Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs

There are a couple of people in the thread who asked this, so I’ll just use Thomas Hewlett’s question to represent them:

You’ve mentioned several times that you don’t drink alcohol. I do a lot of work with addiction/recovery and I’m wondering about your relationship to alcohol and drugs and what led to your decision to not drink. Or is this simply a case of “that stuff doesn’t taste good”?

It’s true: I don’t drink alcohol except in very rare circumstances (like, half a glass of champagne at my wedding), I’ve never smoked cigarettes, I’ve never taken an illegal drug, and outside of Novocaine at the dentist’s office, I’m generally reluctant to take legal drugs either; my wife always expresses surprise if I go to the medicine cabinet for ibuprofen, for example.  So what’s the story there?

Well, to begin, and initially the reason I avoided the stuff, my family has really bad addiction issues. I’m a child of alcoholics and drug users, and I’ve seen first hand what the stuff can do to people whose brains are wired to leap out of their seats when drugs are around, not only in family members but in the people who were around my family. Many of the people I knew growing up were either struggling with addiction, or trying to get clean, or dealing with the shitshow of a life that is crawling out of the hole that addiction puts you in. All of which reinforced the idea for me early on that this was not what I wanted for my life, or in my life.

This did mean when I was younger I could be pretty humorless about alcohol and drugs. When I was a little kid I was convinced a single beer or puff from a joint would put you on the fast track to being (in the words of South Park) homeless on the streets giving handjobs for crack, and I would sometimes freak out about it. I got better about this as I got older and learned that not everyone had the same addiction problems as I saw in the people around me (this is where I note that for a large part of my childhood my mother was active in the Alcoholics Anonymous community, so I really was surrounded by addicts, albeit ones trying to get and stay clean). But, yeah, as a kid I was definitely not cool with a beer and a joint. I figured it meant you were doomed. Dooooooooomed.

On a personal level, the residual effect of that childhood paranoia manifests itself with a continued personal lack of interest in alcohol or drugs. I’m no longer paranoid that a single shot of hard liquor or a toke would turn me into an uncontrollable gibbering addict, but on the other hand given my family’s inarguable problems with the stuff I don’t feel the need to play the odds, either. I’m not foolish enough to think I don’t have all the features of an addictive personality, nor am I foolish enough to believe that age and understanding will have much compensatory effect against my body’s physical desire for addictive stuff. All in all, best to leave the stuff alone. There are other things to keep me occupied.

When I was younger, there were some people who were amazed that I didn’t drink or do drugs. “Aren’t you curious?” was a question I got a lot (answer: No, because I’d seen enough of it in my life, thanks), sometimes followed by the person, almost always a dude, who would be all “Dude, I’m totally getting you drunk tonight!” because he thought he was doing me a favor my making me relax through alcohol. It didn’t work since someone trying to get me drunk made rather more tense (this sort of thing was almost always about alcohol, I’d note. People smoking pot would offer you the joint, but if you didn’t want it, they were always “cool, whatever” and off it would go to the next person).

Occasionally when I was younger someone would get offended that I didn’t drink, because they thought I was judging them for drinking. Well, when I was a kid, sure, I’d do that. By the time I was drinking age, I didn’t care what other people were doing with their bodies, unless it was directly affecting me. Which is the way I feel today. I don’t drink; I’m fine if you do.

Nowadays, at age 46, no one is in the least offended that, or usually even curious about why, I don’t drink or do drugs. At this age, everyone knows people who stopped drinking or doing drugs, because they are in recovery. No one blames them for it, because everyone knows someone whose life got righteously screwed up because of substance abuse issues. If not drinking or doing drugs is what it takes for you not to have a messed-up life, good on ya. I do assume at this point that most people who notice that I don’t drink or do drugs assume I have some substance abuse history. Well, it’s true, I do; just not mine. I also don’t mind if people assume I’m in recovery. It’s not correct, but it’s not an insult, and if someone is judgey about people in recovery, then they’re the asshole.

(This is the point where I will note that I know a lot of contemporaries in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and they have nothing but my respect and admiration. Recovery is hard, man. Admitting you have a problem is hard. Quitting a thing your body is crying for is hard. Making amends to the people you hurt is hard. Staying on the recovery path each day, every day, is hard. Part of the reason I never started drugs or alcohol is that I saw close up at an early age how fucking hard recovery is. I’m not entirely sure I could do it. Given what the alternative to recovery is, that’s not good. So, yes: People in recovery? You rock, I salute you. Keep on keeping on.)

At this age there are other reasons I don’t drink or do drugs. In the subject of alcohol, first off, I’m cheap, and alcohol is expensive and I don’t understand how people just throw their money down that particular hole (to be fair, I feel this way about Starbucks, too). Second, alcohol has calories and as a middle-aged dude who already weighs more than he likes, I don’t see why I should add to my woes in this regard. Third, given what I know about myself in terms of where I make conscious efforts to inhibit my behavior, I’m pretty sure I’d be a raging asshole when I’m drunk. You know that thing I wrote once, about how the failure mode of clever is asshole? It’s not just a pithy statement. It’s a reminder to me of my own failings. I expect that were I drunk, I’d try to be clever all the time, and would fail.

With drugs, well. I’ve never been a fan of the recreational use of pot, since that shit stinks like wet dogfarts and causes jam bands, neither of which fill me with joy. Pretty much all the other recreational drugs that exist out there just seem like a fast track to either being an asshole and/or losing a bunch of your teeth in one terrible fashion or another. The exception here seems to be psychedelics, which I worry that if I took would cause me to freak out more than I would like, which means that such a freakout would likely be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally with both drugs and alcohol, at the end of the day I like being in control of my own self, as much as I can be, because I’m responsible for my actions and my self. Given what I know of myself and my likely addiction issues, drugs and alcohol would make it harder for me to be in control of myself. This would make me very unhappy, and that in itself would have a number of unpleasant knock-on effects.

All told: Drugs and alcohol are not for me, thanks.

But if they’re for you — and you’re not swimming in addiction issues (in which case please seek help), and you’re not bothering anyone else with your fun (and if you are, stop being an asshole) — then that’s great, and enjoy yourself. Anyone who’s seen me at a convention knows my natural habitat there is in the bar, hanging out and laughing with people. I wouldn’t be there if I was spending my time pursing my lips in disapproval at people loosening up through judicious use of booze. I am a lifetime designated driver, and I’m cool with that, too; I like making sure people get home safe.

I’m not a pot enthusiast, but generally speaking I’m for its legalization, and while I’m less sure about blanket legalization for other currently not legal drugs, the more I look at the mess that is the US response to drugs, the more I lean toward the general libertarian idea of “legalize it all, tax the shit out of it,” with a substantial chunk of that tax earmarked for treatment of addiction (rather than, say, incarceration, which is what we have now and which isn’t working particularly well as far as I can see). My personal prohibition against any of this stuff should not imply one for everyone else.

But yeah, for me, prohibition it is. The good news is, so far, my life has done okay without drugs and alcohol. They’re not things I feel a lack of.

78 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs

  1. I don’t have a particular family history of drug abuse or alcoholism, but other than that I am mostly the same with drugs and alcohol — was pretty strongly against them for everyone as a kid/teen, still just against them for myself in my mid 40s. (I have been drunk a couple of times, so I have empirical evidence that I don’t really like it, also beer tastes gross.)

  2. > Finally with both drugs and alcohol, at the end of the day I like being in control of my own self, as much as I can be, because I’m responsible for my actions and my self.

