Why I don't drink

Friday 22nd May 2015

It's lemonade, I swearIf you're pushed for time, the short answer is that I've just never really liked alcohol.

The first time I remember getting drunk I was 10 or 11 and my parents let me have a snifter of Pomagne that I'd won at a school fête (hey, it was the 80s).

It made me feel dizzy, then I fell off my chair and threw up.

The second time I remember getting drunk was at a friend's house when we were maybe 13,

I got slaughtered and puked in his garden and passed out. I have a hazy recollection of my friend's dad standing over me looking vaguely concerned (80s again).

Can you see a pattern here?

Therapeutic index

Let's talk pharmacology for a minute. The therapeutic index of a drug is the gap between the effective dose and overdose.

The best drugs have a very large therapeutic index: the surgical painkiller Remifentanil scores 33,000:1, which means that you can overdose by 33,000 times the effective dose without any toxic effects. That's pretty safe.

THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, has a therapeutic index of 1,000:1 which is why there are no recorded deaths from smoking too much weed.

Some drugs have much smaller indices: paracetamol is about 20:1 and ethanol (the chemical in booze) is just 10:1. Ten times as much alcohol as it takes to have an effect is enough to produce a toxic effect - not just making me feel a bit groggy, but causing damage to my body.

This is why it always makes me feel sick, I find it too easy to go from merry to wasted in a couple of drinks.

"Relaxing" with a bottle of wine

I originally only planned to stop drinking for a month, joining friends on a Dryathlon in January 2013. I didn't do it to raise money, just for the experience.

I quickly learned some things about myself - if I'd had a hard day at work, or a stressful meeting, I'd automatically reach for the whisky and then remember I wasn't drinking that month.

It didn't exactly scare me, but made me aware that I was using alcohol to stabilise myself. As the month progressed I found myself doing it less, but noticed it more and more in other people. Some Facebook friends only ever post about how they've had a hard day and are now relaxing with a bottle of wine.

Sleep

By the end of the month I'd noticed a really important change - I was sleeping much better. I'd always suffered from really horrible nightmares, I would regularly wake up covered in sweat, heart pounding, and with a full bladder.

I kept a log of my nightmares for a while, which included:

  • 28th Jan: Francis was killed and eaten by Gila monsters
  • 19th Feb: My fingers were being eaten by rats
  • 10th Dec: Shot and killed two men

This completely stopped during my month off, and it's never come back. People have suggested that my body was waking me up to go to the toilet by making me have a nightmare, which is apparently a recognised phenomenon in children, but I've been unable to find any quality research backing it up.

Peer pressure

For the first month, when I told friends I was doing Dryathlon they didn't seem bothered. But when I didn't start again in February I got a few funny looks. Friends who love their beer looked slightly worried and ask me to this day "so are you still not drinking?". Kat's grandfather was horrified when I turned down his very expensive red wine at lunch the other day.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that I can have just as much fun sober as I ever did drunk, and I don't have a hangover in the morning. In fact for the first time ever I've learned that there's a big difference between going to bed lashed and going to bed late - I can go to bed sober at 2am and feel fine the next day!

Health

I've really noticed an improvement in my health since I stopped drinking. I'm fitter, I catch fewer colds and I've lost weight (although this is not a scientific survey). A pint of Carlsberg Export is 244 calories, so if I sank eight pints a week, I was consuming an extra day's calories each week.

I'm happier

I don't know if there's a simple term for what I am now, but one thing I'm not is teetotal. I've had five or ten drinks over the last few years, and I've been thoroughly smashed twice.

I'm really not trying to persuade you to stop getting drunk, and I'm really not judging you if we hang out for an evening and you're incapable of standing up or constructing a sentence by 10pm. What I am saying is that I'm happier not drinking.

If you're going to the bar I'll have a lemon, lime and bitters please.

At what age did you first get drunk, and on what? Let me know in the comments!

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