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Alcohol - Is being teetotal the best choice for everyone?

Recently, I’ve been pondering the subject of alcohol. This is partly due to the fact that, for no reason in particular, I have barely had any of the stuff for the last two weeks. It has struck me that this, for me, is quite unusual. Here in Hong Kong, you come to expect to hear the words ‘free-flow’ and ‘bottomless brunch’ in the average expat’s weekend plans. For many, tiny living quarters and disposable income equates to regular nights out on the bevvies. Similarly, in the UK and all across the world, a large proportion of any social gatherings and organised events revolve around alcohol in some way.

The interesting thing about alcohol is that we consume it knowing it is bad for us. In the same vain as smoking, it is doing our body no favours at all, especially when we drink to the point of feeling drunk. Unlike the mixed messages we receive about other so-called vices such as eating fast food or drinking diet pop, there is no debate about alcohol. It is poisonous to the body. However, it is a poison that we are all used to. It is thought that we homo-sapiens have been drinking alcohol for as long as we have been walking on two legs. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons that alcohol is so ingrained in our social and cultural norms.

For me, being sober for a whole two weeks is a rarity, but how about for a lifetime? Within all of our social circles, we will know people with all kinds of relationships with alcohol. From the completely teetotal, to those who we fear may have a full-blown problem. For the majority of us, though, we are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Largely, it is the types of social situations we find ourselves in that dictate our drinking patterns rather than any kind of innate desires or needs to consume. For example, in my case, the reason for my two-week dry spell is because of busy work commitments, cinema trips and hikes instead of boozy plans. In other words, it has been coincidental rather than a conscious choice.

This being the case then, why does the thought of not drinking ever again seem so far-fetched? Are we so conditioned to rely on alcohol in certain situations that, although we wouldn’t consider ourselves to have a problem, we wouldn’t consider going to a work do, a nightclub or to a hen party stone-cold sober either? Us casual drinkers are often amazed by people who can give up alcohol altogether. Although these people may be seen as smug or virtuous, perhaps they are just sensible. Their reasons are undoubtedly valid and for them it may be completely necessary.

Although casual alcohol consumption unarguably has no benefits to our bodies and mental health, is it all bad? In an ideal world, would we all be teetotal? Alcohol is so synonymous with celebration, fun and frivolity that it is really hard to even consider this possibility. There are couples that never would have met were it not for alcohol, friendships that would never have formed, babies that wouldn’t have been born. Alcohol forges human connections and, on occasion, a lowering of our inhibitions is just what we need. So maybe it's not all bad.

Though it is very easy to stick an ‘everything in moderation’ label on the issue and move on, I somehow feel as though this isn’t getting to the crux of the matter: why we feel the need to drink. After a fortnight alcohol-free, I can safely say I am feeling better for it and my mood has certainly improved. With Christmas on the horizon, though, and parties and social gatherings aplenty, I can safely say I, along with many others like me, will ‘eat, drink and be merry’ all the way into the new year. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether we even enjoy it? Or are we merely doing it out of habit: to fit in and to connect with others? Perhaps we’d learn to do these things in alcohol’s absence, if we gave ourselves the chance. Maybe, for me, 2020 will be the year to test this theory a little more.

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