Interview Series: Candid Conversations about Alcohol Consumption

Examining your relationship with alcohol can be uncomfortable. Taking the time to look within requires courage, self-awareness, and a willingness to understand the why behind our decisions. 

If you're currently reevaluating your drinking habits or curious about reducing your alcohol consumption altogether, know you're not alone. 

We sat down with four individuals who consciously chose to reduce their alcohol consumption for various reasons. 

Throughout each interview, we learned that although their upbringings and reasons for no longer drinking as much differed vastly, they all had one common theme: a desire to feel good consistently. 

We spoke with Ashley (32 years old), Nicole (27 years old), Eoin (27 years old), and Francisco (38 years old) about their relationship with alcohol and the driving factors behind reducing their consumption. 

Let's dive into each question and hear their perspectives.

Question 1: What made you first want to get curious about your alcohol consumption?

Ashley: "Drinking alcohol has become so normalized, and nobody ever seems to question it. Team bonding at work revolves around a happy hour, spending time with friends or family involves sharing a glass or bottle of wine, and dating is always centered around grabbing a drink. 

Since moving to Europe from the U.S. four years ago, I've completely reevaluated and changed my way of life. I've shifted my focus from working to living, spent more time immersed in nature, and redirected my everyday energy and attention toward living more consciously. 

I've realized that drinking was taking me out of the present moment, and I was consuming alcohol with the wrong intentions, hoping it would turn me into someone that people would like more."

Eoin: "At the end of university, I realized that my drinking habits and behavior made me a bit uncomfortable. I experienced how alcohol can make you do stupid things, which gives you an anxiety hangover the next day (as well as a physical one). I didn't like how you can act differently when you drink, and I began to notice how alcohol affected my mental health and could link certain emotions I had to whenever I had a few drinks. 

In addition, I could never go out for a drink without binge drinking. One always led to more, and I would be out until late. But at this point, I continued to drink and deal with all the negative aspects. 

After leaving university, I had to do a portfolio to get a pretty intensive job. Around the same time, I began getting serious about the gym, and I realized that when I was operating at 100%, I was getting loads of work done and was super productive coming into the weekend. 

After going out once or twice drinking over the weekend, I was only operating at a fraction of Friday's level for the first few days of the week. I realized how much drinking was setting me back in life and the goals I wanted to achieve. 

I began weighing the pros and cons of drinking and questioning whether it was worth it. On top of this, being hungover every Sunday felt like I was wasting a day. I was working five days a week, enjoying one day and then spending another day in bed hungover." 

Nicole: "Throughout my life, I've stopped drinking during certain periods, but most recently, it was because of my partner. We decided to stop drinking for a few months together to see how we would feel. I was also starting a new chapter in my fitness and needed to increase my performance."

Francisco: "I've always been interested in how alcohol affects the body, but I've become even more aware as I've gotten older and more in tune with my body. The more research I did, the more I learned about how bad it is for you. I realized that the effects of having just one drink weren't worth it at all."

Question 2: How has alcohol been present in your life, from early childhood until now?

Ashley: "Alcohol has always been a constant in my life. I come from a huge family where drinking was glorified, and bottles of wine were flowing at our get-togethers. From a young age, I set high morals for myself and knew I didn't want to drink until I turned 21. My family and friends were so confused by this every time I turned down any drink they offered me. 

Once I became older and started drinking, that glorification became even more intense when I graduated college and moved to New York City to work at an ad agency. It literally felt like an extension of college and that we were working in a fraternity house. I was also working with beverage clients like Rémy Martin and Anheuser-Busch, so I was always surrounded by alcohol. 

The constant exposure and normalization of being a "functioning alcoholic" in both my work and family settings, as well as in the media, made me never question why I was actually drinking."

Eoin: "Alcohol has been present in my life for as long as I remember. However, I don't recall any bad memories that made me sober curious.