    Yup. That’s the one that keeps me away from that stuff.

    Plus, you know, existential crisis. You are your brain. Ergo, something that makes your brain work differently makes you (at least temporarily) _not you_. And yet, you’re still going to have to be legally/morally responsible for whatever choices that not-you makes while high or drunk (as is proper, since sober-you was the one making the choice to get wasted in the first place).

    But anyway, it’s hard enough being responsible for the choices of my own genuine self without also taking on responsibility for the choices of some other asshole whose choices I can’t even predict.

  3. Very nice. I haven’t read your post on the failure mode of clever being asshole, but that seems completely on point. Also think there’s a lot to knowing yourself well enough to knowing that might be problematic for you. Great post, will have to share it.

  4. This is all entirely reasonable, although some part of me was hoping that this would be an extended whine that no one was hooking him up with “the really good stuff, man.”

  5. When my daughter was in middle school and high school, she routinely ran into this narrative in Health Class: “every adult you know has smoked tobacco/smoked pot/done drugs, even your parents. if they say they haven’t, they are lying.”

    Which annoyed the heck out of her because I haven’t. I have drunk alcohol–more when I was in college, though not a lot by most people’s standards, and less and little when I became a working person. In an average year, I might go through 2 six-packs of beer a year at home (usually I drink about half a bottle and wind up pouring the rest down a drain) and have maybe another half-dozen drinks at social occasions, and usually it’s 1 six-pack.

    But I’ve never smoked, either tobacco or marijuana, and I’ve never done any illegal drugs, even though I was working in publishing in the heyday of cocaine use in the industry, when it really did seem like _everyone_ was taking/using something or other.

    And I told my daughter all of this. Which meant that her peers–and even her teachers–would respond in an accusatory fashion when she contradicted the “everyone has done drugs” statements. Either she was lying, or I was and she was a fool for believing me.

    I personally think the fact that I hadn’t done drugs/smoked anything made it easier for her to not indulge herself. At least, as far as I know, she hasn’t indulged yet, though she’s off in college so who knows? (But I think she’d tell me, because she tells me about drinking alcohol, which she does a fair amount, being in college in a country where the legal drinking age is 18.)

    The accepted cultural narrative can be really bothersome at times.

  6. I’m the exact same way. Teetotal all the way. My family history is also filled with people with substance abuse so I learned growing up it just wasn’t worth the trouble. I also don’t like the taste of the stuff. Beer tastes what I imagine sweaty balls taste like. Wine tastes vile to me. I just don’t see the point of drinking yourself stupid and making yourself feel sick. I don’t like being sick so avoid it whenever possible. I’m for legalization of ‘soft’ drugs but I’d never use them, if you want to, that’s fine just leave me alone (I’m more judgemental though, so if you do, I’ll be judging you and thinking you weak). I’m high on life man.

  7. As a non-drinker, I’ve always been kind of reluctant to hang out in bars, because I have only the vaguest understanding of bar etiquette, and it seems in bad taste to take up space without spending money. Could you go into a bit of detail regarding the proper bar etiquette for people who don’t buy drinks? (I know I can get a ginger ale or something, but then five minutes later I’ve drunk my ginger ale, awkward feeling returns. I imagine if I hung out in bars more I would get an instinctive understanding of how to comport myself, but the whole “going through a lengthy awkward phase of not knowing the rules in order to get an instinctive understanding of the rules” in general translates for me to “gaaaahhhh, I think I’ll read a book in my room instead”.)

  8. I’ve had a similar trajectory in thinking. My family has a corral-full of addicts, most of whom did not want help and refused to try to get clean, resulting in my learning about death from addiction pretty early on in life. As a kid, that translated to: try drugs, die from drugs. Therefore anyone who was even curious was DOOMED. I’d seen relatively responsible behavior modeled with drinking but also totally irresponsible behavior and came out the other side thinking I don’t care if someone drinks in moderation but I’m way too old to be picking up after party-hard drinkers. Especially after one or two fools ended up in the ER because they simply couldn’t stop after a few drinks.

    At this point, if you’re not hurting anyone and have your life together, do as ye will. Personally, I don’t need any curiosity whatsoever, especially since I’ve had to use a gamut of legal drugs to help alleviate chronic, crippling, pain and they’re no fun at all. The side effects alone more than negate any possible benefit, IME. Self-selected prohibition FTW!

  9. I have never read someone write about their experience as a non-drinker/non-drug user in a way that so closely matches my own. Thank you for this, you just made me feel less alone and less strange.

  10. In my case my parents were both great examples of responsible drinking (they only drank if we went out to a restaurant or beers on family get togethers like the Fourth of July) but I drank the DARE Kool-Aid. So that prejudiced me against even experimenting. As I got older and moved beyond the knee-jerk reaction I decided I preferred to stay in control of my faculties (I also noticed that I find the smell of ethanol overpowering in an unpleasant way, so I only use alcohol in cooking).

  11. John, a follow up question, if you don’t mind. My husband’s family has a similar history of addiction, particularly with alcohol, and my husband has a mindset similar to yours about why he does not drink. With addiction running in families, how, if at all, have you discussed the family history of addiction and what was your advice to her? We have three young daughters, and I know it will be a conversation we’ll need to have with them in the next 6-8 years.

  12. Sorry, that should have been, “how, if at all, have you discussed the family history of addiction with Athena, and what was your advice to her?”

  13. I blew my twenties on knocking back whatever was thrown at me (I never had the worst of times from it but I think of that time I could have been writing instead and wince. I guess I had to take the long road).
    The thing that strikes me most though, looking back, is how much I was looking for a weird sort of normality. People treated me like I was a regular person when they were wasted. Sober, they’d be like ‘man, you’re weird’, which I now realise was usually said with affection but at the time rather isolated my twenties self. I have to wonder if that’s a lot of people’s rationale. Once I’d come to terms that I’d always be an eccentric sort of fish, my life levelled out the way I wanted it. Pretty proud of my weirdness in fact, such as it is. I’m a lot more comfortable with people in my thirties.
    Thanks for this post, John. Really good.

  14. Steven desJardins, drink your ginger ale more slowly. You’re there to hang out with folks (presumably), not to quench your thirst. Buy another ginger ale at roughly the same rate as your companions (or people sitting near you) are getting another beverage–or a faster or slower rate, doesn’t have to be marching in lock step with them. Personal disclaimer: I drink alcoholic beverages at bars but verrrry slooooowly, typically one beer or cocktail to an ordinary recreational drinker’s two, and one is often my limit and then I may switch to ginger ale. And if the bar sells or gives away snacks, I find that eating some snacks make me appreciate that second or third beverage when I do get around to it. I don’t get stink-eye from bartenders or fellow bar patrons for not ordering “enough.”

    Now if you’re in a crazy busy bar with a lot of people standing and you’re taking up a bar stool and not actively socializing with the folks near you, it’s probably good manners to give up the seat sooner rather than later, but it won’t be personal and it won’t be about whether you’re drinking alcohol or ginger ale. Mostly nobody cares.

  15. 100% yes! As a child I also extended that to coffee as I saw what headaches people got without it and I vowed never to give anything that kind of control over my life. Still haven’t done any of them.
    Melissa Ann Singer: I hate that party line as well. “Everyone does it. All kids will.” ugh.

  16. (this sort of thing was almost always about alcohol, I’d note. People smoking pot would offer you the joint, but if you didn’t want it, they were always “cool, whatever” and off it would go to the next person).

