NYR 1903: “Drink Less.” Part 3: To Drink, Or Not To 🍹

When I reviewed last year’s data, I noticed that, day-to-day, I drank far more often than not.

I started to go through the numbers and compare it to my calendar, trying to remember what, exactly, I was doing at the time I was having all those drinks. And I realized something: it turns out, almost any event can be considered a “drinking occasion.” Here are just a few I came up with:

  • It’s a holiday
  • A friend is in town
  • Somebody was born
  • Somebody died
  • Somebody got engaged
  • Somebody got married
  • I’m about to give a toast
  • I’m giving a toast
  • I just gave a toast
  • A sporting event is on
  • I’m playing video games
  • My favorite show is on
  • My wife’s favorite show is on
  • I had a great day at work
  • I had  terrible day at work
  • I had a normal day at work, but one of my friends had a great/terrible day
  • I’m on vacation

As an adult, it’s basically acceptable to drink at any time other than work (and even that depends on your industry, I guess). So if you want to cut back, it pays to be choosy when deciding when you want to partake.

This week I want to go over my current approach to these scenarios. Rather than go through each one, I’m going to talk about three broad categories, based on intention: Drinking To Be Social, Drinking To Enjoy Something More, and Drinking To Unwind. I’ve found that most of the scenarios I mentioned earlier fall into one of these three.

Drinking To Be Social

Idea: Most, if not all, of my friends drink. If I were to cut back, it would be at the expense of my social life and my friendships.

My Thoughts: Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most?” The idea is that our personalities are a function of who we associate with, and so if you want to develop different habits, you should look around, see what your friends are doing, and consider making a change.

So, if most of my friends drink and I want to cut back, does that mean I need to drop all of the drinkers and get new friends?

No. Because my friends aren’t “drinkers.” They’re people.

And there’s more to them than just drinking. So rather than throw away a relationship that I may have spent years cultivating (and potentially hurting another person in the process), my approach has been to simply be transparent about my goals.

I’m not saying you have to start a blog and publish a record of every drink you’ve ever had. But simply saying “no thanks, I’m trying to cut back,” should do the trick. And in some cases I’ve had friends tell me that they’re considering cutting back themselves; they just haven’t said anything because they were worried about how I was going to react.

Of course, people can react negatively. If drinking has been a cornerstone of your friendship from the beginning, an adjustment period is to be expected. But if, after a reasonable amount of time, they can’t seem to tolerate your new choices… that is a tough situation. I haven’t personally encountered that scenario, but if you do then maybe it is time to move on.

But talk to them first; don’t confuse having one-dimensional friendships with having one-dimensional friends.

Drinking To Enjoy Something More

Idea: “You know what would make this concert/movie/show/board game/sporting event/presidential debate even better? Drinks.” Basically, any activity that you would otherwise enjoy on its own would be more enjoyable if you drink alcohol while participating.

My Thoughts:

Does it make sense to drink while watching a TV show? I think it depends. Let’s look at two scenarios:

Exhibit A: As I’m drafting this post, I’m huddled in my bedroom listening to the baby monitor while my wife is hosting several of her friends for, wait for it, a Book Club/Baby Shower/Wait The Baby Was Just Born So I Guess This Is a Sip n’ See But Without The Mom Or The Baby/The Bachelor Finale Party (long story).

Anyways, they’re watching The Bachelor and talking and having fun, and yes drinking wine. Here, I think it’s pretty easy to argue that drinking adds value because of the social component.

I’m not going to weigh in on whether the Bachelor is a “good” show or a “bad” show, but I think fans and critics alike would agree that it is a ridiculous show. And so when it comes to the fun of having friends over, watching the show and seeing how everyone reacts while going through this outrageous journey together, I get it. And I can see how drinking fits nicely into the picture.

Exhibit B: Liz and I used to watch Mad Men together. Quick tangent: along with Breaking Bad, Mad Men is one of those shows that has me convinced that we are living in a golden age of television. There are so many incredible shows on right now, and there’s more quality content out there than anyone can reasonably handle. And so when I’m watching a show like Mad Men, I try to appreciate it like I would any other form of art, giving it my silent and undivided attention.

Over time, I developed the habit of drinking while watching Mad Men.

My drink of choice typically aligned pretty closely with what Don Draper was drinking on the show. Usually something “big and brown,” like a scotch or bourbon on the rocks. The idea was simple: Mad Men was a boozy show, and drinking allowed me to immerse myself further into the experience.

I’ve decided that this is a waste, and drinking for the sole purpose of appreciating a show more (or any form of entertainment) doesn’t make much sense. I may have felt like I was enjoying it more, but really my drinking was detracting from the experience. So I try not to do this anymore, saving my drinks for social occasions.

Drinking To Unwind

Scenario: You’ve had a hard day at work and you’re stressed. You finally got the kids down and you want to feel like an adult again. You just need a break, alcohol will help with that, and you deserve it.

My Thoughts: Out of all the reasons to drink, I find this one to be the most difficult to defend. For me, drinking as a reaction to life’s challenges and problems is a recipe for disaster.

Because drinking isn’t magically going to make those problems go away. In fact, it usually makes them worse by postponing them or hindering your ability to think critically and work through them. So when I have the urge to drink for this reason, I try to internalize the idea that my mind is simply playing a trick on me, and I redirect toward something more innocuous (La Croix) or positive (working out).

Having said that, I think there’s a case to be made for having a drink in the evening as a means of transitioning from work to leisure at the end of the day. Many of us employ similar rituals in the evening (taking a bath, going for a run, making tea) and I don’t see a problem with having a drink in the evening for this purpose. Ultimately it comes down to being honest about what my intention is (which isn’t always easy to do).

To summarize: a big part my approach to cutting back over the past year has been limiting my drinking to those occasions where I felt that there was a significant social benefit. I dropped my overall intake by 20-30%, and looking back on it I don’t think I missed out on very much.

Now that we’ve talked strategy on when to drink, in next week’s post I’ll talk about my approach to deciding what to drink. See you then!

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