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.