    So very much this. When I quit smoking pot in HS, no one said boo. They just passed me by.
    And more importantly, I didnt care that they were smoking. Never worried about being around smokers.

    Drinkers, esp in HS and College, yup, we were all insane and dangerous.
    As a society, we would be so much better off by reversing the usage of these two drugs.

  17. Ditto here on the family history too. But I think I agree more on the whole expense issue. I know I am a cheap bastard. There is nothing better than the chuckle of standing in the parking lot of my favorite convenience store drinking my $1.69 large cup of coffee ten feet away from the fifteen car line to the drive thru of Starbucks.
    Dave

  18. Thanks for a well thought out response. I drink (but gave it up for Lent) but I have control of drink, not vice versa. I used to smoke and Holy God that was tough to give up.

  19. this reads pretty true to my own view of things.

    i rather like being in control of my own self, and i can’t shake the feeling that if i needed alcohol to relax, or get inspired, or whatever, that i was cheating – the true solution being to solve that puzzle with my sober mind.
    sometimes, solving the puzzle means recognising that i don’t actually need to solve anything, just stop thinking of my state of being as the starting point and of the accepted normal as the successful end, with a puzzle in between. sometimes it means having to get to the bottom of things instead of temporarily feigning the symptoms of having solved it.
    add to that having to deal with an illness brought on by trying to solve too many puzzles i didn’t need to solve, and now being on autoimmune medication 24/7, there’s another reason for no alcohol.

    and being the designated driver is just the best thing when you enjoy driving.

  20. Thanks for this post. I joined AA at 30, and for those who ask “Isn’t it a cult?” I answer Yeah, so? My life is a million percent better. And it’s the only cult that won’t take your money unless you join, and they want you to become their leader so you can tell them how to do it right.

    When my daughter was 15, I asked her if she’d every smoked pot, and she cagily replied “What would you say if I said Yes?” I found myself giving this unplanned response: When I was your age, I smoked pot for the first time and it was the best thing in my life. You might like it, but I don’t think it will be the best thing in your life.

    I’m not too worried about my kid, but the fact is that there are a lot of habit-forming recreational and medically indicated substances out there, and some really smart people have gotten in trouble. Caution is only reasonable.

  21. I was not a drinker in my college years, primarily due to the fact that when I *did* drink, I’d become a morose, grumpy bastard. I later realized that it wasn’t the alcohol that did that to me; it just ‘turned up the volume’ of what I was feeling at the time. That, and most of the 90s weren’t all that fun of a time for me. I avoided alcohol unless I was in a much more positive mood. [I found out MUCH later that this kind of physical/emotional response ran in the family as well.]

  22. TLDR version: Generally don’t see the appeal or have the need, but fortunately not from a family struggling with additions. Once I finished college, the people I hang were never all that interested in drinking or getting high either so it’s never been all that much of an issue for me.

    @Steven desJardins: I have the same problem in bars, only worse. I don’t really like soft drinks, either, and rarely drink anything except water. I really feel funny just asking for a glass of water.

  23. I grew up in a family with no substance use (no coffee, either, and no, we were not Mormon). In college I tried smoking and realized I’d be addicted in no time and stopped before all my savings would go up in tobacco smoke. I tried drinking, too, and decided hangovers were to be avoided at all costs. Now I drink a great deal of coffee and have some wine now and again. But I still have never tried any drugs ever. When my son asked me about marijuana when he was a young teenager, I just repeated the line my father gave me “Drugs make you stupid” (Perhaps I should have said drugs make you do stupid things, but, as a parent, you end up using your own parents’ words fairly quickly, I’ve realized.)
    His experience and mine regarding those who smoke weed was pretty much the same. Cool if you did, cool if you didn’t.
    So now I live in a state where pot was made legal and nothing changed. Because those who smoked continued and those who didn’t still didn’t. But the state coffers are now much fuller than they used to be. I agree incarceration as a drug treatment plan is a huge waste of taxpayer money.
    And that whole heath class line “Everybody did it and if your parents didn’t, they’re lying” Well, that’s just factually incorrect. I hang with a great number of scientist types who’ve never done drugs. I’ve gotten less judgy about drug use, though, as I got older, but still hope that my kids end up avoiding drugs all their lives. Because a brain is a terrible thing to get wasted. It’s kind of nice to see all these other folks here who also have never tried drugs and had no desire ever to try. I embraced my weirdness, too, yay for us.

  24. Thx for this john. You’ve always inspired me with your blogs and books.

    I’m addicted to alcohol, but not why most ppl think.

    I have a mostly well-managed mental condition that involves hallucinations in the olfactory, visual, & hearing realms. I have a good support system thankfully. Unfortunately thus far, the only thing that makes the hallucinations stop so I can sleep is alcohol. Have tried every drug in the book. No joy.

    Anyway, while I wish I could quit, sometimes I believe at this point in my life, it’s a choice between quality of life or a shortened life full of terror.

    Not looking for a shoulder or attention, just wanted you to know i’m thankful for you and your books that help me go “somewhere else” when my mind doesn’t cooperate.

    Much love…

  25. I think what strikes me most about this post is your very clear compassion for addicts, your recognition that there is a genetic component to addiction (along with conscious choices, to be clear), and your respect and appreciation for those who are in recovery. That is honestly rare to find in someone who has always been sober/clean, so much so that it brought me close to tears.

    I’m greatly blessed by having drawn a lucky straw in the genetics lottery. My birth family lacked the addictive tendencies that yours had, and while I enjoy wine and beer, I am perfectly happy living without them both (also happy to do without the illicit stuff).

    Others in my family of choice are not as fortunate. The experience of watching someone I love grapple with the consequences of substance abuse, whether legal or otherwise, is a heart-wrenching one, and it colors my interactions with family members on a near-daily basis. Your description of what it was like growing up and witnessing the catastrophic impact of addiction at first hand really resonates with me, and I deeply appreciate the reminder to keep compassion and respect at the forefront of my awareness in dealing with struggling family members, both those in denial and those in recovery.

    Thanks.

  26. Dsayko:

    I of course told Athena about the family history with drugs and alcohol and gave her my recommendations for her, which she was free to heed or ignore. Along with those recommendations was the notice that no matter what, if there was ever a time she was out and about and was in over her head, regardless of circumstance, she could call us and we would come get her, no questions asked. We would rather she be safe, and feel that we wanted her safety to be the most important thing, than to feel we would be angry with her.

    How Athena took all that information is her own story to tell, which she will tell, or not, at a time of her own choosing.

  27. Thanks for your candid response, John! As someone who has been on the other side of every one of your experiences (yes, even the a**hole “encouraging” you to drink…), it’s always enlightening to hear what normal/healthy sounds like from the inside.

    I meet a lot of addicts who have found a new strength in recovery but I wish they could’ve gotten there a safer way. Addiction is a tornado running through my family and waaaaay to many other families. I’m grateful it hasn’t touched down in your life.

  28. I am also somebody who has never drunk alcohol or done recreational drugs. For me, it is also very much an issue of control and a fear that I have an addictive personality that would make me lose control if I started. (It doesn’t hurt that on those rare occasions when I have tried alcohol, I have found it to be a vile substance.) When people ask me about this, I usually say, “My brain is already a wonderfully strange funhouse – I wouldn’t want to do anything to change that, because it could only make me and my life boring!” (True: my worst fear is that changing my brain chemistry through the use of drugs, including alcohol, would change my writing, and I’m already very happy with what I write.)

