I haven’t consumed alcohol since November 11th, 2022, and with every day that passes, drinking again becomes less and less appealing. I can't say for sure whether I’ll ever drink again or not, but for now, all is good. I’m also not one to judge others for their decisions, or to think I’m something special for deciding not to consume alcohol, so I won’t be doing that in this article.
My goal is to simply offer some perspective on the several revelations I’ve experienced since deciding to quit. I will highlight some of the most profound positive effects I've experienced, ranging from mental health, mental clarity, and motivation to physical health and performance. I’ll also expound on some of the social concerns I felt prior to making this decision and how they differ from the reality I’ve since experienced.
I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be able to run my own business with anywhere near the level of output I currently am if I were to still periodically consume alcohol. Running a business requires clarity, drive, motivation, focus and clear thinking, all of which have improved exponentially since getting off the sauce.
Before I dive in, I want to provide a brief background of my drinking behavior, as I know it will resonate with a lot of people. As a disclaimer, I’m not an expert on alcohol, nor am I a professional in regards to helping people fight addiction. If you believe you’re addicted to alcohol, the likelihood of this article resulting in breaking such addiction is low, and I highly recommend seeking the help of a professional.
In my non-expert self assessment, I wouldn’t consider myself to be an alcoholic in the truest sense, but I do believe I consumed more alcohol than the average person throughout my 20s. Although I’ve made some questionable decisions throughout my life while under the influence, I wouldn’t consider myself a “problem drinker”.
Candidly, I’ve been behind the wheel after too many drinks, especially when I was younger, but I didn’t make a habit out of it and avoided it completely while in the military. I always considered myself a responsible drinker in regards to decision making, but there were certainly times where I was irresponsible in regards to the quantity of alcohol I consumed.
I’ve used alcohol as a lubricant to augment social situations as an introverted person. But I never truly hit “rock bottom” due to drinking. I could always go without it. I never was at a point where I would begin drinking with the intention of only having 1 or 2 only to end up drinking 12-15. That’s not to say I never binge drank. There were plenty of occasions where I would begin drinking with full intent to get drunk.
There was a span in my life ranging well over half a decade that consisted of 1-2 nightly craft beers (I was very particular with my beer choices), with the exception of nights on whch military training or job requirements wouldn’t allow for it (Ranger School, SMU selection, night time missions, etc.).
Weekends would routinely involve more drinking, usually enough to get very buzzed, or even flat out hammered. I was certainly known as a hard partier. I could chug a pint of beer (or in some cases a full “Das Boot” with 3 beers) faster than anyone I know, and would certainly get carried away with it from time to time. I’m rather ashamed to say it was something I was proud of (but no longer am).
To some, much of this may seem like alcoholic behavior. It may seem “bush league” to others. Regardless, the main reason I don’t think I was a full blown alcoholic is that although I used it well beyond moderation in an effort to change my mental state, be more confident and outgoing, or to take a load off after a long day of training, I was able to quit it altogether by just making a simple decision to not consume it anymore.
I didn’t need to seek help. I didn’t go to AA or rehab. I just woke up on the 12th of November, 2022 after a full weekend of groomsman activities (lots of drinking) and decided that day would be the last day I woke up hungover for a long time, or maybe ever.
There have been times since that day, mostly in the first few months following cessation where I've felt compelled to have a drink, but those days weren't overly challenging to navigate, and are completely non-existent now. At this point, the simple thought of waking up after a night of drinking makes me nauseous, and that’s not an exaggeration.
In my 20s, I never saw myself as a future non-drinker, but now I’m living it. Throughout this time, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and experienced many positive benefits I want to share with you in this article. Again, I’m not trying to sound self righteous or talk down to anyone who does choose to drink. My goal is to simply describe some of my first hand experiences in an effort to show you what’s possible.
I’ve personally never met anyone who used to drink and has since quit that hasn’t experienced life changing positive effects from it. Unfortunately, until you do it yourself, it’s difficult to grasp the possibilities. It certainly was for me.
Before I dive into my experience, I want to state the obvious - alcohol isn’t healthy. At this point, it’s no secret that alcohol is completely void of health benefits. Some people will continue pulling at straws to argue otherwise, likely in an attempt to justify their behavior. But the data is clear that this argument holds no weight.
