Envying Normal Drinkers.

I hear this quite a bit; people saying how they envy ‘normal’ drinkers. These envyers of normal drinkers can often be very set in their sobriety and have no intention of ever drinking again. They know from personal experience that if they drank it would end in a horror show, so they themselves would never drink again. But they envy those drinkers who can have one or two, or even a few more than that, then just get on with their lives.

It’s particularly understandable at this time of year. Here in London it feels like summer is finally here; the sun is out, the evenings are getting longer, and the thought of a few drinks in the open air can be compelling.

It’s worth looking in a bit more detail at the experience of these so-called normal drinkers, who apparently can have one or two drinks (or even a few more). Let’s look at what they get form their experience.

Firstly, and let me get this out there once and for all, the best drinks I ever had were the ones I wanted the most. Either because I had a horrible hangover and knew a drink would take me from feeling anxious, miserable and frail to feeling confident, happy and relaxed. Or because I was just obsessing about having a drink. The inescapable fact of the matter is that the more you want something, the more you are going to enjoy it. And if you don’t really want something, if you are ambivalent towards it, chances are you aren’t going to enjoy it that much.

So this is the first point. People who can take it or leave it, can take it or leave it for a reason; because they’re not that fussed about it to begin with.

But even if you skip this part, and assume that they really do enjoy their drink, how long does that enjoyment last for? 15, 20 mins? Then the sedating effect of the alcohol turns into a corresponding feeling of restlessness and anxiety. Maybe they have another one. Then another. Then they will be offsetting that restless, anxious feeling. But of course that unpleasant feeling is increasingly pronounced when it eventually kicks in (which is has to do eventually when the supply of alcohol is stopped).

But even when you keep the alcohol flowing, the good feeling doesn’t last. As the intoxication builds up the good mood slowly dissipates. Try watching drinkers on a night out. The good mood passes pretty quickly, and later in the evening they look sluggish, tired, even argumentative or aggressive.

At some point of course they will go to bed, to have their sleep ruined by the chemical effects of the alcohol. This is true for whatever amount they have drunk; even one drink will interrupt the drinker’s normal sleeping patterns and leave them tired and washed out the next day. And there will be that anxious, restless feeling which is the chemical aftereffects of the alcohol. If you only have one drink, that feeling will be minor (almost imperceptible), but they more they have drunk the more pronounced it will be.

And of course alcohol elevates our heart rate. In the short term this robs us of energy (the more your heart is beating the more you want to sit down and rest) and in the long term It greatly weakens your cardiovascular health.

That mix of tiredness, anxiety lethargy and restlessness will follow them around all the next day.

So what do these drinkers actually get from their drinks? 20 minutes of ‘pleasure’ followed by 23 hours and 4 minutes feeling far under par? Maybe they might get an hour of ‘pleasure’ if they keep the drinks flowing, but then the following 23 hours they will feel even worse.

If you envy someone something they are experiencing, you have to envy the whole experience, you can’t just envy them a selective part of it. It’s odd how we envy them 5% perceived benefit of the experience, and give no thought to the 95% unpleasantness they pay.

It all comes down to the fact that we often think that those who drink less get the pleasure without the downsides, but of course they get the downsides. These downsides may be less pronounced the less you drink, but you can never escape them.

Next time you see someone drinking in what you consider to be an idyllic drinking situation, remind yourself that you’re seeing 5% of the total experience. Think about the 95% price they will be paying. Would you willingly and knowingly pay £95 for a £5 benefit? I don’t know many people who would (other than politicians…)

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17 Responses

  1. Another great article William. I went for 4 years then 2 years without alcohol and trying to moderate after each AF period. I went for moderation as I feel this is the hardest of all to do if you have been a heavy drinker. But I found just having a couple of pints or two glasses of wine really affected my mood the next day and robbed my of my desire to get out and about and do things. My feeling is backed up with emerging evidence in how few drinks can no affect us physically and mentally. I am now on day 24 of being alcohol free again and it feels great. The benefits of not drinking are well known. What I am working on now is making all the conversations I have with friends or strangers special. I want to develop more my empathetic listening skills. This for me is another of the key reasons for going back to sobriety.

