Today we’re going to be talking about a subtle influence that’s in the background of most people’s self-development journey: Alcohol.
I have a number of clients whose progress in building confidence is hampered and slowed down by their drinking. And I know from personal experience why this might be happening. So today, I thought I’d tackle an issue that people are very resistant to: The idea that alcohol is a drug, that if you drink you are a drug user, and that alcohol explains most of your problems, even if you’re just a casual drinker.
My love affair with booze
I first became aware of the reverse-correlation between alcohol and confidence through my own alcohol use.
I was a huge binge-drinker. From the age of about 13 to my late 20s, at least twice a week I would get blind drunk. I wasn’t really a casual drinker, like people who have a sip of wine with dinner, it’s more like I’d have a box of beers twice a week.
Now at the time, I told myself it’s OK because that’s what everyone else does. This is socializing, I’d tell myself.
But the truth was, it was my social crutch. I had social anxiety, the only way that I could interact in a massive group was basically to have a few drinks and loosen up. I was surrounded by people who did the same thing, so I thought that this was normal and OK.
And then I started to develop some problems.
For about a year in my mid-20s, I had a dull pain in my side – I used to push on it while watching TV to subdue the pain because like a typical guy didn’t want to go to the doctor. But after a while I had to because it was just annoying me all day every day. My doctor did a little test and found out that my liver was badly inflamed, and the pain I was feeling was because my stomach was also inflamed from being in contact with my liver. I was apparently very close to getting cirrhosis of the liver.
Doc told me in no uncertain terms that this was because of my binge-drinking (combined with some genetic factors). He told me to quit drinking for six weeks so that my liver could regrow and heal itself.
The next six weeks taught me everything I needed to know about the effect that alcohol was having on my life.
The shocking truth about being sober
The first obvious realization came through socializing. I was determined not to lose my social life just because I couldn’t drink, so I became the sober driver. And I found out how fucking unbearable it is to hang out with people who are drunk when you’re stone sober.
It also told me that a lot of my friendships were based just on being drunk with people. I didn’t actually like some of them very much, and they didn’t know much about me or like me very much either. It was a shocking realization to see that if none of us were allowed to drink, we probably wouldn’t be friends.
Not only that, without alcohol I lacked the courage to talk to new people or even some associates I already had. I was rudely awakened to how much of a social coward I was.
But the biggest wake up for me came after a few weeks, which is the amount of time it takes for alcohol to fully stop having an effect on you (i.e. yes, getting drunk at that wedding 3 weekends ago is still affecting you). My energy levels came roaring back up. I hadn’t had this kind of energy since I was 12 years old. I felt like I had electricity running through my veins, like I couldn’t do enough to use up all my energy.
I had my weekends back. Entire Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings returned – I had so much more time I was actually panicking about how much time I had. This showed me how much time I’d lost over the years, being hungover and drunk, not to mention everything else I’d lost like money, health, opportunities, potential dates, and hobbies.
And so I started – for the first time since I was a teenager – to question the idea that drinking is good.
Short term effects of alcohol
Now the short term effects of drinking alcohol are pretty well known and obvious. So I’ll just quickly run through them here just in case you haven’t heard them before:
We often think of these things as just the price we have to pay for drinking, or we tell ourselves we just had one too many but that drinking isn’t really that big a problem, “I can control it, blah, blah, blah.”
The truth is, when you look at a list like this, you don’t really see anything that describes the life of a confident and healthy person, do you? Quite the opposite. And you know all of these effects are true for alcohol use. So would a confident person deliberately creates these effects?
Long term effects of alcohol
Where alcohol starts to affect yourself development is in the long term side-effects that you’re probably unaware of because you’ve been experiencing them your entire life. If you’re a consistent drinker, it only takes a few drinks a week to maintain these symptoms so that they become your ‘normal’:
“Diminished gray matter and white matter in the brain” – that’s just a fancy way of saying brain damage.
There are a lot of people out there with actual brain damage from even just casual drinking, and they don’t know why they struggle. You might think, “Oh, I always struggle to remember people’s names” or “I keep forgetting where I put my keys” without realizing it’s because you’re drinking lots of alcohol and have damaged your brain tissue.
You might blame Facebook and other social media for your inability to focus and for how easily distracted you are, but maybe those drinks you had last week have negatively affected your cortex.
My fatty liver put me in a consistently bad mood for months – so drinking not only affects your physical health but could jade your entire outlook on life. And there are some others that are not on the list, like sleep disorders and mood disorders like depression and social anxiety.
Maybe the only reason Monday’s suck at work is because you drank alcohol on the weekend!
It’s a tranquilizer in more ways than one
The point is, alcohol could easily be the main thing slowing down progress in your growth. You might think that you’re lazy, or that you’re not smart enough, or that you’re cowardly, or that you’re just too tired and you don’t have enough energy, and you don’t realize it’s actually because you’re having a few beers every week.