I’m not going to delve into the laundry list of potential negative mental and physical health effects of drinking. If you want to learn about this topic in detail, I suggest listening to Andrew Humberman’s podcast episode in which he explains them with great depth. Alcohol is a toxin, and by drinking it, you’re willingly putting a toxic substance into your body. Can you drink alcohol and still be healthy? If done in moderation, yes. However, drinking certainly won't improve your health, and anything beyond moderation (which is a lot less than most people think) becomes deleterious to physical and mental health.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the things I've experienced.
Since quitting drinking, my mental health has improved dramatically. I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my adult life, and it wasn’t until I quit drinking altogether that I realized that a life with less anxiety was possible.
Do I still feel anxious from time to time? Yes. I think that’s just the way I’m wired. I put immense pressure on myself to achieve, and because of this, anxiety is sometimes in the picture. The early stages of running your own business is simply not possible without periodic anxiety (if you care about it being successful, at least). Combine that with the fact I exited the military in April of this year, and I wouldn't expect smooth sailing 100% of the time. But feelings of anxiety occur drastically less frequently and are easier to navigate now than they were while I was drinking.
I can remember certain times following a big weekend bender where I’d experience crippling anxiety. I wouldn’t sleep well for several days after, and my thoughts would race, seemingly uncontrollably. I’ve been lucky enough to never experience anxiety to the point where I shut down and couldn’t function, but it still made day to day life a lot more difficult.
I spent the majority of my 20s smashing goals and operating in the military at a high level. But underneath the surface, these thoughts were real. Many people turn to alcohol as a primary means to calm their anxiety, and it works well for this…temporarily. When you drink, you’re sacrificing current anxiety for future, exponentially more pronounced anxiety. I experienced this regularly.
The irony is, once I stopped drinking for long enough, the episodes of anxiety became far less frequent and far less intense, and were thus far more manageable. I didn’t even realize how much self-inflicted anxiety I was experiencing until I stopped. Through deep introspection and a constant effort to learn more about mental health, I've come to realize the main causes of my anxiety were either something I was putting off, or something in which I had to perform well or accomplish despite having prepared insufficiently.
Before, because I also had less overall motivation due to drinking, instead of taking action to alleviate my anxiety, I would often drink and put off the anxious feelings for a future me. This is a vicious cycle, and for me, it was only alleviated after an extended period of sobriety. Now, whenever anxiety lurks, instead of reaching for a temporary fix, I take aggressive action to alleviate these feelings.
Thinking clearly is one of the best feelings in the world. The ability to formulate thoughts into words (spoken or written), make difficult decisions, be creative, and think critically is something most of us have experienced, yet many of us don’t experience on a regular basis. When I was drinking, I could never fully count on my ability to think with extreme clarity when needed. My mental clarity was impaired more often when I was drinking regularly, whether it was directly due to being under the influence, or the after effects thereof.
The biggest difference I experience now is that I can rely on being sharp when I need to be, rather than being pleasantly surprised when a day of clear thinking presents itself. This has been paramount to my success as an entrepreneur.
Most people understand that while under the influence, their mental acuity will be impaired. But until you abstain from drinking for a longer period of time, you don’t realize just how impaired you were regularly as a result of the after effects of drinking. I’m not claiming to feel sharp or "in the zone" 100% of the time after over a year of sobriety, but it’s something I can count on with a lot more confidence.
I used to be notorious for training harder while hungover than most people could imagine training in perfect conditions. The following 3 workouts were my go-tos on Saturday morning after a Friday evening (into the wee morning hours) out on the town:
-Half marathon run, culminating at my car located at the bar I had left it the night prior (I was always anti drinking and driving, at least)
-10-12 mile ruck run on the trails at Fort Bragg
-25-30 150 meter hill repeats on a hill not far from my barracks room, or in the neighborhood of a friend’s house at which I commonly crashed on weekends
I truly believe two of the main reasons I didn’t stop drinking sooner was that I could still get up and train hard the next day, and that I could still maintain sub 10% body fat year round. My performance in physical events was always among the top of my peer group.
For example, I won an upper body round robin (UBRR) in language school which resulted in my receiving the “Physical Fitness Award” at Q-course graduation. This occurred on the heels of a weekend traveling to Tampa Florida to party with one of my childhood friends who lived there. Literally, it was Tuesday after a 4-day weekend and I had been intoxicated from Friday when I arrived in Tampa till Monday when I returned back to Bragg. One “sleep” and into the test.
This would continue for years. I continued drinking because I didn’t feel that it negatively affected my physical performance, which was always the thing I took the most pride in.