  2. Hello, I don’t use social media so never get to share your posts. I have an alcoholic brother and another working hard to control his drinking. This kind of post is ideal to share but how? If you added the email or whatsapp option even, it would be a help. Many thanks, 3yrs & 6 months dry & counting. Your posts help.

    1. Hi Jenny. If you put your finger on the body of the text William has written a little box comes up. If you then press the little arrow on the right it will eventually say “share”. After pressing share you can then see an additional box come up underneath. You can either choose copy or move along until you see the email icon & open it up. The article can then be send to whoever you want to send it to. Hope this makes sense 😊

    2. Nicely explained Carol for a smartphone, but Jenny, if you are on a PC, go to the bar where the tab displays the address (https://alcoholexplained.com/envying-normal-drinkers/). Select it with your mouse and copy it. You can then paste it, like I just did, into an email and send it to your brother. If he’s interested, he just clicks on it or copies it into his browser and the article will appear and of course that will also guide him to the motherlode of Alcohol Explained resources, should he chose to investigate further.

      The sad fact is that all you can do is drop hints like this when dealing with another person’s drinking and show willing to support them. I believe they have to chose themselves to look into quitting and sometimes coming on strong can have the opposite effect, turning you from a concerned relative into a rescuer or a persecutor (depending on their mood).

      Sharing quality information like this though will guide him to a safe place to learn about alcohol and what to expect when dealing with it.

      I quit after reading Alcohol Explained six years ago. I didn’t even think I had a ‘problem’. Certainly no one said so. I just listened to my 8 year old son’s observation that it made me tired and fed my curiosity by reading William’s book. The scales simply fell from my eyes!

      Leading by example is probably the best tack.

      Good luck!

  3. Thanks for this reminder, you are talking of the best possible outcome of having a few drinks.
    What if you have an accident, fall over, hurt your limbs, lose your phone, break your spectacles etc then that 95% will become more saturated with grief and remorse.
    Alcohol explained has really educated me on the effects of alcohol physiologically and mentally.
    I most definitely can relate to that 5% relaxed carefree 20 minute drink and the 95+% pay back.
    Very informative book.
    All the best

  4. Just so blooming amazing and utterly accessible for all – great and very valuable piece of writing – helping people seeing things for what they are – helping people see the truth. Thank you for what you do 🙏☺️

  5. I’ve never really had that envy and I’m over 4 years in without a single drop. I’m not saying this to gloat, but to share a perspective that others may not have considered.

    Of course, your post does that itself, William but I just thought I’d add my view too.

    Drinking can bring that short moment of pleasure, and we can make that happen on command. But look at the rest of life too; sobriety brings far more unplanned moments of joy; the trick is to notice they’re happening when you’re not expecting them.

    Do you not laugh? Lose track of time while having fun? Wonder in awe at something beautiful? Never chase joy, happiness or any other good feeling; it will find you and will feel better for being triggered by events, not drugs.

  6. I am approaching 3 years of sobriety and this came at a good time because even though I feel strong I do find myself feeling envy for the ‘normies.’
    William you have helped put this into a crystal clear perspective for me so thank you! 🙏

  7. The timing for this post could not have been better. I really needed to read this, thank you for another brilliant article!

  8. The point you make William is that a complete definition of things can change our view of things. The “world” we live in often shows only the 5%….this is true with regard to inappropriate sex, eating junk food, etc. What helped me the most after reading your book a while back was just this point. Now I see or view drinking with a complete definition. Why do most cringe seeing a junkie with a needle in their arm? Because they immediatly sense the complete definition, which includes the consequences. They see the consequences. Your book has helped me see the 100% of what drinking is, not blinded by the 5%. This same principle can help with many other temptations, because the consequences cant be left out. Wisdom is a very desirable thing. Being stupid is painful. Thank you again.

  9. what if we reframed our thought process that sobriety is the ‘normal’, and drinkers should envy those who are sober and enjoying life? Alcohol is not a natural need, since humans made it what it was/is in society so it seems that normal would be not ingesting something that is not beneficial or appreciated by our bodies…. just a thought

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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