Brief: You do not need to drink alcohol to be socially performant. All effects of alcohol can be reproduced by a good mood (whether local to the day or global to your broader life), gradual energy escalation, conscious openness and curiosity, social experience, good self-esteem, & being around people you like.
I have been a social drinker for as long as I can remember. In high school I was not social and did not go to parties, it was only until my first year of college that I began going to parties and along with that, drinking socially. I did not question it, it was what everyone was doing, it let you let loose, so you just go along with it.
It is only until recently that I have started to question the necessity of drinking in social venues. I have felt the damaging effects on health the next day, I have seen its effects on my physique and weight loss progress, I have seen friends make fools of themselves and be people who they are not, I have seen me make a fool of myself and be someone I am not (losing respect from my peers in the process).
Is drinking worth it? Are the health costs worthy of the powers alcohol gives you in social settings? Can the same effects be replicated without alcohol?
This is a question that receives lengthy and heated debate online. It ranges all the way from devoted social drinkers who swear by drinking making their life better socially (or it just being fun), to extreme anti-drinkers who draw a moral and health line in the sand and swear away drinking.
As with anything in life, I think the analysis of drinking in your social life comes down to a non-binary answer. The answer lay somewhere between the extremes.
This discussion is not about pride, it is not about finding a camp to pledge allegiance to. It is about finding the truth, facts & principles, to guide our decision-making.
My goal is not to convince you of any side directly. I just want to point out some observations I have had (by this age of 23) about social drinking, and lay out some principles. I imagine this will lead us somewhere.
People drink alcohol socially because it is fun to be inebriated and it is a state tap, a light switch, for easy socialization.
It is fun to have full expression socially, not feel social anxiety, and act goofy. Being a good level of buzzed/tipsy is fun. This is undeniable.
You will smile, enjoy yourself, and enjoy those around you (to a certain point of inebriation). Drinking gives you social superpowers.
This is why people drink socially (besides the taste of the beverage they are consuming). They want freedom, they want fun, they want to let go of the steering wheel that keeps them straight and often boring in a high-energy environment like a bar, club, or social gathering.
In social settings, energy is currency. If you can go up to that pretty girl and say the right thing with the right energy, you are high-value and have a better chance than if you are stone-cold sober and bring the heaviness of reluctance into an interaction.
This is why people drink. For fun, for freedom. To loosen up, to smile without care, to express themselves where otherwise thought would impede.
But alas, duality. With all these benefits, you’d imagine there will be costs to balance the benefits out.
There are 3 prominent costs to drinking alcohol: health, control, & psychological growth opportunity-cost.
Disrupts deep sleep
Makes you have to urinate (and subsequently dehydrates you)
Crashes your bloodsugar levels (in excess)
Makes you sleepy (actually lowering your energy levels)
Taxes your liver & organs over time
Reduces muscle protein synthesis (bad for serious lifters)
Night drinking events are usually in the hours of 9pm-3/4am on the weekend and cost you sleep
Drinks can add up in calories and you can down 700-1000 calories before you know it (impeding weight loss efforts)
If you have ever drank, you know you don’t feel 100% the next day. You feel “off”. If you lift weights, your nervous system is no longer firing at full capacity for heavy lifts. You find yourself exhausted.
The combination of drinking and a lack of quality sleep taxes you in the short-term. In the long-term you are taxing your organs (like your brain & liver). Just a few nights are ok, but when alcohol is an intimate part of your social toolkit, drinking becomes a long-term item.
The health costs of drinking are formidable. If you are an individual that champions your health and want to be top-quartile fit, these will urk you. Why am I poisoning my body? My one and only body? Is there any other way?
The nights I go out sober I am struck by how in-control I am of myself. Surrounded by tipsy-to-drunk people, you can actually realize what being drunk sounds like, how someone intoxicated acts. It is different. There is a clear behavioral & energy delta.
There is something empowering about being in-control of yourself. Some people are running from themselves, they want to lose control, lose the voice in their head holding them captive. Some people are just trying to have a great time and love it, and I admit, it is very fun to go wild and let loose. You don’t want to be that guy who drains energy from those around you (and I have consistently been that guy in the past).
But when sober in non-sober environments, I am always struck by how composed I am.
Instead of struggling for the next thing to say, I have charisma. Instead of forgetting a girl’s name 3 minutes after I met her, I remember it easily.
Control over your emotions, your thoughts, your body, is a beautiful thing. You become better socially instead of worse.
So what is the problem? Why drink if being in control is better? Control comes at a cost as well, you risk being “boring” or getting in your head and over-calculating.
Our greatest enemy in socialization is going into our heads instead of meeting people on the physical plane & connecting. You can’t connect to another person if you aren’t “out there”.
A day after being out sober, I am so happy that I am in control of my body. No sickness, no hangover. My day is not lost. I am 100%, ready to push my health to higher frontiers and have a great day.
Some drink socially because it curbs general anxiety. Anxiety can range from mild reluctance to interact to a full shutdown state (which I would find myself in sometimes, likely due to past childhood traumas). Alcohol gives you a state tap to not consciously face anxiety triggering situations and be your best social self.
The growth is where the healthy pain is at. This is a fact of life. What you fear most socially is where you will trigger growth as a person.
I never understood people mentioning that alcohol can become a “crutch” socially. It only takes 1-2 nights out sober for it to really hit you how much of your psyche you just haven’t faced or remolded.
Social people drink just because it is more fun. People using alcohol as a crutch drink because it shifts them up the normal curve in social acuity. But this social improvement, though real and lesson-providing, does not last.
Alcohol does not create, it masks. Alcohol was your crutch, it got you loose, it covered up what was dragging you back.