    Thank you for articulating the response of some drinkers: I have had “friends” who would say things like, “I’m going to pour a little vodka into your soda one day just to see what will happen.” After a while, I realized that drinkers often think that people who do not drink are judging them as weak or otherwise lacking something; I have also often had to say: “My not drinking has nothing to do with you and is certainly not a judgment on your drinking – it is simply a choice I have decided to make with my life.” (FWIW: a friend of mine who was recovering from multiple addictions once told me that addicts often encourage people around them to join them in their addiction as a way of “normalizing” their behaviour.)

    Great post. Thanks for this.

  29. When I retired from the Navy, I went back to college for a second degree. I was working on a Business Admin degree, and something my Economics 301 professor said struck me as logical. We have all of these laws that prohibit this, or prohibit that, because of whatever reason and restrict the supply of these things. The Great Experiment also known as Prohibition, showed that people are going to get whatever they want, despite the laws that prohibit those things. For example, during Prohibition, the Mayor of Detroit was busted in a speakeasy one night, it was no secret where the booze was coming from or through, or who controlled it. Look at the mess it made of Chicago with the warring gangs. (But then, by and large, those gangs confined their warring to each other and didn’t involve citizens.) Anyway, Professor says, “Lower the demand, not the supply. Lowering the supply just drives the price up, creates conflicts between suppliers, and there’s no regulation.” You’re probably right that if it were legal and taxed heavily, it might make the supply a better quality, but as with anything that’s too heavily taxed, a black market that undercuts the open market would crop up. Just like moonshiners….
    My parents had a liquor locker of sorts. They drank one drink apiece on Christmas Eve and another on New Year’s Eve, and then put the stuff away until the next year. I will admit I drink more than either of my parents (or both put together), but when I want to, not because I’m addicted, or that I feel I need to drink. My ex-wife’s ex-husband (not me) was an alcoholic, I saw what it did to her, even so far as affecting her career because of her then-husband’s behavior. I see it in people I know and like, but since they’re adults, they have to be given the freedom to live their lives as they see fit, until they reach the point where their addiction is causing harm to others, such as their family…..

  30. I did LSD twice. The first time was a mind blowing experience, the second time I blacked out, waking up naked in my neighbors yard. That’s when I said, “Never again”. I hate the taste of beer and only drink wine very rarely.

    With my daughter my wife and I were much the same way as Scalzi: I gave her my recommendations and reasons why then let her decide. She is also feel to call us if she needs our help, anytime, any day, without judgement. This actually happened once and we kept our word. She never did drugs or drank again.

  31. I usually drag out terminology from the Prohibition era and describe myself as a moderate dry — I don’t drink alcohol, but I don’t have a problem with responsible use of alcohol by others. I just happen to think the stuff tastes and smells awful; my aunt used one can of beer to cook a ham once, and after the first bite I was looking for the mold that *had* to be present on the meat.

    I’ll take OTC meds, but I have to be careful with them. For some reason, the side effects tend to hit me hard. If I take a cold tablet for anything less than total sinus blockage, I’m jittery all day. Recreational drugs simply aren’t a temptation.

    Now, if chocolate ever lands on the controlled substances list, I’m in big trouble. ;)

  32. I’ve got the best excuse for not drinking ever: I have gout, and drinking exacerbates it. Just one drink would be enough for me to wake up the next morning with stabbing pains in my feet severe enough that I’d have a hard time walking. I’m OK as long as I take my medicine and avoid alcohol, though.

    But now I can just tell people, “I can’t drink. Gout, you know.” They’ll generally nod sympathetically and not bother me again as I sip my Diet Coke (or Coke Zero by preference, but it’s rare that bars will have it).

  33. Interesting perspective – drinking or not drinking, either is fine by me.

    The brother of a woman I dated was an ex-heroin (and other things) addict. He basically said “I drink to get drunk, you drink because you enjoy the taste – that’s the difference” – i.e. for him, drinking was a means to an end, for me (and his sister) it was more for taste than the effect.

    My parents and their friends were social drinkers as I was growing up, sometimes people got very drunk, but they seemed to have a pretty chill group of friends, so no-one in the group was a raging asshole, either drunk or sober. They really liked good wine, so I drank that from a pretty early age, which basically put me off drinking crap booze before I could legally drink. I think there is less emphasis on spirits in the UK, or at least there was, and beer was usually under 4.2%, so less strong than the current mega-beers that are prevalent out here on the West coast. I do drink most weekends, but as I get older, tend not to drink in the week, and very rarely neat spirits. Though the tequila festival in Tijuana is awesome – a big family event (seriously, in the US it’d be wall to wall drunk bro-dudes, but there it’s families, folk dancing, and some drinking)

    At university, we drank a lot (remember, UK, so 18 year old was the drinking age) but again mainly beer. Our social group do drink and get drunk, but again, the assholes are either self- or other selected out.

    The biggest difference between the UK and the US is that, among my age group in the UK, if we went out after work practically no one would drink after driving, whereas in the US, about 75% do, which is absolutely shocking to me.

    As for drugs, do or not do is fine by me – legalize and tax pot, I still won’t smoke, but fair play to those that do – take it out of the drug lords hands, help the countries where it is produced. Although the for-profit US prison system will kick and scream and whine, and here in San Diego, the city shut down all the legal pot dispensaries – admittedly it got ludicrous as there were more dispensaries than Starbucks (this is not a joke, but a fact), but you do need some.

    As for my folks – they didn’t back in the 1960s, but ended up with a greenhouse full of pot after a trip to Amsterdam in the early 2000s – my mum can grow anything. They seem to have stopped now.

  34. I grew up in a moderate-drinking household, and was never attracted to heavy-drinking people (they tend to be loud, boisterous, aggressive, and also to smoke, behaviors I don’t enjoy being around). Really bad alcohol-related behavior was not part of my home life or social life. Where I grew up, it was an annual ritual to lose at least one high-school senior to an alcohol-related auto accident, which gave the whole “drinking a lot” thing an added layer of unattractiveness.

    Now I am a moderate drinker. I have tried marijuana twice, and both times the effects were basically the same as a strong drink, so since – at the time – marijuana was illegal, and alcohol wasn’t, it seemed silly to smoke dope when a drink would get the taking-the-edges-off job done.

    Never been tempted to try any other illegal drugs. I like the way my brain works.

    Policy-wise, I also favor legalizing everything, taxing the shit out of it, and devoting more money to treatment vs incarceration.

  35. I kind of had the opposite upbringing from yours, Scalzi – none of my family drank (at least not openly) when I was a kid, so I figured it was forbidden and thus cool. My family never really talked about it either, which just added to the “Yeah, man! Getting Hammered isn’t Boring and Square, unlike you! Suck it, Dad & Mom!”

    It wasn’t until later I discovered that my parents drank secretly – and that my family has a predisposition towards addiction issues. I’ve been in recovery for over thirty years, as has Mom and a couple of my brothers….

  36. I have a cocktail or two a week, consume pot once in a while, and take a leftover-from-surgery opiate when I need a filling or a bikini wax, because why suffer pain when you have other options? Have considered psychedelics, but a) am a little worried that my history of reading Stephen King has made my subconscious a dubious place to unleash, and b) am not cool enough to know where to get them.

    I like being relaxed and less inhibited, but I’m careful never to go far enough to hurt anyone or, hopefully, seriously embarrass myself. Pot makes me more calm-and-relaxed and less barfy than alcohol, and is fewer calories, so I like it marginally better, but it’s also harder to get, so I don’t use it as much.