Although I don't remember exactly when I realized that this lifestyle couldn’t continue, I do know it was sometime around 30 when I started to wake up hungover and really have to drag myself to train. When I did, I found my performance in these training sessions worsening. Eventually, I reached a point where I’d plan my rest days around my drinking, because I just couldn’t “hang” like I used to be able to. This too went on for a couple years before I completely stopped drinking.
Although I’ve always had a deep passion for training, there were plenty of times that, as a result of excessive drinking, the willpower required to accomplish a training session was immense. I still did it, but eventually found myself realizing there was another option - to stop putting myself in these situations.
I’ll never know what I could’ve been capable of had I been more reasonable and moderate with my drinking throughout my 20s, which is unfortunate. I wore my ability to drink heavily and perform at a high level as a badge of honor, which is something I chalk up to my ignorance and immaturity.
Either way, now that I don’t have to contend with planning my training around when I’ll be feeling good or when I’ll be hungover, life is a lot more predictable. Although I’m not still not highly motivated to train 100% of the time, and I don’t suffer through grueling (excessive) training sessions the same way I used to, the resistance I feel when deciding to train is far lower than it would be on a Monday morning after my typical weekend bender. My recovery is far better. Not only as a direct result of alcohol’s detrimental effects on recovery, but also its effects on sleep.
I used to think I sucked at sleeping. Few things are more embarrassing to me than how long it took me to realize that I was completely responsible for the fact I sucked at sleeping. Sadly, many people go about life this way, oftentimes unwittingly. When you treat the most important thing you do every day as an afterthought or a minor inconvenience, you’re probably going to struggle with it.
Even before I stopped drinking, I began focusing more on sleep and experiencing some improvement. But it wasn’t until I quit altogether that I could truly say I made sleep a priority. In my opinion, it’s impossible to say you fully prioritize sleep if you drink alcohol. That’s like saying I prioritize lung health, but I smoke the occasional cigarette. It just doesn't add up. Alcohol, even in small amounts, will negatively affect your sleep.
In slightly larger amounts, it’ll negatively effect sleep not just on the night you consume it, but in the following nights as well. If you drink several nights per week, it’s impossible to reap the benefits of consistent quality sleep. To see objective data on the many positive effects drinking cessation has had on my sleep, I took a deep dive on my Garmin stats and was absolutely blown away by what I saw:
Avg. From 2018-2022:
Total sleep: 7H 39M
REM Sleep: 1H 16M
Deep sleep: 44 minutes
Avg From November of 22 (stopped drinking)-present:
Total Sleep: 7H 46M (+7 min/night)
REM Sleep: 1H 44M (+28 min/night)
Deep Sleep: 1H 36M (+52 min/night)
- I’ve certainly implemented other habits that have played a role in improving sleep aside from quitting the booze. This isn't the only thing, but has played a big role nonetheless.
- Garmin isn’t the most accurate device for sleep tracking, but it’s consistent and I believe it to be sufficient for showing trends
Regardless, there’s no question my prior drinking habits played a role in the fact that I was shorting myself on almost 1 hour of deep sleep every night for 4 years (surely longer, but I was inconsistent with wearing it nightly until 2018) DESPITE averaging only 7 fewer minutes of total sleep.
Acute alcohol use typically affects REM sleep more than deep sleep, but in my experience, long term use affected my deep sleep the nights following excessive drinking, hence my averages showing more drastic changes in deep sleep stats. In any case, I truly believe that many of the effects listed above stem not just directly from drinking less, but also indirectly as a result of sleeping more.
The social aspect of quitting drinking is oftentimes the last straw preventing people from truly quitting. And believe me, I was worried about this as well. Almost every time I was in a social setting, there was alcohol involved. Many of my buddies were also my drinking buddies.
However, I was and still am pleasantly surprised by the reaction (or lack thereof) I’ve seen from all of my friends. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with great people, and I can honestly say that not once have I received any sort of pressure or questioning from a single friend or loved one about my decision to remain sober.
I firmly believe that if you truly have good friends, they will fully support whatever it is you decide to do in life, even if that means ordering sparkling water instead of a beer or vodka soda on a night out. Good friends want what’s best for you. Fake friends tell you they want what's best for you, so long as you’re not doing better than them.
Although thinking you’re better than someone else because you decide not to drink is a mindset to avoid, some people may perceive you to feel that way. It’s not uncommon for a “friend” to try and persuade you to drink with them or harass you for abstaining in an effort to make themselves feel better. Although I haven’t experienced this personally, others commonly lose friends over this decision.
