I drank alcohol regularly for the better part of 2 years, sometimes more than I should have, to say the least. I wasn’t an alcoholic. I preferred the term “compulsive binge drinker”. I wouldn’t be the type who could go out with some friends and stop after a few drinks. I’d always go to blackout or at least drink until I ran out of alcohol.
This obviously wasn’t a good thing.
My compulsive binge drinking’s only positive trade-off is that it’s been a major learning experience for me. I’ve learned things the hard way I couldn’t have learned any other way.
Courtesy of my own experience and partially of other people’s experiences, here are 5 lessons I’ve learned from alcohol abuse.
Alcohol isn’t a lens of truth
The thought of alcohol as a truth serum is cliche, but I disagree with that idea. In my experience, it rarely gets people to open up and give monologues about their traumas and the reasons they are how they are.
In fact, I’ve seen myself and other people become complete liars under the influence. Alcohol used to turn me into a self-serving narcissist who’d lie or hide truths to appear a certain way. I’d wake up the next day and be absolutely ashamed of myself. I’ve seen it turn other people into Bizarro versions of themselves.
To know who someone truly is, you interact with them when they aren’t under the influence of a substance. That is that.
Insecurity is the only truth alcohol brings out. You see those insecurities in people’s behavior, not their words.
Alcohol removes inhibitions. Drunk or not, no one with their head on straight wants to cause severe harm to anyone, but everyone wants to overcome their insecurities. Under the influence, it’s that much easier for them to be a slave to that mission. And that mission expresses itself in ugly ways when alcohol is involved.
The guy who’s an aggressive drunk is insecure about not being dominant, influential, or “man enough”.
The girl who flaunts her sexuality when she’s drunk is insecure about not being desirable or she thinks her sexuality is the only thing anyone likes her for.
The guy who drinks to blackout by himself wants to escape his life.
The girl who drunk texts her ex craves romantic intimacy, at least in that moment.
The overly reserved guy who becomes a social butterfly under the influence wishes he was more outgoing.
I was a needy drunk. My insecurities about not receiving attention or validation in the past used to go to the forefront of my mind under the influence. I’d drunk text friends out of desperation for some company, I’d binge watch YouTube videos while drinking to feel less alone, and my biggest priorities would be “don’t be alone” and “be respected”. The latter of which, alcohol isn’t very conducive to.
As we’ll see here, drinking is exactly how NOT to meet your psychological needs.
Alcohol isn’t the problem
An unmet psychological need (or multiple ones) is the problem. While heavily insecure people can function normally when sober despite their insecurities, the drinks bring out their darker sides.
Every cringy behavior, every lie, every burned bridge, and every capital-M Mistake alcohol’s helped me or someone else bring into existence, I can trace to an insecurity.
If you have crying fits, engage in harmful behavior, type out absolute nonsense, or get very negatively emotional under the influence, put the bottle down. You have an emotional wound that needs attention.
I used to ask myself “am I an alcoholic?”
That was the wrong question. I eventually asked myself:
- What am I trying to accomplish with my drinking?
- What would stop me from drinking?
And my answers:
- I’m compensating for the emptiness I feel in my relationships with others. I’m choosing to get a dopamine rush from a substance because I feel like I can’t get a similar pleasant feeling from interacting with people.
- Having a life that makes me not want to drink.
Staying away from alcohol isn’t the solution to alcohol abuse. Someone with bad enough emotional wounds would turn to other drugs or other destructive behavior.
No, the solution is to heal the emotional wounds that inspire one to drink to excess.
An unmet need for esteem will be met by doing something esteem-worthy, not by alcohol.
An unmet need for connection will be met by sober connections, not by drunk connections.
I don’t compulsively binge drink anymore. I can have a few drinks and stop myself there. This wasn’t accidental. Over the past year, I’ve healed a lot of my emotional wounds and uncertainties about life. It wasn’t easy. It was painful, sometimes as painful as what gave me the emotional wounds in the first place, but I’m happy I went on that journey.
Alcohol doesn’t make your decisions. You make your decisions.
Sober or not, most people don’t want to cause severe harm to anyone. As for lesser injustices and faux pas, that’s where alcohol blurs lines and makes things ugly.
It’s hard to perceive the world properly under the influence. Something you find innocent or playful under the influence could be a minor or major faux pas to someone else, maybe to the point of burning the bridge between you two. Reading social situations and acting properly in them requires more effort when alcohol is involved.