    I’ll probably start smoking when I hit fifty or sixty, because at that point, enh. I’m not having kids, I don’t have any vast goals in life that I haven’t accomplished, so might as well.

    Basically whatever other people do is fine, though I’m more likely to avoid people who are on the cocaine/meth/speed/etc class of drugs, as they seem to lead to more aggro behavior than I’m comfortable with. I’d like to see those used less; everything else I’d just like to see used responsibly; I think that legalization and treatment is probably the way to go.

    And I think “treatment” involves a broader spectrum than we generally mean here. I remember recent studies (which I don’t remember well enough to cite, so take that with the appropriate grain of salt) saying that addiction is far less of a problem for people who have other stimuli in their lives, who see hope and a reasonable way forward, and who aren’t suffering from untreated mental illness. (I have at least one relative who might not have had nearly as many problems with alcohol had he not grown up in an era where booze was pretty much your option for antidepressants.)

  37. I’m in a somewhat similar place (no drinking, no smoking, no drugs), but got there via a different route.
    There was no alcohol in my family growing up–while I’ve picked up a couple of hints that there might have been issues with it in the past, it was done by the time I was old enough to notice. No drugs either. What was there was smoking–my father smoked throughout my childhood (at some point after I moved out, though, he decided to quit, and did so immediately, which I imagine is far better than I’d have done)–and I absolutely hated everything about it, so there was little chance of me taking up tobacco.
    I did drink when I got to college and for a little while afterward. Then I turned out to have a health condition that basically worked out to having a stressed-out liver and I was advised to not drink much, so I stopped entirely.
    For drugs, I had some similar ideas about wanting to remain in control as mentioned above, plus a strong desire to not get caught on the wrong side of those particular laws. Also…I have never been offered illegal drugs in my life, somehow (outside of a guy on a street corner in New York during a high school field trip who was constantly saying “cocaine, free samples” in a low voice as our group walked by). I’ve had friends talk about taking drugs at other times, but it’s never happened in my presence (to the best of my knowledge, I suppose).

  38. John, just out of curiosity, did you feel any effect from the half-glass of champagne? Or was your head so much in a wedding-induced haze that you couldn’t tell?

  39. Sounds like you’ve got a pretty reasonable attitude to the whole thing. My dad was really violently anti-alcohol because both his parents were alcoholics and the sad thing is, he was so hard line about it, I think it significantly contributed to pushing me and one of my siblings into having a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I’m not saying it was entirely his fault, but his massive, angry overreaction the second he saw one of us even touch booze made it hard to take him seriously and meant there was no way I would ever talk to him about it when I started to struggle with my own issues with alcohol. Now I’m a bit older (and pretty much never drink any more) I can see where he was coming from, but I think a more balanced, open-minded and nuanced approach would have been a lot more effective and kept the door open when I needed help later.

    I terms of other drugs, I have dabbled a little, but the only ones I ever found really worth bothering with were magic mushrooms, which were amazing the single time I took them, but for various reasons I’ve never really got round to doing them again. What I think is a shame is that there is obviously clinical potential in magic mushrooms, MDMA and certain other illegal drugs, especially for the treatment of mental health issues, so it annoys me that our drug laws make it pretty much impossible for those lines of research to be pursued or ever made available to the public.

  40. I drink occasionally, but a 12 pack of Redd’s (hard apple cider, my current preferred) will usually last me several months, and neither tobacco nor marijuana impress me at all. DH is completely on the wagon; he had an example of the bad kind, his grandfather was a mean drunk and he doesn’t want to discover if he inherited those genes. He also saw a light plane auger in where the pilot had been drinking. Both of those were contributing factors to our general ‘No thanks’. We are okay with friends drinking etc., although we suggest that they stay at our place overnight rather than drive home if they’ve overindulged.

  41. My family also has a history of addiction, but with my parent’s generation it was exclusively tobacco so no one noticed or recognized it as addiction. By the time my brother became an alcoholic we had no experience or vocabulary to discuss the situation. (We are good WASPS. We push problems down deep until they disappear, for now) My brother died of complications of alcohol a couple of years ago and my parents still cannot face the fact that he was an addict. Meanwhile, my COPD dad has to carry oxygen tank and while my mother’s cancer is in remission she still insists upon smoking a half dozen cigarettes a day. And they still wonder where my brother got his alcohol problems from. The disconnect is amazing. Me? Once I got to know what alcohol was doing to my brother’s life I stopped pretty cold, though I still enjoy an occasionally quality beer.

  42. Nick:

    I didn’t notice any effect, no.

    A couple of years ago on the JoCo Cruise I was offered a slug of what I thought was light beer which turned out to be pretty much a straight shot of rum. It gave me an upset stomach for five minutes and then a felt a little light-headed for another five minutes and then I was fine.

  43. It’s so nice to see so many people with similar attitudes towards drinking/smoking/drugs. While I long ago accepted and embraced my basic weirdness, it’s still nice to not be completely alone.

    My family does not, to my knowledge, have addiction issues, but I’ve always been cautious. Better not to get addicted in the first place, rather than deal with having to deal with kicking one. Also, cheap, not into pain (my belief that all hangovers involve a killer headache has kept me from ever getting drunk), and a reluctance to screw up my thinky parts has kept me pretty much on the straight and narrow (pot smells vile to me, and the one time I tried it it didn’t seem to have much effect – and I was assured it was “good stuff”). Also, I admit it – I do not want to lose control, especially in public.

    I’m also fine with other people doing as they wish – as long as they don’t endanger other people while doing so. I think drugs should be legal, addiction treated as the medical problem it is, and taxes from drug sales should go toward treatment (including alcohol and tobacco).

  44. i am pretty much a non drinker (genetic quirk of not getting intoxicated easily and not staying intoxicated)…. There is this bar in San Francisco called the Pied Piper which has the Maxfield Parrish painting, “The Pied Piper”, which I loved to go see but I realize I don’t have the foggiest idea of what to do in a bar. I feel your pain, Steven desJardins.

  45. John’s advice to Athena was basically how I handled things with my own daughter, especially the “I don’t care where you are or what you’ve consumed, if you need a ride home or help getting home, call me, any time, day or night, no questions will be asked” part.

    I remember one time in her junior year of high school when she came home very late and obviously drunk, though she was trying to appear sober. She had _some_ hangover the next day, which I somewhat deliberately compounded by making a little more noise than was strictly necessary. I also made sure she was hydrated and had analgesics, and once she was feeling better, we talked about learning your tolerance/limits. She didn’t get that wasted again for quite some time, though during her freshman year of college she overindulged more than once, judging by the tales she told. (She’s in the UK, so drinking legally, and the culture is different–drinking too much there is not the same as drinking too much at many colleges in the US.)

  46. When I was young, I was all morally superior about drugs and alcohol. Never got tempted by non-alcohol drugs because I was generally pretty high on life already, and considered them a weakness. Also didn’t like the taste of alcohol. In my 20s, I discovered I enjoyed the taste of alcohol and the mild buzz. Also that I was blessed with the inability to get drunk — not because of any superhuman virtue, but rather because I’m a cheap date, and a pint can put me right to sleep if I’m already tired. I imagine I could get drunk if I chugged a bottle of really potent stuff, but it would be a real race between actually experiencing drunkenness and hitting the floor snoring.

