I quit drinking in December of 2016. Before getting sober, I went through the very common phase of debating with myself over whether I really had a drinking problem.
On one hand, I couldn’t deny the simple fact that I was drinking every single day. That seemed like a pretty obvious indicator of alcoholism.
On the other hand, my drinking habit didn’t really appear to be damaging my life. Sure, I had noticed a few negative effects, but my life wasn’t exactly falling apart. I had excelled in law school and passed the bar exam all while drinking every night, so was my habit really a problem?
The truth is that alcohol had been hurting me a lot more than I had been willing to admit. It wasn’t until after getting sober that I was able to comprehend the full extent of alcohol’s harm.
Weight gain wasn’t the worst effect that alcohol had on me, but I’m starting here because it was the most obvious. It was one of the few problems that I noticed even before getting sober.
In my mid-twenties, I was going through a minimum of a six-pack of beer every day. That’s a lot of empty calories. I was drinking thousands and thousands of extra calories each week, which caused my weight to skyrocket.
From age 25 to age 29, I gained well over 60 pounds. I watched with disappointment as I crossed into “overweight,” and then “obese.”
I attempted to diet, but since I was never willing to cut out alcohol, it didn’t go well. I’d essentially end up starving myself, devoting almost all of my daily calories to drinking. These diets never lasted very long, which is a good thing because I could have ended up doing permanent damage.
When I finally got sober, my weight started dropping with very little effort on my part. Although I did have to diet to overcome a couple of plateaus, it was much easier when I was able to actually use all of my daily calories on food, rather than booze.
The other damage that I noticed early on was how alcohol had drained my finances. Drinking is an incredibly expensive habit.
I typically spent at least $10 a day on alcohol, which added up to thousands of dollars every year. Over the course of my entire life, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on booze.
I used to spend money on alcohol even when I didn’t have money to spend. One year, I ran up thousands in credit card debt thanks to my drinking. Other years, I’d compromise on where I lived and what I ate, just so I’d have more money for beer.
Even though I was aware that drinking was putting a strain on my finances, I tried not to think too carefully about just how much I was spending. Once I quit, however, the difference was obvious.
After getting sober, I saw my monthly credit card bill suddenly cut in half. It was shocking to realize just how much of my spending had been going to booze.
Stunted Social Skills
Alcohol also damaged me socially, although I didn’t realize how badly until after I quit. In fact, I used to think that alcohol helped my social life.
When I was in my early- and mid-twenties, I mostly drank with friends and at parties. As a socially anxious, naturally shy person, I thought of alcohol as a way to loosen up and get me talking.
As I got a little older, though, drinking became less of a social experience and more of something that I did by myself at home. Over the years, I became more and more socially isolated, until I rarely saw my friends at all.
What’s even worse is that because I had spent so many years relying on alcohol to “loosen me up,” I hadn’t developed the social skills I needed to interact with people while sober. By relying on a crutch, I had developed a limp.
Even though it’s been a few years since I quit drinking, I’m still working to reestablish the social skills that I lost due to alcoholism.
Less Free Time
Drinking also ate up an incredible amount of my free time. I always waited until after school or work was over to start drinking, but my evenings were pretty much devoted to booze.
I normally started drinking the moment I got home and kept it going all night. I’d do other things while I drank, but nothing too complex — mostly watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games.
I wasn’t able to pursue more meaningful hobbies because I was simply too drunk. These days, I like to run, write, and draw, but I never managed to stick with any of these things when I was drinking.
Getting sober was like suddenly adding five or six hours of free time to every day.
All of my drinking was also leaving me exhausted throughout the day. As an alcoholic, I almost never went to sleep sober. I relied on being drunk to help me pass out at the end of each day.
This meant that my sleep was incredibly poor quality. I regularly woke up to use the bathroom (an unfortunate side effect of drinking so much). During my worst years, I’d even wake up just to drink more.
Without solid sleep, I felt fatigued and exhausted throughout the day. I was so used to this feeling, that I didn’t even realize it was the result of my drinking — I thought I was just a tired person in general.
