Because you're happy. Because you're sad. Because you just got promoted. Because you just got fired. Because you're lonely. Because you're out with friends. Because your girlfriend just dumped you. Because you're trying to get laid. Because you're golfing. Because you're at the game. Because a steak just doesn't taste right without a martini. Because JÄGER BOMBS, BRO! Because it's Saturday night. Because you're hung over from Saturday night. Because you need to. Because you want to.
There are many, many reasons to have a drink. What a month without alcohol shows you, mostly, is that there really aren't that many reasons not to.
Sure, there are some benefits. You get more done when you're not drinking. Work is easier, and you have more time in the day to do it. You see how, all too often, drinking becomes the goal of a night out, and interaction with the people around takes a back seat to the glass in hand and how quickly it can be emptied. Plus, it's nice not having to worry about how you're going to drive home.
But you're also home more often. You see your friends less, because they're always out, you know, having a drink. And when you do go out, you feel like everyone is suspicious of your teetotaling -- and they are, because the act of drinking is so ingrained in our culture that the people who choose not to drink are the weirdos. Your social life suffers.
So maybe improved health is a good reason to give up booze. After 30 alcohol-free days, you do feel better. You fall asleep more quickly and feel more rested in the morning. You're able to push more weight, run a little longer, breathe a little deeper. The brain cells you would be normally be leading to an early grave are still alive and kicking, and so you think a little more clearly and have an easier time remembering things. It seems like an easy choice.
But then you read about studies carried out by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that say a glass or two of alcohol per day can lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 60 percent; and that drinkers are less likely to suffer from arthritis, strokes, diabetes, and dementia; and that, overall, moderate drinkers actually tend to live longer than those who abstain. And you're right back where you started.
What it comes down to is that alcohol, and our relationship with it, is a contradiction. It's the one mind-altering drug that's perfectly acceptable to take in polite company. Our politicians call for its prohibition and lambaste those who abuse it, then reap its benefits via many billions of tax dollars. It's frowned upon to overindulge in -- except when it's your birthday. Or New Year's. Or St. Patrick's Day. Or Cinco de Mayo. Or Mardi Gras. Or at basically any given moment throughout college. In this country, our relationship with alcohol is so thoroughly fucked that we're compelled by the calendar and social norms and our own desires to go out and get hammered, then made to feel bad about ourselves when we do it.
This, then, is the reason to choose not to drink for a while: control. Control over your vices. Control over the reasons you drink, and how much. Control over your own will power.
Because it's good to give the willpower a good kick in the ass every now and then.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.
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