You might have found this article because you met me at a party, made the mistake of asking me why I don’t drink, I told you to Google the question with my name if you wanted to know the answer, and you actually did what I said because you have that much time on your hands. If so, I can now tell you that you had something in your teeth but I didn’t say so at the time because it was the only thing about you that was vaguely interesting. You might remember that I made a convincing-sounding reason to get away – I was lying, I actually escaped to the bathroom so that I could watch red panda videos on my phone with the sound down.
The problem with your boring question,
Why don’t you drink? is that it’s the wrong question. The right question would be for me to ask,
Why do you drink?. After all, if I took cocaine and you didn’t, you’d probably feel that the onus would be on me to justify why I took the drug rather than on you to justify why you didn’t. Alcohol and cocaine are both drugs, it just so happens that alcohol is socially acceptable while cocaine isn’t, even though you’re much more likely to run over a toddler under the influence of alcohol than you are under the influence of cocaine. Social acceptability is a terrible guide to what’s a good idea and what isn’t: not that long ago slavery, racism, and women not having the vote were socially acceptable while homosexuality wasn’t. Drink that.
And then there’s this graph from The Economist:
But fine, let me answer the question of why I’ve chosen the less socially common option, aside from giving the more general answer that I’m an adult who can think for myself. The best way I explain why I don’t drink is by invoking the concept of nootropics. Nootropics are drugs that enhance mental performance. They sound pretty amazing except that they invariably have terrible side effects, e.g. make you feel more mentally alert one day at the expense of you being able to get out of bed the next. But imagine if I said that there was a nootropic drug that gave you greater mental clarity, greater energy, boosted your mood, allowed you to live longer, had no side effects, and was free. To me, that nootropic is
not drinking. It’s great, you should try it. I’ll even give you a free sample. DO IT.
Look, I used to drink, I love the taste of G&T’s, red wine, spirits, cocktails, etc. I get it. It’s just that, for me, the benefits of drinking aren’t worth the considerable costs. If you don’t think there are considerable costs to you drinking you probably haven’t tried not drinking. And once you’ve tried not drinking and realised what the costs are you should probably ask yourself why you do drink.
Okay, let’s finish by debunking 2 stupid arguments in favour of drinking that I hear a lot:
But drinking in moderation’s actually good for you. People who drink in moderation have lower stress levels.
a) Show me the data, and
b) even if it were true, drinking in moderation most of the time almost always leads to drinking in excess sometimes. A friend of mine put forward the
moderation argument to me once, I gave that response, and she then rapidly segued into an anecdote about how she’d nearly died the previous week because she’d gotten into a drinking contest at work. And she’s in her 30’s, working for a blue chip company, charging thousands of pounds an hour, i.e. not demographically irresponsible. Although she is married to an Italian.
Yeah, but your mum. The antioxidant theory has been widely debunked. Yes, antioxidants in the body are a good thing, but eating something doesn’t guarantee more of it in the body. Digestion is not that simple. Eating fat doesn’t produce more fat in the body, whereas eating sugar does. (And if that’s news to you then you really don’t know anything about nutrition.) Plus, even if red wine (red wine only, people) did contain antioxidants that the body was somehow able to internalise, which it doesn’t, the costs of drinking red wine would still outweigh the benefits. One moment you’re getting a slight boost from consuming a few more antioxidants and the next you’re in hospital with renal failure, wishing you’d watched more red panda videos.
But alcohol helps me relax. You’re an alcoholic.
But alcohol tastes good. So does your mum.
But I’m an alcoholic. Okay, you win. Just put me in your will.