After I got sober, I still struggled some with sleep, but I’ve never felt as exhausted as I did when I was a drinker. I can finally get through the day without using every last ounce of energy.
Alcohol absolutely damaged my memory as well, although I was never willing to admit it at the time. I pointed to my success in law school as proof that I could remember things just fine. After all, doing well on the exams required memorizing vast amounts of facts.
However, despite my memory working well within this one specific domain, it was failing in others. I had massive gaps in my memories from the nights that I drank, and I struggled with my long-term memory in general.
Often, people would tell me about conversations I had taken part in, or events I had been at, and I literally wouldn’t remember them at all. This happened even for events that had been fairly recent.
The scary thing is that I often didn’t realize these memories were missing unless someone happened to mention them. I still don’t know how many things I might have forgotten forever.
Fortunately, since I’ve stopped drinking I’ve also stopped blacking out. Sometimes, I’ll think back over the past week just to check and make sure I can remember what happened — thankfully, I always do.
Stress and Anxiety
I often praised alcohol for helping me when it was actually having extremely negative effects on my life. The way that I thought about alcohol helping me socially was one example of this. Another prime example was that I used to think alcohol lowered my stress and anxiety, when it was actually doing just the opposite.
As a drinker, I’d get home from school or work feeling incredibly “wound up.” As soon as I started my first beer, however, the stress and anxiety would fade away. Because of this, I came to believe that alcohol was the perfect way for me to relax.
What I didn’t realize was that in the long run, alcohol was actually increasing my stress and anxiety. Although it seemed to lower them in the moment, these problems were getting worse year by year. Much of the anxiety that alcohol seemed to be eliminating was actually caused by alcohol in the first place.
What I had been calling “stress” was often just the first signs of alcohol withdrawal. Since I only drank at night, my body was craving alcohol all day long. After about a year of sobriety, I realized that I was no longer feeling “wound up” and stressed at the end of each day.
As with my anxiety, alcohol also caused my depression to increase over the years. I had been struggling with depression before becoming a daily drinker, and I think alcohol was in many ways a form of “self-medication” for my mental health.
The trouble was that drinking didn’t do anything to eliminate my depression, or to address any of the problems in my life that exacerbated it. I think alcohol is better described as a “mask” than as a “medication.”
It allowed me to keep my depression hidden — sometimes even from myself — but it also allowed my depression to grow deeper each year.
After I quit drinking, I turned to healthier solutions for managing depression, including exercise and therapy.
I wasn’t the only one affected by my drinking — it also hurt the people around me. As most friends and family members of alcoholics can tell you, addicts are not typically pleasant people to be around. I was, regretfully, no exception.
I got angry far too easily when I was drinking, taking it out on people who didn’t deserve it at all. I blew everything out of proportion, getting wildly upset about the tiniest problems.
It isn’t easy to talk about my anger problems, because it’s the part of my addiction that I’m still most ashamed of. However, since getting sober, I’ve worked hard to get my anger under control.
The final problem with alcohol was simply that it made me complacent. When I was drunk, I was willing to put up with a boring, unfulfilling life.
As an alcoholic, I was perfectly satisfied to spend every evening binge-watching terrible television. I was okay with letting my friendships fade away and my social life disappear. I didn’t mind that I felt less healthy every year.
Getting sober didn’t solve all of my problems, but it gave me the motivation and energy that I needed to start working on them. With alcohol gone, I stopped settling for a miserable life, and began pursuing a happy one.
When I was still drinking, downplaying the effects of my habit came naturally to me. It felt so much easier to ignore the way that alcoholism was damaging my life than to actually acknowledge my addiction.
However, in the four years since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve seen my life improve immeasurably. The truth is that alcohol has been the single most destructive force in my life, and I’m far better off without it.
Despite how much damage alcohol did, I’m grateful that the vast majority of it wasn’t permanent. With time and hard work, I’ve been able to recover and build a healthy, new life.