Alcohol is the socially acceptable drug. There are entire countries like Ireland, Czech Republic, New Zealand and Australia that actually pride themselves on their drinking. But it’s only socially acceptable because it’s technically legal. In medical terms, alcohol is a drug like heroin or methamphetamine. The legality of it is political, not medical.
In fact, alcohol is the most dangerous drug: It has the highest mortality rate. No other drug causes as many deaths or costs the health service as much as alcohol.
And what isn’t measured so easily how much this drug causes self-development problems and relationship problems. While we’re aware of the obvious cases of alcoholics losing their families etc., we don’t often measure the connection between low confidence and alcohol, or dating struggles and alcohol.
Putting it really bluntly, if you drink to get drunk more than once per month, then you might as well be a heroin or meth user. It’s the same effect you’re having on your body, your brain, your confidence, and your relationships.
It’s about WHY we’re drinking
The main issue is why you drink.
You tell yourself it’s culture and all your friends are doing it, that it’s socially acceptable just like having a coffee (which is also a drug, but that’s another story).
But the truth is you drink because you have confidence problems. Alcohol is your crutch. You use it to prop yourself up where your bravery and courage fails. You medicate your emotions with it rather than facing them boldly.
And because you’re using it as a crutch, you can’t actually develop true courage. You have to keep using your drug. Courage is the lubricant for confidence – it’s required to live by all the other values of confidence.
If you want to keep drinking, then keep drinking. But look yourself in the eye and tell yourself the truth: You’re a drug user, and probably an addict.
I used to work in rehabilitation and addictions for many years, and I discovered this amazing thing: Alcohol is the only drug that requires a “medical detox.” You can be addicted to heroin, meth, and cocaine, and you can go “cold turkey” (quit completely and suddenly). It’ll hurt, you won’t enjoy it, but you won’t die if you just quit them all.
But if you’re a hardcore alcoholic and you just quit alcohol, you will actually die from quitting because of how the dependent your body is! You need all these calming other drugs to get you through the first 48 to 72 hours, you can become so dependent on it that your body will actually stop functioning if you stop using it.
If you choose to drink, you choose to be controlled by a poisonous substance. You are deliberately surrendering your mind and body.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what a hangover is? Why it is that you can smoke weed all night and when you wake up the next day you’re just a bit tired, but when you drink alcohol all night you wake up the next day and your head feels like it’s going to split open? There’s a simple reason for that: ethanol is poisonous. You’re drinking poison.
That really isn’t an exaggeration.
Doesn’t matter how fancy your drink is or how good it tastes or that it’s the best new IPA on tap – you’re drinking poison. Socially acceptable poison. A hangover is what being poisoned feels like.
So you’re wondering why you’re not making progress on your goals and your physical health and your relationships, all the while you’re deliberately poisoning yourself every week.
I still occasionally have a beer but I do so knowing the truth, which is I am consuming poison. And I can tell you one thing for sure: my success in life, the massive upswing of my career, my social confidence, my inner confidence – all of those things spiked upwards when I stopped getting drunk.
I also drink so rarely now that I can notice the downsides each time – the next week following drinking is always less productive, more moody, less clear and less motivated.
When I actually stopped drinking for an entire year, barely a sip, my productivity went through the roof. It’s like I’d been waiting all my life to finally stop poisoning myself and get on with business.
You may have been drinking so long, you can’t even remember what it feels like to be in top form. If you’re like me – raised in a country where people start drinking early in their teens and don’t stop for more than a couple of weeks forever after – you might not even remember what it’s like to have all your energy, to have all your faculties, or even to be able to concentrate.
The potential you have to do all those things you’ve always wanted to do, to have the confidence you’ve always wanted to have, to be able to manage your emotions like you wish you could, it might all just come down to drinking.
Can you go 6 months without?
If you don’t believe me, fine. Try this challenge: Go without drinking for six months.
Six months out of your whole life is not a huge percentage. And if at the end of that six months you decide it was all foolish and you want to become an alcoholic again, so be it. But just try it.
Put it this way – if you can’t even consider quitting for 6 months, you’re an alcoholic. Any excuse you make – “But I like drinking” or “I don’t drink that much” or “I could quit if I wanted to but I just don’t want to” – are the exact same excuses meth addicts make. Welcome to the club.
Notice what happens after about two or three months of quitting, when your energy comes back and your mind can solve problems like never before. Even if you’re just a casual drinker, just try not poisoning yourself and enjoy the increased cognition that’s been waiting for you to just have a long enough break from poison-recovery.
I predict that by the end of that six months you’ll be wondering how much time, energy and opportunities you’ve wasted just so that you could get wasted.
Thank you so much for your time going all the way to the end of this post. Share your thoughts in the comments, and please share it around.
Of course, if you’re somebody who actually struggles with various addictions, or you’re ready to get your life in order and stop doing shit that holds you back, get in touch and I’ll provide you with some more resources or even help you with one to one coaching firstname.lastname@example.org