I had a good Saturday night out the other week. A few games of pool, then into another bar where I got chatting with some Hispanic tourists from LA about the nature of second-generation immigrant identity. A good time was had by all and I Glided home to my bed.
The problem came six hours later when I was awakened by my son at 6am. Since becoming a dad I have found hangovers and kids don’t mix – I no longer have the luxury of sleeping them off. I only had four pints and I felt like death warmed up. It seems any amount of alcohol seems to hit me really bad these days. And you really don’t want to know what was going on in my guts.
This is not some misery memoir of alcohol. The truth is I have always been a moderate drinker. Growing up during the Troubles and hearing all those stories of poor sods who got kidnapped and killed on their way home from a night out gave me a major incentive to keep my wits about me. Three or four pints and that was me. I never touch wine or spirits.
Now I am questioning: is drinking worth the hassle at all? I prize sleep greatly. Despite what people think about drink relaxing them before bed, it actually gives you a terrible night’s sleep. You don’t get that deep restorative sleep and you wake up groggy and tired. Plus alcohol is a depressant. Life is bleak enough these days without adding to your woes. When you start to look at it rationally there are not many plus points to booze.
If alcohol had never existed but was invented now it would be an impossible sell. Feel a bit more relaxed for an hour or two, but then feel like crap all the next day, and get a belly like a champion darts player — it’s not exactly a great sales pitch.
The truth is I can take or leave drink. I can chat away to strangers cold stone sober. The following week I was in the same bar and was happy enough with a glass of water. I generally only drink due to social pressure. If you are out with friends and you have a round system going it’s very easy to bow to the expectation to join in.
Alcohol is directly responsible for over 300 deaths a year in Northern Ireland. Add to that the general negative health effects and the pressure on the ambulance service and A&E Units dealing with all the drunks, then add in all the domestic violence, sexual assaults and unwanted pregnancies it causes. Stir all that up with a population with sky-high mental illness and post-traumatic stress and you get a real mess.
Once you start to look you can see we are a drink soaked society. Get a job? Have a drink to celebrate. Lose your job? Have a drink to commiserate. From conception to the christening, from wedding to funeral the booze is there at all of life’s events.
Doctors will tell you the big problem is not with winos on the street but with the people who do not think they have a drinking problem. All those women who crack open a bottle of wine to relax after work, all those men who treat themselves to a few whiskies while watching the telly. And don’t be kidding yourself that you are ok because you are drinking a 15 quid bottle of wine, or a 10-year-old black bush. To the body, booze is booze.
Which brings me to Sober October. That time of year where many people go off the booze for a month – like a secular lent. Depending on your consumption levels of the devil’s buttermilk it might be worth trying Sober October to see how you fare without it. Sobriety is fashionable at the moment. There is even a catchy name for it – sober curious. New companies like One Year No Beer are popping up to capitalise on the trend.
When you give up the booze for a while you will find you will sleep better, have more energy and the pounds will drop off your waistline. And the pounds in your pocket will increase with the money you save.
If you are going to try here are some tips for you. There are a lot of new alcohol-free beers on the market. The Erdinger one is the best. Erdinger actually markets that one as a sports recovery drink (seriously they sponsor the Berlin Marathon). You could also get soda water and say it’s a Gin and Tonic. Personally I prefer the direct approach and just tell people I am not drinking, and I drink pints of tap water. I find the first 5 minutes is the worst, once you get over the initial awkwardness then it’s a night out like any other. I tend to go out early and leave the bar about 11pm before everyone starts talking like a washing machine – you get the benefit of a night out and you get your sleep.
I would be the first to admit there is nothing more annoying than a convert. I had some great drink-fueled exploits over the years and I would be the first to say a few drinks with friends is one of the great pleasures in life. If it was not for the terrible hangovers and lousy sleep I would be firing the pints into me with great abandon. So if you enjoy a drink, fill your boots. But this post is aimed at those of you who like me are wondering if it might be an idea to knock the booze on the head for a few weeks to see how you get on. Take the money you would have spent on booze and treat yourself to a few meals out or a new phone. You have nothing to lose — only your bleary eyes and beer belly.
I help to manage Slugger by taking care of the site as well as running our live events. My background is in business, marketing and IT. My politics tend towards middle-of-the-road pragmatism, I am not a member of any political party. Oddly for a member of the Slugger team, I am not that interested in daily politics, preferring to write about big ideas in society. When not stuck in front of a screen, I am a parkrun Run Director.