    In my 30s, I discovered the horrors of addiction in friends and colleagues, and did enough reading to learn to recognize the difference between addiction and a lifestyle choice. (Sadly, I’ve met doctors who have yet to learn that lesson.) It taught me a prudent degree of caution. Like John, I’d love to try a psychedelic like LSD some day, but given my personality, I’d need to find some medical-grade stuff to give me the courage to try it, and I’d want someone I trust supervising the experience in case I freaked out.

    I have a much more balanced perspective on such things now. I recognize that people have different goals for intoxication and different abilities to handle it safely. And I try not to moralize, because I usually don’t know the road someone has traveled to get where they are now.

  47. the failure mode of clever is asshole

    It took me quite awhile to stop laughing at my work desk when I read the above comment. I love it intensely as I know how aptly it applies to far too many people. NOT that it would ever apply to me! Moi??????

  48. I fall asleep when I get tipsy, so alcohol consumption is pretty much self-limiting (oh for a nice dark red wine without alcohol, so I could kill it by the bottle :-9 ). I’ll note that you can be addicted pretty badly without any substances though, and I’ve seen people sink their lives into online games. I fear I might too if I didn’t watch it. If you tend to addiction any excess is a danger.

  49. I’ve never been drunk or tried other drugs or tobacco. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I like myself and I like my life, so why try to escape or change it?
    As a result of rarely drinking alcohol (I had two drinks once and got tipsy, and hated it when it wore off) I basically don’t like alcohol. I’ll have a cider occasionally or a mixed drink, but just one.
    I grew up in a house that also had no alcohol in it but it wasn’t a thing (we did use some in cooking I think), it’s just how it was. Not much money probably contributed. :)
    Anyway, I can’t judge what other people do as long as it only affects them, although I do find that drunk people don’t make very good conversationalists. Tipsy… sure, why should I care?

  50. I really prefer to have control over myself, possibly to an abnormal degree. So I tend to avoid things that would take away that control.

    The big exception though is if Valium were legal, I would be such an addict. I had it once prior to a surgery and that was the happiest most peaceful moment in my life (right before blacking out) and I’m not sure I would have the self-control to avoid it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.

  51. I do recall my older sister coming home from a party in high school, quite drunk. My parents were very much a “Saturday is a day for doing chores” sort of family, but that Saturday morning — guess what? — No chores for me. All chores for my sister! That was a fine day of pure schadenfreude.

    As to the early point in the thread — as someone who drinks and enjoys going to bars (well, pubs anyway — I like a place I can hear and be heard, not dance clubs or places with bottle service) — not a single bartender in the world will be anything but happy that you are there, drinking ginger ale or water or warm milk. If you are there with friends, your friends are likely ordering drinks. And if you just tell them you are the designated driver, they’ll likely not even charge you for what you do get.

  52. I’m one of those people who enjoy a beer or two, or five… A year, or thereabouts. Reasons, well. The one mentioned already, I like being in control of myself, I like not being stupid. Another, I tend to ride a motorcycle everywhere.

    One thing that fascinates me around this issue is how some reasons (or excuses, as people seem to insist on thinking of them) are considered valid and others not so much.

    Tell someone you’re not drinking because of the control thing, and you’ll generally be dismissed as various flavours of weak or ugly things. Less so for driving a car but lots of people will try the “but one is okaaayyy” line on you. Because you need to drink alcohol, obviously. But the bike really seems to count for something in the somewhat addled mind of the drinker, they tend to be cool with that.

    Mind, you still get loads of odd looks when asking for tea instead.

  53. I’m actually allergic to alcohol – ok, technically, I have alcohol intolerance, but that tends to be misinterpreted. Like lactose intolerance. I take one sip (or bite, of something like rum balls) and almost instantly have the close equivalent of a hangover (headache, queasy stomach, etc). So alcohol had never been an option for me – frustrating at times, as my parents are oenophiles and I’d love to learn to brew my own beer (I also bake and make cheese – fermentation is fun!). I’ve tried marijuana a couple times and never noticed much effect (I watched a whole DVD of Buffy once, when normally I might stretch to one episode at a party (which this was), then go read…). Legal drugs have odd effects on me – I never take more than a half-dose of Dayquil, and I don’t take Nyquil at all unless I can be non-existent for a full 24 hours (that’s on a half-dose!). Dental analgesics work fine – they come on about twice as fast as the dentist expects and leave just as fast (which meant that until I learned to insist on the dentist staying in the room and starting work immediately, they had mostly worn off by halfway through the procedure – owww).
    But mostly, as a non-drinker, I’ve hung out with people drinking and people trying to get drunk, and the latter group are _really_boring_. Not even asshole mode, just funny jokes and games that are completely uninteresting to someone whose brain isn’t fried. People who are drinking, no problem – if they want to drink for the taste of it, or possibly for a little relaxation, there’s often interesting stories going on there (at my parents’ parties, for one place). But…yeah, if you choose to drink (or do drugs) with the intention of frying your brain, I’ll judge you – at a minimum, I’ll judge that you are not a person I want to get to know. It’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with close up – no family or close friends who made that choice, or were forced into it by genetics. Fortunately, because I don’t think I’d react well.

  54. I do think it’s funny that you wound up in the most party-heavy dorm on campus, legendary for its sculpture of beer cans. Oh, well. I lived there, too (I was a first year when you were a fourth year — you probably don’t remember me, though), and I didn’t drink much, either.

  55. Vera Noyes Giles:

    “I do think it’s funny that you wound up in the most party-heavy dorm on campus, legendary for its sculpture of beer cans.”

    In fact, the three years I was in the dorm, I was the chief architect of the beer can sculpture, in no small part because I was the only one sober enough to put it together without falling into it. Good times.

  56. And another one for the list of folks who don’t drink much, don’t do illegal drugs, and so on. Some history of addiction in my family, mom’s side (and my nephew inherited that gene) but nothing that anyone made a lot of when I was a kid. My parents drank a little Scotch or wine, but usually only on Saturday nights or during an occasional party. My sister and I were allowed a small sip here and there. Sometimes they drank beer when they’d been working in the yard and had gotten hot. So while it wasn’t verboten, drinking was definitely in moderation in my family.

    I do drink coffee and tea, but only two or three cups all day. I love chocolate … I don’t smoke, never liked the smell. My husband smokes but is trying to stop. He smokes outside for the most part, or in his own room; I’m looking forward to the day when he stops completely….

    Me… I have allergies. Lots of allergies. I’m allergic to most whiskeys and ryes and rums; I get very sick to my stomach after only half a glass or so of any of those. Don’t really like the flavor, either. To me, beer tastes like horse p**s. Even when I was stationed in Europe, the German beers tasted pretty awful to my palate. Yuck! I drink mostly wines and sweet cordials when I drink, but maybe half an inch to an inch of alcohol with the rest of the glass being Sprite or sparkling water of some sort. If I open a bottle of wine, I have to be careful to finish it off before it turns to vinegar.

    I’m allergic to Percoset and its derivatives like Hydrocondon. Gives me a huge headache and my guts cramp up like crazy. I’m allergic to pot; the smell makes me feel like I’m gonna puke, plus it makes my eyes itch and water and my throat feel scratchy. Some guy behind me at a football game in college lit up, I turned around and asked him to please put it out. “Why should I?” “Because I’m going to vomit in your lap if you don’t.” I must have looked pretty green, as he put it out. Actually, being allergic helped in college – I really wasn’t all that interested in experimenting with drugs or alcohol anyway, and the allergies made a good excuse that no one could really question.