In Ireland, alcohol is present at every event. Even when you go to baptisms, funerals, weddings, or birthdays, you always end up in the pub afterward. Growing up with this made excessive drinking seem normal. It was usual for someone to go out and drink eight to nine pints and some shots because it was what I had experienced growing up.

Fast forward to university, and alcohol was just used as a tool to get drunk before going out, which usually meant buying the cheapest but strongest drink possible. Most people I knew would binge drink and be very drunk on nights out, and it was normalized. 

I guess this fueled my decision to reduce my alcohol consumption, as when I moved to Spain, I noticed that people here could go out and have a couple of beers and go home. For me, that was just not possible. I could never have a few and go home. I always drank more than planned and stayed out late, not wanting the night to end.

I think it is just an Irish mentality. It's hard for people to believe you can go to a bar or social event sober and have a good time. Even now, when I visit home and say I'm not drinking, people think I am joking or don't understand. It's constant questions of "Yeah, but you can still have a few, right?" or "Why are you not drinking?"

Nicole: "Alcohol wasn't really present in my family. My parents have an occasional drink here and there, but I have never seen them drunk. I didn't grow up in a party family, even though I lived in Cancun. But socially, it was super present in high school and college. My friends and I would get drunk as a way to have fun."

Francisco: "I was very fortunate because my parents never forbade alcohol consumption. They told us that if we wanted to consume alcohol, to do it at home. They wanted to make sure we would have drinks in a safe environment. That played a big role in the sense that I didn't see it as something that was forbidden. It was actually the contrary because I never felt like I actually wanted to drink.

Socially, especially in my teenage years, I had friends who would want to drink a lot, but fortunately for me, I've never been a person that liked it too much."

Question 3: What is the longest time you've gone without alcohol?

Ashley: "It really started when I was younger, and I made the decision not to drink until I was 21. Even though I didn't drink, I was still right there dancing beside my drunk friends all night long until 3 am, but I was the one driving us home as the designated driver. That was the longest period where I abstained from alcohol, although not sure it truly counts as I was legally underage. 

After college, I moved to New York, where drinking culture is a way of life, and fell into a steady stream of drinking every day of the week and all weekend. It wasn't until recently, nearly ten years later, that I started questioning my relationship with alcohol. 

I've always tried to make it through Dry January each year, but I picked up the habit pretty soon after the new month. I haven't really had alcohol in about two months, just an occasional glass of wine (maybe three glasses so far)."

Eoin: "Two months."

Nicole: "In 2022, I stopped drinking for six months. This year, I stopped drinking for three months and since then have only had a drink here and there." 

Francisco: "I've gone months without drinking, but I couldn't say how many because I don't even keep track of my alcohol consumption. It's so infrequent." 

Question 4: What were the main things you noticed when you became aware of your drinking habits and stopped drinking as much?

Ashley: "Call me lucky, but I was never the type of person to get hangovers. I feel like hangovers are one of the core reasons people become deterred from drinking – they hate that they've wasted the following day stuck in bed with a pounding headache or overwhelming anxiety. For me, I can have a night of binge drinking and wake up the next morning at 7 am for a spin class and feel completely fine. 

My issue with drinking is that I used it as a crutch to boost my self-confidence. I liked the person I "became" when I drank alcohol. I felt I would transform into this more outgoing, bubbly, and likable version of myself. All the self-doubt and made-up things I felt other people thought about me disappeared.

If I found myself in a social situation where I felt uncomfortable, I relied heavily on alcohol to get me through it. Or, if I wanted to muster up the confidence to connect with people or a guy I was interested in, I'd grab a drink or take a shot for some "liquid courage." Alcohol let me lose all inhibitions and simply be the person I thought I wanted to be."

Eoin: "From a health and productivity standpoint, I felt great, was full of energy, and saved a lot of money. My anxiety was much less prominent than what it was when I was drinking. Not having hangover anxiety on a Sunday is a really great feeling too.

