Yesterday was the 600th day of my complete abstinence. I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol while I kept partying and living a fun life.
I realized that I’m crazy enough without the booze, and I can have all the fun in the world without drinking. And there's no pangs or itches either.
Lessons learned from 600 days of clarity
I also found out that it’s not socially acceptable to abstain from alcohol. People frown upon that, and you can see them considering you a recovering alcoholic. Well, to me, anyone who drinks is an alcoholic. Fuck you.
All my life markers improved — I have less body fat, sleep better, have more energy, and my resting heart rate is stable. In the past, it used to skyrocket on the days I’d consume alcohol and then get back down on the clear days when I was running and working out.
I eat much less junk food, as there are no drunken- or hangover-cravings. With that, there is no day after anymore, either.
I’ve become calmer as a human being: a better father and a husband. Abstaining from alcohol made me a better human. What’s not to like?
I don't have a problem
If you fall into a category where you call yourself a social drinker, the chances are, you don't think about alcohol consumption as a problem. The real alcoholics would refer to that as a stage of denial. But what are the objective criteria? Where's the line between a social drinker and an alcoholic?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a hazardous volume of drinking, averaging approximately more than two drinks — 24 grams of ethanol — per day. They also define Heavy Episodic Drinking (HED) as about five or more drinks.
If you drink more than two drinks per day, or more than fourteen a week, you're in the so-called hazardous drinking group. You're not a social drinker. You're a drinker. Maybe a drunk.
Looking through the WHO reports, there are some interesting facts to observe:
- more than half (57%) of the global population above 15 years of age — around 3.1 Billion people — had abstained from drinking in the last 12 months.
- 44,5% of the global adult population, around 2.4 billion people, have never consumed alcohol.
- There are around 2.3 billion current drinkers in the world.
- Americas and Europe are regions where more than half of people consume alcohol. But the percentage is declining since 2000. It's rising in the Asian regions, particularly in China.
- The top alcoholic countries per capita are Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland (stereotypes confirmed by data).
- In most countries, men with less education were more likely to report hazardous drinking and HED.
- Among women, those with more education and those with higher income/occupational status were more likely to report high-risk drinking.
- Harms from a given amount and pattern of drinking are higher for poorer drinkers and their families than for richer drinkers in any given society
There are no benefits of alcohol consumption
We are all aware of how alcohol affects our bodies: more heart disease, increased risk of stroke, and the mother of all killers — cancer. Even moderate alcohol intake has been shown to increase the risk of these — lifestyle — diseases. Alcohol is the same as smoking, a legally-available slow murderer.
There are some myths about the benefits of alcohol, especially red wine. Let's clarify this — drinking red wine might be better than drinking vodka, but it's not better than not drinking at all. There are zero health benefits of consuming any form of alcohol.
Here are two great sources from nutritionfacts.org. Spoiler alert: no benefits, and it's not better to drink little vs. none.
Benefits of abstention
There are many benefits when you stop consuming alcohol. I won't discuss the alcoholics, but the moderate or party drinkers, as that's where my experience comes from.
Within the first four weeks of not drinking any alcohol, I noticed the following benefits:
- clearer face
- better sleep (feeling of being well-rested, and quality as reported by Garmin Fenix 6X sleep tracking: REM, Deep Sleep, less awake time)
- weight-loss: with less fluid calories and less junk food cravings, I dropped a few kilos without increasing my training. And the body fat % decreased as well, resulting in better body composition
- immunity: zero seasonal colds, flu, even when those close to me were ill
- more energy: tough to measure, but I noticed more energy in the mornings, less tiredness in the evenings, and zero afternoon fatigues
- increased mental clarity: this came after about a month, but I noticed I remember easier and better, and my brain connections are on a whole new level. Tough to measure and prove; you have to experience for yourself.
- Improved nutrition: zero junk food cravings, no late-night snacking. I found myself naturally eating fewer carbs.
Obstacles to curbing alcohol:
I stopped drinking by deciding to abstain during the Catholic 40-day fast. Initially, my plan was to detox and then "get back to normal."
Within the first week, I realized that the only obstacles I'm facing are external — the social pressures. It's incredible how socially unacceptable not drinking really is. Meeting with friends, business partners, and random strangers, refusing a drink is always shocking.
