained in our society and among my peers. While my friends and colleagues still invited me to go out with them, more often than not I would decline in an effort to skip the pub scenario and do something more productive. With that though, I’ve seen my friends a good bit less over the last 100 days. After all, everything around me stayed the same, I was the one that changed. I have managed to do things on a Friday or Saturday night with my drinking buddies that didn’t involve hitting up the local bar, but especially on the run up to Christmas, those nights have been few and far between. There have been a lot of nights I’ve sat alone at home or in the office because I haven’t been drinking. It hasn’t surprised me, and most of the time it hasn’t been all that bad either. It can make you feel pretty lonely though.
Most people limit their fast food or sugar intake because of the health reasons associated with them, but when it comes to booze a lot of people (including myself) don’t put too much emphasis on how bad it is for us. 100 days later I can say that my health has improved, not by much, but for the better. I’ve lost weight, my anxiety has decreased a little (though I did expect a much bigger impact on my mental health overall) and I’m sure my liver would send me a thank you card if it could. I did increase my consumption of bad foods slightly though - because I was skipping the pub I often congratulated myself with a pizza or something similar. However, in the wise words of Parks and Recreation: treat yo’ self. We all need to succumb to our vices once in a while!
I can count on one hand the amount of people I know that don’t drink. They don’t often go out to bars, and when they do, they don’t stick around for long. Now I truly understand why. It’s so tiring and boring. The first hour or two of being out when you’re not drinking is fun. There’s good energy, there’s lots to talk about with friends and you can enjoy your lovely sweet Coca Cola, because treat yo self, remember? However, 3 hours later you’ve had enough. There’s only so many soft drinks you can stomach (imagine drinking the equivalent amount of beer but in Coke format), conversation begins to repeat itself or takes a turn for the worse (depending on which inebriated friend you're chatting with) and HAS THE MUSIC ALWAYS BEEN THIS LOUD IN HERE?! It’s not the bars’ fault - it’s yours. After all, everyone else is having a good time. These places aren’t built for sober people, and that’s fine. Your endurance starts to drop too. Before the 100 days, I’d be able to stay out until 4 or 5am in the morning. Now I’m home and in bed before 12. Your energy and enthusiasm for nightlife is gone. You will be tired and bored.
No boozy nights out meant I’ve had a lot more time on my hands. More time in the evenings and at night to try new things, and more time in the morning to get shit done. No hangovers means I’ve been getting out of bed on the weekends before 12pm too! I’ve started swimming lessons, I’ve gone to talks and lectures, I read more books, I work on my businesses and I’ve learned a lot of new things. My productivity and focus has seen the largest improvement and has been the best thing I’ve taken from the past 100 days.
It’s not easy and you will be challenged. It’s hard not to partake in something that you love, that you are accustomed to and that everyone around you still does. Did you ever give up anything for Lent when you were a child? Well imagine that, but the thing you’re abstaining from is everywhere, it’s not a consumable but an activity, and you’re the only one not taking part. I’ve really missed trying the latest beer from my favourite breweries. I’ve missed going for afterwork pints with friends. I’ve missed the energy and excitement that comes from drinking on a night out. It hasn’t been easy. I can now understand the difficulty that those with an addiction or dependency on alcohol face each day, and how it can be easy for them to relapse. Saying you’ll do or won’t do something is simple - it’s the following through and taking action that is the most challenging of all.
I haven’t really decided yet. There are a lot of things about alcohol that I don’t miss, but also a lot that I do. I haven’t had some sort of epiphany where I’ve decided never to drink again, but I’ve definitely changed my mindset on alcohol, the impact it’s had on me and the role it plays within our society. My relationship with alcohol now is completely different than it was 100 days ago, that’s for sure. Alcohol isn’t something new, but perhaps the way we treat it is. Ultimately I’m glad that I took this time to step away from drinking and have the ability to reflect on such a large part of our lives that we rarely give a second thought to.
Have you taken time off drinking? Have you stopped completely? I’d love to hear what other people think about it and the experiences that they’ve had.