    I had a so-called friend who, when she found out I didn’t go to bars, was bound and determined to take me bar hopping so I could ‘have some real fun.’ She isn’t even an acquaintance any more as a result. I don’t mind going to bars if in a group of friends, or to see a good band; so long as there is someone I can talk to. Never had any bartenders complain about me buying Sprite, either.

    I’m in the chorus of those who would like to see marijuana legalized. My husband has a lot of chronic pain from nerve damage to his spine from an accident many years ago, and now he is starting to have arthritis pain as well. I would love to see if marijuana would help alleviate the pain from the nerve damage better than the legal medications he is on. And if someone wants to smoke marijuana recreationally, doesn’t bother me, so long as I don’t have to smell the smoke or clean up the mess. I think marijuana users are probably safer in the long run than alcoholics, there are a lot fewer angry and/or aggressive marijuana users than alcoholics in my experience. And it sure has helped the tax base of those states which have legalized it. Admittedly, I also don’t see it as a ‘gateway drug’ to harder drugs; the majority of people I know who smoke it have smoked it for years and never gone on to anything worse. Actually, I know more people who drink alcohol who have gone on to harder drugs…

  57. I come from a family that had a drinking problem on my mother’s side. Just about all her brothers and sisters were heavy drinkers if not outright drunks. However she didn’t like it and her drinking was confined to taking an occasional sip from someone else’s beer and that’s it for the night. All of my brothers had drinking problems but it skipped my sisters and me. In college I occasionally had a beer or two but rarely got drunk. After college I got drunk a number of times with co-workers after work. Later, when I got transferred to Ohio and made a whole new group of friends I was immediately back to the occasional beer or two (I never did care for hard liquor – didn’t like the taste). I can even remember the weekend when I last got drunk – it was in April of 1982. As I grew older my drinking has tapered off even further to maybe one beer a month – and I don’t always finish the whole thing. I’m not a teatoteler, just someone who has little interest in drinking. The genetics are interesting. Also the environmental factors of why I started drinking heavily after college and quit when I changed friends.

    Cigarettes are something that no one was ever able to show me a reason why I should start. I don’t claim to be a model citizen about them – it was just why should I spend money on them?

    In college I didn’t do weed because I couldn’t stand the smell of it. I will admit to being a bit afraid of the harder stuff because I saw too many people whose life was ruined by the stuff and didn’t trust my will power to control the craving

  58. My reasons for not getting involved in “Australian normal” drinking culture: I don’t like the taste of most alcoholic drinks; I consequently resent spending the money on them (why spend money on beer, when I could spend it on books and games instead?); and I also have a minor reaction to alcohol which gives me low-level cramping in my arms. Plus, of course, I have personal life experience which says alcohol doesn’t do a damn thing about easing the pain of depression (two depressed parents, both of whom drank wine with dinner every night – and then Mum finished the bottle, and oddly enough if she was in a cranky mood, her mood never improved as she drank. Same thing with the beers they’d drink in summer), so I wasn’t ever tempted to try it as a way of “escaping” from my mental illness.

    Plus, of course, I tried it for about six months, and it just didn’t do anything for me. Hangovers made me feel “bleargh”, mostly from the dehydration (I never actually drank to the point of throwing up, unlike some of my friends, but I got drunk a couple of times) and quite frankly, it just wasn’t worth the effort. About the point where I realised my G&Ts were mostly T with a splash of G thrown in for flavour, I just gave up and started drinking the tonic straight instead.

    As for pot (or any other illegal drug) – using it would have involved me being friendly with people who knew how to get hold of some. Given I have the social skills of a rock, this is a bigger obstacle than you’d think.

    So I tend to be the sober person in the crowd. I’ll be the one who goes along to the Friday night office drinks and orders lemon lime and bitters (Australian drink: lemonade, lime juice cordial[1], and Angostura bitters), straight tonic water, or straight ginger ale. Means I’m the one who’s keeping an eye on folks, and I’m the one who’s available to be the “skipper” (designated driver). Never really had a problem with it culturally, but then, I’m female, and it’s more socially expected that women will abstain.

    I don’t smoke tobacco for similar reasons: my mother smoked when I was growing up, and quite frankly there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about washing ashtrays and having everything in the house smelling of cigarette smoke.

    I’m another one who thinks that “legalise it all and slap a tax on it” would do more for the actual drug problem here in Australia than ever-stronger prohibitory measures will ever accomplish. Thing is, though, the aim of the prohibitory measures isn’t to actually do something about the drug and addiction problem – heck, if they actually worked on the drug problem they’d be a self-limiting thing, after all. Instead, they’re a way for politicians to beat their chests and look macho, a way for police departments to justify increased budgets and surveillance, and a way for wowsers of all stripes to decry the collapse of modern civilisation, and a way for sufficiently anti-social[2] types to make or increase their fortunes through importing and selling the stuff – and they’re very effective at all of those!

    [1] For people looking for the right stuff on the supermarket shelves – skip the emerald-green “Lime Coola” stuff, and go for the lime-green “lime juice” flavoured stuff.
    [2] In the sense of “not caring about the effects of their actions on society”

  59. I grew up with the “one cocktail before dinner” type of alcohol use in my family, so I was exposed to a good role model of moderate use. Nowadays I guess I’d call myself a sporadic drinker. Never touched drugs though, I was always afraid I’d like them too much and get hooked, so I am totally with you on that one. But I keep joking that when I turn 70 I’m going to go out and do all the drugs I’ve been avoiding.

  60. @Steven desJardins, @Bruce – it’s perfectly cromulent to have a ginger ale or a glass of water at a bar. Leave a buck or two as the tip for your drink, just as you would if you’d ordered something with alcohol in it. Bartenders and waiters are plenty used to designated drivers, people who like to hang out with drinking friends but don’t drink themselves, etc., and genuinely don’t care what’s in your glass.

  61. As an observing Canadian, I think your “war on drugs” has drifted towards a figure of speech, and I wish you guys would just go back to peace time, because you seem to have the drawbacks of collateral damage, such as not giving student loans to folks who have done drugs, without any compensating victory.

    Within a couple years of you declaring war on drugs I knew with utter certainty it would be a farce because you guys were utterly unable to learn lessons from Vietnam, including the “hearts and minds” thing.

    Meanwhile, when my brother was 30 he warned me that he and I had the alcoholic gene, and so we needed to be careful. Since then I have remained a social drinker, and, wouldn’t you know it, he has become an alcoholic whose life is work-drink-work-drink. Nothing else.

  62. I am also pretty…stringent…about responsible drinking. If you have any doubts at all, don’t get in the damn car. The end. Fuck up on that one and you should damn well go to jail, or at least have your license yanked.

    And on a pettier level: after you start drinking, and assuming no actual addiction, you have *a year* of grace period, and I’m being charitable here, during which puking on people’s floors is forgivable. (Assuming, naturally, that you apologize and offer to clean up/pay for the rug shampoo/etc.) After that, you learn your limits or you stop getting invites. Get it together, freshman.

    (Similar but less-so principles apply for getting super-loud, way-too-friendly, or weepy without proxmate cause. And, I mean, we all have our nights when we misjudge the strength of drinks or medication interaction, but if you’re regularly Half Hour Rant About The Gold Standard Then BLEAAARGH Dude, you need to handle that shit.)

  63. Sadly, being older doesn’t keep people from trying to push alcohol – I think it’s more that the zeitgeist has changed in that regard. I remember going to a New Year’s party with my recovering alcoholic mother about 30 years ago (so she would have been in her 50s) and getting worried that the host was going to spike her juice – she was that insistent.