Teetotaler, alcoholic, weirdo.
I’m still struggling with the labels, though. Teetotaler sounds funny, but — outside of the UK — it’s not well understood in large parts of the EU. Abstinence sounds too recovering-alcoholic-ish. So usually, I’ll just say, “I don’t drink,” or “I don’t consume alcohol.” People are always surprised.
The people who’ve known me for a long time used to know me as the party animal. So they wonder if I went overboard and crashed.
Those who don’t know me also wonder what’s wrong with me.
But all of them feel guilty when they start drinking in my presence. They’ll ask if it’s okay with me (it is) and often still offer me to change my mind — are you sure? (Yes, I’m sure).
The next level reaction is turning defensive. I can see them shuffling and thinking about how to approach the subject. Sometimes I tell them that I don’t judge them, that it’s their choice, and I don’t expect them to choose the way I did. I know what works for me, and that might not necessarily be good for them. But it’s always tough to accept.
Everyone wants to cut down their drinking. You know it’s not good for you or your body. When you look beyond the hangover, you know it’s damaging your organs, and you know it’s deteriorating your health.
Casual drinkers are very close to smokers in that regard. They’ll try to justify themselves, dismiss it, or deny it. But I don’t care. I made my choice, and I love it.
People often ask if I never feel like having at least a glass of wine with a fine steak. That’s my favorite because I get to double down — no, I don’t ever feel any pangs or itches to drink, and I’m not eating meat anyway.
Abstinent and a vegetarian! —Even worse — a vegan!
But I’m not too fond of the vegan label either. It brings up an image of a livestock-farmer molesting hippie. That’s not me. I’m not that good of a human that I would refuse animal products to reduce suffering. I’m plant-based for selfish reasons — my health. And yes, I prefer plant-based over vegan.
It’s weird, but now I’m a plant-based, teetotal hedonist. Living in joy without hurting myself or others. My conscience is clear. But I digress.
What is the best way to stop drinking?
As mentioned, my start was that 40 days fast. But I'd recommend focusing on the smaller plan-able time horizon — a day or a week.
If you can't abstain for one day, then you really have a problem. But a week will be a challenge for most people since everyone seems to have their days out. Beer Wednesdays, happy hour Thursdays, or Friday gatherings. But you'll have to navigate this one week with clarity if you want the long-term benefits.
I'd recommend making a weekly plan and deciding to skip these gatherings, as this seems easier in the first phase. You can add them afterward, but plan how to approach.
My solution was non-alcoholic beers. Fortunately, so-called nolos (no- and low-alcohol) beverages seem to be the fastest-growing industry segment, so there are ever more choices. My selection was Heineken 0.0, which just became popular across the EU at the time. It tastes great, and the bottle doesn't scream: NON-ALCOHOLIC. It's perfect for social gatherings and widely available. Within the last 600 days, I noticed that the selection of 0%-alcohol beer has significantly increased, as has the number of people consuming it. It's a wonderful beer replacement—kind of like a Beyond Meat for those looking to consume fewer animal products.
With non-alcoholic beer, I never felt the itch to go for "the real one." In the beginning, I strived for more control, so I'd even lookup the bars on Facebook and contacted them upfront to ensure they have my favorite 0% beer on the stock.
With time, I drank less and less of the Heineken 0.0 and simply transitioned to sparkling water. I know some people that went for Coke Zero and similar concoctions, but I was never much of a soda guy.
I also prioritized sports and wellness. Being a morning runner, I enjoyed the fact there were no more hung-over mornings so that I could run every day. And there were no tough travel days when I'd have to get up early after a long night.
I spent more time in spa areas, saunas, and massages. I enjoyed the fact that I could drive anywhere anytime — there was no need to get a cab or find another designated driver.
After 40 days, I still had a plan to celebrate with a drink. But as the day came, I invited my drinking buddies out and realized I don't want to drink. So I continued enjoying the Heineken 0.0. After that, I never even thought of having a drink. With time, people stopped offering, and later more and more friends joined me, so now our mid-week gatherings have turned into non-alcoholic beer Wednesdays.
My next milestone was one year. I celebrated with friends again, and I was firm that I'd never sip alcohol again. The benefits are so awesome, and I don't want to break the streak.