The first few sober stints I did were tough mentally. I felt like I couldn't socialize with my friends and would stay in and watch Netflix. This behavior sort of led to an alienation/fomo feeling, largely because I had used alcohol as a crutch to socialize for so long that the idea of going to a party sober was scary. It got to the point where when a friend would post plans to go out in the group chat, my initial reaction was negative because I associated it with me staying in and not having fun. 

I would still go out and meet friends during the day, but this would usually still involve alcohol, and at this point, it was tough to be in a bar and not drink. However, after self-reflection, I realized that if being sober was going to stick, I would have to go to all social events like I would if I was drinking. Now I always say yes to events/nights out and don't worry about not drinking. I think it just takes practice. I've become more confident as I do not have to rely on alcohol to socialize.

I've taken up a lot of new hobbies now, which have definitely led to me being happier in life.

The feeling of being out and about doing something fun early on a Sunday morning is better than any feeling you get from alcohol. It's a great way to lead into the week."

Nicole: "I can tell that I'm a lot less anxious. I noticed that I would always get anxious the day after drinking, even if it were just after one glass of wine or a full night of drinking (and even blacking out). 

The emotional low I felt was awful, and physically, I could feel that my muscles were more sore, and I couldn't exercise normally.

Also, as I used to smoke cigarettes, once I'm drunk, I want to smoke cigarettes, and then the next day, I feel even worse about that too. So now when I'm not drinking, I don't smoke and overall feel a lot healthier consistently."

Francisco: "Since I was never a big drinker, I don't really notice a difference. I just avoid alcohol because I know I will always feel so much better without it."

Question 5: What is your current relationship with alcohol?

Ashley: I currently fall in the "sober curious" category, but it's very new for me. I did Dry January earlier this year and then just kept going after it for a couple more weeks. 

Out of nowhere, the last two times I had a big night out drinking, I had insane hangovers the following day. Both nights I blacked out, didn't remember much, and felt absolutely wrecked, spending the day sick in bed. 

It felt kismet that I was already beginning to introduce new practices from the start of the year that would lead me to where I am now. 

In January, I started listening to a podcast about sober curiosity called "On The Rocks" with Olivia Noceda. It expanded my way of thinking and made me really question what I was doing and why I was doing it. I loved that the podcast spoke to various people across the spectrum about their relationship with alcohol — trying to drink less, drink more consciously, or just cut it completely.

I also got an Oura ring in February and became more in tune with my body, monitoring my sleep and tracking how the outside world and my actions affected me internally. 

I believe my passion for wanting to live more consciously, paired with some recently wild hangovers, sparked the habit change. 

I still go out with my friends to dinners, parties, festivals, or even stay at a club dancing until 5 am, just completely sober now. I typically have sparkling water or a non-alcoholic beer in hand.

However, one of the most eye-opening changes for me has been dating alcohol-free. The idea terrified me. What are you even supposed to do on a date if you aren't drinking?! It was a challenge that was so beneficial for me, as it helped me get out of my comfort zone and channel the self-confidence that was already inside me. 

It led to more creative dates where we were doing an activity or learning together, having more meaningful conversations, and ultimately building deeper connections. 

I'm not saying I'll never drink again. That was never my intention. What I'm doing is committing to being a conscious drinker. I still love a good glass of wine and appreciate a well-balanced and beautifully made cocktail. I just don't have the desire to drink to fill a void caused by feeling unworthy or to force my personality to shine through something that isn't a result of my consciousness.

Eoin: "My relationship with alcohol is in a good place. I can be around alcohol in a bar and not feel the urge to drink or let this dictate how I feel. I can be happy and content without drinking. For the most part, when I go drinking, it is much more intentional.

I only go drinking when there is an event or a good reason to have a few drinks. Also, I have much more awareness of how each glass affects me. When I start to feel a bit drunk, I just stop and drink water for a bit. 

I was never able to do this before, so it's a massive step. 

In the future, I believe I will become fully sober. 

The older I get, it seems like the goals I have for my life are the opposite of what drinking brings. When I weigh this up against what I get from drinking alcohol, it's no contest. So I guess, being sober curious has stopped me from drinking on random Friday and Saturday nights for the sake of it."