    And yes, recovery is hard. It’s even hard for those who skip the step of making amends, which is sadly too many people who go sober in ways that don’t involve 12 steps (not that I think AA’s the only way to do it, but I wish more of the other ways pushed taking responsibility).

  64. I have zero experience with drugs. I read about opiate addictions concentrated in specific parts of the country, adderall, OxyContin and the various prescriptive stim drugs, anabolic steroid and HGH use by people not associated with the drug profile. Athletes, mercenaries, military, police, politicians, hedge funders, high leverage traders, real estate billionaires (who hang with gamblers, casinos, the WWE crowd)

    I question the mainstream psychology behind addiction or 12 step programs for drugs or alcohol but what do I know? Hardly drank when I was younger but do remember sneaking gulps of high proof rye at 8 to 11 years old. I enjoyed it but it was always take it or leave it. My problem was I was never social enough to get into it.

  65. It’s interesting to see so many people with attitudes similar to mine on drinking/drugs. I’ve always felt weird about being so totally uninterested in them while society seems to think they’re necessary for fun, but I guess there are more people like me than I would have expected.

    My attitude about it is well summarized by Scalzi, although my background is different. My parents didn’t drink much and there isn’t a substance abuse history in my family, but it still didn’t seem particularly like a good idea (I do also fear I have an addictive personality). The biggest issue has always been not wanting anything messing with my brain- I guess I’m a bit of a control freak- I don’t like the idea of something screwing with my mind. I also didn’t think drinking looked all that attractive. I was less concerned about hangover and more about vomiting- practically every portrayal of excessive alcohol use on TV/movies ends with vomiting and it’s something that I’ve never wanted to have to do any more than necessary.

    I’m also super picky about food, and growing up I was always given the impression that alcohol was something that tasted nasty that you drink for the effect and not for flavor. So I wasn’t all that interested in tasting it.

  66. A tip for the folks wondering what to do in bars, especially for those (like me) who don’t drink soda either: bars almost always have orange juice as a mixer and will be willing to give it to you unadulterated if you ask. Nice and healthy!

    I’ve had so few drinks in my life that I can probably list all the occasions from memory. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol and am bemused that other people seem to actually like it. (I can’t stand soda, either.) So if I’m drinking, it’s done deliberately for the effect, the same way I’d take ibuprofen or whatever. If I’m getting drunk in a bar, which I have done exactly once, there’s something really wrong.

    I’ve never tried any other drugs in any social setting, but I did a series of fascinating medical studies years ago in which they were experimenting with treatments for schizophrenia by dosing subjects with ketamine and then other drugs to see which ones countered it the best. That meant fascinating combinations like methamphetamine and ketamine. They loved me in the studies because I remained very coherent and could give detailed verbal explanations of the effects, even though the double-blind placebo part was a total farce, since I could tell instantly when I was being hit by ketamine. A high dose delivered by IV felt like being pushed off a cliff. (The K-meth combo actually balanced pretty well — to their appalled fascination, once I finished drawing them an illustration of the weird sensory hallucinations I was having every time I sat up, I declared that I was bored, demanded my novel, and proceeded to read very slowly until the effects wore off.)

    I was occasionally uneasy because I found myself really loving the ketamine, but it had amazing effects on my depression. Every non-placebo study day left me bouncier and happier, with lasting effect. I think all those ketamine studies may have inadvertently saved my life. Science finally seems to be catching up to this; doctors are now prescribing K for depression. I could have told them that twenty years ago.

  67. (I should probably add to the list Lexapro for everyday anxiety and Ativan any time I have to get on a plane. Apparently this means I’m the best fellow traveler ever, according to friends.)

    On drinks to get when not drinking: a friend who’s pregnant generally has grapefruit juice and grenadine when we go out. I’ve also just had tea at a bar while waiting for people before, and as long as it’s not really busy, I don’t think anyone’s minded. If you’re worried, be sure to tip well; if you’re really worried, order the nachos. Bar nachos are delicious.

  68. Great post. I had a similar trajectory, although I drink in moderation.

    I always loved this quote by King Buzzo of the Melvins:
    “I don’t care what you do, but I don’t see alcohol and drugs as being anything other than a way to make whatever problems you have in your life bigger. There’s not a problem in the world you can’t make bigger by drinking a fifth of whiskey.”

  69. There seem to be a lot of people who don’t drink alcohol because they don’t like the taste. I don’t drink it because it makes me unpleasantly fuzzy in the head. A quarter ounce can make me noticeably tipsy, a feeling that reminds me of the fuzzy brain I had before I started my meds (which also mean I shouldn’t drink alcohol). That said, I do sometimes miss a good porter. I also had a fondness for Bailey’s Irish Cream, which is remarkably easy to drink. Was.

    I don’t worry about my kid drinking. The other quarter ounce doesn’t make her too comfy either. (Kiddush at synagogue on some occasions.) I also know she won’t abuse prescription meds. She has actual prescriptions for a handful. Thankfully we’ve hit a set that more or less work, after lots of experience with unpleasant side effects. She can’t figure out why anyone would do that to themselves on purpose.

    John, the original question was about alcohol, but you’ve also mentioned that you don’t drink coffee. I’d like to know what’s behind that, if you don’t mind saying. I do drink it; I started in my twenties when I started working with engineers.

  70. A fantastic post! I agree 100% with your philosophy. I, personally, enjoy alcohol, but even then, I’m a big believer in moderation, and also in my 40s, so watching the weight. Lol.

  71. Only just saw this post, and I appreciate it a lot. It was similar to how I feel about cigarettes. I grew up watching people smoke and hating the smell, so I was put off by it in the first place. Then people I knew started getting cancer… yeah, that’s enough reason for me to not even want to go near one.

  72. Add me to the group of people who don’t drink alcohol in large part because of the taste. I’m super sensitive to some flavors, mainly spiciness, and alcohol is one of them. There’s one wine I like which is really really sweet (I mean, objectively, not just by wine standards) and about 4% alcohol, and I’ll occasionally have some plum wine or Kahlua in my cocoa, but basically I just don’t get it and see no reason to torture my mouth trying to. As a result, the only effect I’ve felt from alcohol is sleepiness a couple of times, because I drink so slowly or so little that there just isn’t enough to affect me. Which is fine, as I think I am a better person WITH inhibitions, thanks. And my headaches are bad enough without adding hangovers to their repertoire.

    Had/have religious reasons for not doing illegal things or smoking and I’m perfectly happy that way. Smoke of pretty much any sort makes me cough anyway.

    Oh, and while I like the taste of coffee my “coffee” is about one part coffee to four parts water and two or three parts milk/cream. Still enough caffeine in that to make me get a headache on the days I don’t drink it. Sigh.

  73. I’m in the stay-in-control-of-self plus beer-tastes-gross-and-is-expensive camps. But I have a question: does jam bands mean anything other than a musical group that jams? What am I missing? Is it just that people take pot to trance out to the music?
    Just a tiny point I didn’t ‘get’ is a post that otherwise resonated.

  74. Hello whybird – Jam Bands: The Grateful Dead, Phish, The Dave Matthews Band, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee. Bands that focus on including very extended improvisational segments into their live performances. Their performances are can often be much longer than the standard 60 to 120 minutes.

    As far as people ingesting psychoactive substances, I’ve long wondered if, at some period(s) in our evolution, hominids that sought out these substances were exhibiting a trait that gave them an evolutionary advantage. Might make for an interesting SF story. ;-)

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