But again, if this does happen, it’s important to remind yourself of the difference between a true friend and a fake friend. The decision to quit drinking is very telling, in that you’ll be able to differentiate between true friends and “drinking buddies”.
Alcohol has become such a widely accepted social lubricant that if someone doesn’t drink, those around them assume they have a problem. Not drinking while everyone else is drinking is commonly looked down upon. This is especially the case when a former drinker decides to stop.
I’ve personally observed this phenomenon changing over the recent years, however. People are starting to catch on to what I finally caught onto last year. If the only reason you still drink is that you’re worried about what your friends will think or say if you stop, I empathize with you.
But if you do decide to take a break, my best advice is this; no one likes a self righteous attitude. Avoid this approach at all costs. Many people will quit drinking and immediately try to convince others around them to stop. Although usually unintentional, this behavior often results in making those that choose to still drink feel bad about their decision.
Just stay quiet about it. When asked, just tell them you’ve made a personal choice to not drink anymore. Worst case scenario, you may get some more questioning, or perhaps an “oh, you’re too good for us” remark here and there. But most likely, no one will mention it again. In some cases, a friend or loved one may ask you more about your decision and show genuine interest. This is a perfect opportunity to tell them about some of the reasons behind your decision and the various benefits you’ve noticed since quitting. I can’t emphasize this point enough - only talk more about it when asked.
Another common concern for staying sober in social situations in which you’ve always consumed alcohol in the past is that you won’t enjoy them as much, or you won’t be as enjoyable to be around. I’d be lying to you if I said this wasn’t something I worried about at first. I’m an introverted person, and I used alcohol as a means of being more social and talkative in nearly every social situation.
I don’t consider myself an awkward or low-confidence person, and having spent years in an SF team room, my interpersonal skills weren't severely lacking by any means. But the first few times I connected with friends without the aid of alcohol, it was certainly a different experience. But being able to conduct myself in social situations without drinking has been one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had thus far. It’s forced me to not rely on a substance in order to be personable and enjoy myself. When you’re extraverted, socialization comes naturally. You become more energized through social connection. When you’re an introvert like I am, it takes more work.
I’ve learned over the last year many ways to improve my interpersonal skills, as well as feel more socially comfortable despite not drinking. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, and most importantly, practiced what I’ve learned any time I’m in a social setting. It has been valuable and fulfilling to learn that I can indeed be myself without the aid of liquid courage.
It has also been an interesting perspective shift for me to see others becoming more inebriated throughout the evening while I sip on my “virgin” drink. But I find peace of mind knowing that I’m going to sleep a lot better that night and wake up feeling great the next morning, unlike my former drinking self.
It has been and will continue to be a great learning experience for me to prove to myself I can be social without booze. I’ve learned to be confident in myself without relying on the relaxing effects of alcohol. I’ve received a lot more value from social situations while unimpaired because I no longer forget things or say things I wouldn't typically say. I’ve learned that I’m not someone who needs a drug or substance in order to conduct myself, which is a very freeing feeling. The social aspect of drinking cessation may be a big struggle for a lot of people. But I can assure you that it gets easier over time if you stick to your guns and put the work in.
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention any drawbacks of quitting alcohol. I’m a pretty transparent individual, and I wouldn’t claim that I haven’t experienced any downsides unless it was actually the case. The first couple of weeks off the sauce were difficult. There were certainly days I had to exercise willpower in order to abstain. But in my personal experience, it’s gotten easier and easier over time (many others will say the same). I can honestly say that with each day that passes, I have less and less desire to drink.
Again, my goal with this article wasn’t to preach or judge. I have a lot of friends and loved ones that still drink, and I don’t think any less of them. If I had just one challenge for you, it would be this; if you’re someone who drinks regularly, try taking a month off from it. See how you feel. A month may not quite be enough time to completely detach from alcohol for some, but it’s enough time to really experience the positive benefits of sobriety.
If nothing else, you’ll go back to drinking with a bit more awareness than you had before. Maybe you’ll learn some things about yourself, or perhaps realize you were relying on alcohol more than you had previously thought. In many cases, a month off from booze will turn into more time. Some people do “Sober January” and never drink again. But I urge you to not feel like you need to wait till an arbitrary date. You can start your month now if you’d like.
Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope you’ve learned at least one thing from having read this article about my experience. Alcohol consumption isn’t healthy, but can be part of an overall healthy lifestyle when used responsibly and in moderation. I’ve just found that complete elimination is the best for me right now, mentally, physically, cognitively and emotionally.
Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, or anything regarding drinking. Feel free to comment below!