Nicole: "I'll have a glass of wine if I want it, but examining my relationship with alcohol made me much more aware of why I was drinking. 

It made me question if the right people surrounded me or if I'm hanging out with certain people just to drink. 

I started asking myself if I was drinking because I actually enjoyed having a drink or if I was just doing it because I was in a social setting and felt the pressure to drink because everyone else was doing it. 

I've stopped drinking when I go out to parties because I want to have a good time consciously. When I do choose to drink, it's because I want to enjoy a nice wine in a good setting. 

I no longer drink to avoid how I'm actually feeling and have a crazy night just to escape whatever I'm going through."

Francisco: "I avoid alcohol completely besides maybe one glass of wine a month."

Question 6: What would you tell someone curious about giving up alcohol (either forever or temporarily)?

Ashley: "I am a big believer in constantly reevaluating your values and habits. In the same way we set goals, milestones, and monthly/quarterly/annual reviews in the work setting, we should do the same process with ourselves. 

I think the idea of having "expanders" in your life (people you admire and are already doing the thing you want to do or live a certain way you want to live) is a very real and important practice, especially if you are toying with your relationship with alcohol (even though this works beyond this theme). 

Seeing is believing, and believing leads to becoming. Being around these people expands your belief system and helps you manifest what you really want.

There are also many resources for people interested in sober curiosity. I can't recommend the podcast "On The Rocks" with Olivia Noceda enough as a good starting point to discover what you want your relationship with alcohol to look like."

Eoin: "I would say definitely try it, it never hurts to try something once, and you can always go back to drinking if you don't like it. I struggle to think of a reason as to why you would regret it, as you will definitely feel better mentally and physically. You'll also save a lot of money!

Nicole: "I would recommend asking yourself if you actually enjoy alcohol because you enjoy the taste or what's the actual reason you are drinking. Our society is filled with behaviors that numb us and cloud our thoughts, and alcohol is one of those. We already have so many normalized addictions, like coffee and social media, that it's worth trying to remove one to see how you feel without it. 

Also, look at your social setting and question if you're surrounding yourself with people just because you like to drink or if you enjoy each other's company. When I stopped drinking, I stopped going out as much because I realized that a lot of my friendships were based on drinking." 

Francisco: "I would tell them to look into all the positive benefits your body will physically feel when you stop drinking. Your body really appreciates it, not only aesthetically but also mentally. 

The only downside is that since it's a very socially accepted drug and behavior, people normally expect you to drink, especially at dinners and birthdays. It is frustrating that it's so normalized but stick to your willpower." 

Question 7: If you could go back and give yourself advice during the period when you consumed the most alcohol and when, what would you say and why?

Ashley: "The best advice I can give is something I heard. The person that you think alcohol is turning you into is already inside of you. You just need to give yourself permission to let that person out."

Eoin: "Pay more attention and be more mindful of how you feel after each drink. I feel like if I had done this sooner, I would have binge drank significantly less. 

You don't need alcohol to be confident in social settings, and consuming alcohol, for this reason, is counterproductive in the long run and doesn't solve anything.

You don't need to go out drinking (considering you don't want to) just because all your friends are going and you're afraid of missing out on the night. You will not regret it the next day."

Nicole: "I started consuming a lot of alcohol in college because I wasn't in a good place with myself. My relationship with alcohol became toxic because I couldn't control myself. 

Even after three drinks, I would black out and turn into someone I wasn't proud to be. 

So looking back on those times, I would tell myself that going overboard isn't good for you and to be more aware of why you're actually drinking. 

It's okay to drink and to have a drink at dinner, but you don't need to drink just to get drunk to go out. Find other ways to enjoy yourself instead of needing to rely on alcohol."

Francisco: "I would tell myself from the beginning that your brain will always function much better without alcohol, so you really don't need it. 

Be strong in saying no to people when choosing not to drink. Don't care what people say or think about you, be confident in your decision."

Interview by: Elena Rogers

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