“Alcohol is the only drug where if you don’t do it, people assume you have a problem. “— Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.
I find this time of life interesting in relation to alcohol, and I am talking about occasional social drinking, not alcohol dependence here. When you are young, you drink, period. Hangovers be damned. It’s just part of the process, unavoidable to live a normal social life, and besides you have infinite amount of days ahead, so what’s the big woop about a hangover or low mood for 24 hours.
Fast forward to your ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond. Maybe alcohol is now an issue, it is not working like it used to. Hangovers, even after just one drink, include feeling depressed, anxious or just general sadness. For some, these feelings are barely noticeable. But if anxiety is already an issue, the hangover effect can make those symptoms worse. Sleep suffers. Highs from drinking come too fast even after very small amounts and you end up talking too much or worse spilling others’ secrets. One needs to keep drinking to avoid sinking into a sudden case of “bad mood” as the chemical hormone balance is not what it used to be. Tolerance is now Zero. Your adult kids might even tell you, “Mom, I don’t like being around you when you drink”. Ouch.
So, let’s say you decide to take a drinking hiatus. You believe after much trial and error over recent years, drinking is not working so well, and you want to just take time off from drinking.
Here’s what you’ll encounter: Drinking is everywhere, all the time: day and night. It is deeply imbedded in our culture. Birthday parties, social events, restaurants, people’s homes, boats, golf courses… Everywhere, all the time. We are surrounded by people enjoying alcohol wherever we go. Nowhere is safe.
Add to that when you travel there’s Aperol Spritz’s lining Italian piazzas, Cabernet Sauvignon all over Napa, Bellinis in Venice’s Harry’s Bar, Guinness at every Irish pub, you get the point. Drinking is ubiquitous.
Drinking might make you happy and then sad. Up and then down. Good and then lousy. The emotional effects change depending on how comfortable you are with who you are with. For many it’s like a roller coaster.
The science is clear about the effects of alcohol: “The brain relies on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.”
So what on Earth can you substitute alcohol with that does what alcohol does? Coffee? Diet soda? Momentary sugar or caffeine highs, stained teeth, no thanks. And don’t get me started on “mocktails” which are just a poor substitute at best, though to be fair there are now more non alcoholic wines, beers, and spirits than ever before.
Here is the million dollar question: How do you remain social without drinking? The lowering of inhibition makes for a fun night out, especially with new people.
After much experimentation and deliberation, I’ve decided I will not give up alcohol entirely. We will maintain a relationship, but that relationship has changed.
My new relationship with alcohol is: “Drink Only When Necessary”. The good news is that as time goes by I’m already finding that the “when necessary” designation is less and less. Seems your brain can be trained to lose its inhibition when sober so you can dance in public or carry on stimulating conversations without booze if you work hard at it.
So for example: a wedding with hundreds of people to talk to: necessary. Most family dinners: not necessary, and actually better spent sober to avoid heightened emotions around larger family gatherings. Friend nights out: occasionally necessary. Home alone with husband on a weekday: not necessary. Parties: necessary. Sports, theater or concerts: not necessary. Travel to Napa Valley or Europe: for sure necessary, but only small ventures out.
So find your place in the world of drinking as an older adult, what works for you now. Time is ever more precious as we grow older.
All this withstanding, moderation in amount and frequency rules the day: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” —Oscar Wilde