You cannot step into your fullest confident self, healed of your inner issues, always drinking to socialize. Only when you can face yourself fully, and connect with those around you as your true self, will you secure longterm personal growth and heal your inner dilemmas.
So what is it that is dragging you back? Why can’t you survive in a non-sober environment sober? Do you need alcohol to socialize?
I want to ask myself some questions that will lead us deeper:
Why do you drink socially?
I drink socially because it makes me a more fun & open person in social situations (that involve drinking). I am an introvert and like being in my thoughts, analyzing, breaking things down. Though, I find myself an able social interactor most of the time. But, sometimes I like going into my head and staying there, which is bad for social events. Sometimes I perceive my thoughts as more interesting than anything going on around me. At my worst, in certain social situations, I will shutdown from anxiety entirely and talk to no one. This has been happening less and less as my self-esteem has risen.
I also think that many cannot fathom going out with 0 drinks in them (especially younger people & college students + college grads), it is like jumping into the "deep-end" of the pool immediately. There is also the awkward feeling of having no drinks in your hand at a function/venue. It is just out of the norms to just not drink at all in these situations.
Why are you quiet around new people?
I just get anxious about initially meeting someone new. I have to be proactive and introduce myself, get to know them, get them to know me. It is an exchange that has a level of overhead (though it is unhealthy to see meeting new people in that way). I can project me saying “hi” and just blowing up in the interaction (especially if the new person is in a group of other new people). I am afraid what the other person will think of me, especially if it is a girl I like. Again, I strongly believe that this fear has an inverse correlation to your self-esteem.
Could you imagine new interactions at social events going smoothly sober?
Yes, I can imagine that, it is just that the irrational fear is the very thing that trips you up. With 1-2 drinks, you are much looser, calmer, and it is easier to just not deal with these annoying fears. Sometimes I am really confident, sometimes not. I could do fine meeting new people at parties sober, it probably is just a matter of laziness and not even wanting to try the harder path.
Can you dance at social events sober?
Funny question, but sure. I can sway and move, but in the back of my head I really am afraid of what people will think of me. Do I look stupid? Do I look cool? Maybe it is a proxy fear to wanting to be accepted. But I can dance sober, of course. I've gotten much better recently as I've been going out to clubs with house music.
Does interacting with large groups bother you?
Yes, I don’t really know how to find my position unless I know one or two people in the group. Maybe that is my issue, I just have to be more open, I have to say hi to people, be a present figure that contributes to the group’s dynamic. Anxiety really is the only barrier. The anxiety itself causes what the anxiety fears.
So you need to work on openness & your energy?
Yes, when I am on a roll socially I am energetic and I don’t go back into my shell. When around good friends I genuinely like, I am happy and naturally “in-social-state”. I find we all have an in-built capacity to socialize, we just impede it. We all have things that interest us in the world to talk about. When around good people I just elevate and elevate until nothing bothers me. Strangers can make me come back down into my shell when I worry how I will meet them.
Why are you closed off sometimes? Why would your energy be low?
It can be a lot of factors. This is going very far back, but I had an emotionally traumatic childhood where I feel I didn't get enough love, plus other emotionally traumatic events, and that subsequently has made me a closed-off person. I had chronically low self-esteem and just didn't want to interact with others, I had very low self-worth.
When you feel that way for long spans of time, you will be a lower energy person. I am healing from all this though. You have to find reasons why you are interesting, notable, and awesome, then share that with the world (if you can't find reasons, go make reasons happen).
So it seems that I just need to focus on increasing my self-esteem further, work on the mechanics of better socialization, and find reasons why I love my life.
This is only a partial inner inquiry, but going through this thought process has led me to realize that everything drinking offers as a temporary patch for can be solved through life improvement and more inner emotional work.
I encourage other people who drink to socialize to run an inner inquiry. Your answers may surprise you.
Some people quip that they “love their drunk self”. I can agree with this, tweaking it slightly.
I love a totally socially unimpeded version of myself, unimpeded by vexing social fear & anxiety. This is what we like.
When you drink, you can become someone you are not. You can become a social butterfly if you are a shy person. This is good, since you will see what is possible for you. If you can do it drunk, you must be able to do it sober.
Sometimes this is good. If you had a hard day, you may objectively be a bad social interactor for the time-being. A few drinks may certainly bring you up and make you a net-positive social node.
What bothers me more are the “phantom interactions”. The people you talk to who you don’t care about. The guy that compliments your shirt insincerely just because he is hypersocial. The smile you flash a stranger from inebriation and not true confidence. The things you say to random strangers without full poise.
It is very hard to build a connection with people when you are very tipsy to drunk. Drunk chatter is inane (you only realize this when you are sober). You aren’t really centered within yourself and your personality, what makes you yourself.
When I am sober, I find that my personality is still there. My sense of humor is intact, unblurred. That is “me”. When tipsy-to-drunk I can talk to anyone, but I am not really a notable personality with charisma, I am just another chatty guy.
I steered this discussion away from any definite conclusions on whether you should totally cut out drinking alcohol from your life (for socialization). Most things dealing with people and relationships do not have a deterministic output.
You may find yourself going to a bar one weekend where you may have met the love of your life, and had you had 1 or 2 drinks, you may have found escape velocity from your thoughts to say a simple "hello". But, you took the moral high-ground and didn't drink.
Hypotheticals steer me away from any absolutes on this topic.
The larger thing to take away is the principle that you don't need to drink to effectively socialize. But, can you be your best, unimpeded, social-self without alcohol? Yes. It is just more work, it is the hard path (which often ends up being worthwhile).
Can you avoid all of this inner work, just have fun, and continue regular social drinking? Yes, that is fine as well, you just have to recognize the short & longterm costs of drinking you are willingly assuming.
It is not enough to stop drinking. You have to stop drinking and be an outstandingly fun person.
If you can do that, you have won.