Let’s say you acted like an asshole after 8 too many vodka shots. You upset someone with a genuine dick move, not just something they misunderstood cause they were drunk too.
The alcohol’s fault? Nope. Alcohol’s an inanimate substance. It doesn’t make decisions.
Your fault? That’s one argument.
Your responsibility? Yeah, let’s go with that. More specifically, it’s your sober self’s responsibility to heal the emotional wounds that cause your shitty behavior. It’s the responsibility of anyone you’ve hurt or inconvenienced to heal their own negative feelings, with or without an apology from you.
In any case, repentance from you is non-negotiable. You recognize that your behavior sucked. You stop drinking or cut down on alcohol. You vow to stop doing the suckish behavior. Then you stick to your vow.
You can’t undo or redo the past, but you always have power over your future.
What psychological needs of yours are unmet? Do you feel like people don’t pay enough attention to you? Like you’re inherently beneath most people? Like no one would like you for your honest self? Like you’re an underachiever and you haven’t done enough with your life?
You can only heal those emotional wounds without alcohol, or else the alcohol will turn you into the worst version of yourself.
Alcohol doesn’t only affect you when you’re drunk
For most people, the consequences of drinking include a hangover and maybe some embarrassing drunk texts.
For others, broken possessions or broken relationships.
For the most unfortunate people, jail time, a ruined life, or death.
For me, blackouts, ruined friendships, ruined reputation to some people, lost time, and cringy memories. If it wasn’t for alcohol, a lot of my bridges wouldn’t have been burnt. I would have thousands more dollars in the bank. I’d have spent more weekends without a hangover.
The fact that you were drunk when you did something regrettable, even if you don’t remember it, doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for the behavior or its consequences. Shitty behavior is shitty behavior, under the influence or not, no matter what motivates it.
Your drunkenness fades, but people’s memories of you will stay.
You can’t “I was drunk, so it doesn’t count” your way out of anything. If you even want to, that’s shitty character. It’s ignorant and immature. Responsibility is the only way forward. For some people, it means examining themselves and choosing better values. For others, it’s cutting down on their drinking or quitting entirely.
The only way to certainly stop yourself from doing cringy or hurtful things under the influence is not to get under the influence in the first place. Then you examine your emotional wounds and the reasons you do what you do.
Also, the psychological effects of alcohol add up over time, and they’re present even if you don’t drink every day. Every time I’ve gone months on end without alcohol, I’ve had much more motivation to complete tasks and my mind has been sharper than it would be if I was drinking only 2-4 times a month. In reading anyone else’s story about quitting, I haven’t found anything contradicting these cognitive benefits of extended sobriety.
I recently went almost 6 straight months without alcohol. Then I got drunk one night, and my mind didn’t go completely (to my perception) back to normal for 5 days. That put my sobriety and former heavy drinking into perspective for me. I can’t imagine feeling the consequences of drunk nights every week like I used to.
Alcohol doesn’t just give you a night of dopamine and a hangover the next day. Its consequences add up.
Alcohol doesn’t make people happy (or respectable)
Sobriety delivers what alcohol promises.
Those aren’t my words; I read that somewhere and it stuck with me.
Alcohol is the only drug where people will assume there’s something wrong with you if you don’t do it. That’s why I started drinking. I wanted to fit in with people my age and feel like something more than a productivity machine. It stimulated my dopamine system and my repressed emotions.
The only alcohol-related thing I’m proud of doing is spending months without it.
Every fulfilling friendship I’ve had has been built without alcohol, even if we’ve drank together.
Alcohol hasn’t added anything positive to my life besides learning experiences.
I can’t think of a single time I’ve made a good impression on someone new while I was drunk, nor a single time a drunk person’s made a good first impression on me.
Think of a situation where someone needs to act respectably, like during a presentation or a casual get-together. Now imagine if that someone had a few alcoholic drinks beforehand, enough to get them a bit tipsy. You wouldn’t trust or respect them as much as you would if they were sober! Maybe this isn’t just theoretical for you and you’ve been that someone!
Remember: alcohol isn’t a truth serum. It distorts reality and can make you act dishonestly. You can’t trust someone who isn’t honest or connected to reality.
If you’re drunk, can you even trust yourself?