What I know now that I wish I knew then.
“Close some doors today. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere.”―Paulo Coelho
When I took my first sip of alcohol in B Suite of Wellons Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, I remember having this feeling of euphoria and coming of age that I never had before.
The freedom and sense of confidence that alcohol brought me were brand new. Gone were the feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness, replaced with feelings of excitement and what “could be.”
I felt like I could go up to just about anyone and say anything I wanted while also doing the same. My mind was opened to a new world in which I felt the night was an opportunity of endless possibilities, and there was no telling where it might end.
And from that time forward, alcohol did not let me down. The experiences that I’ve had because of alcohol are some of the most exciting experiences of my life. I have memories of events and situations that probably would’ve never happened had alcohol not been involved.
And now, 21 years later, when I look back, one idea comes to mind when I think about all of it.
I wish I would’ve never started drinking.
It seems weird, right?
If alcohol allowed me to experience all of these great things in life, then why would I wish such a thing?
There are a number of health-related reasons that I could easily share that would give credence to this argument, as well as cite all the possible criminal and financial issues caused by alcohol.
But that probably wouldn’t change your mind because you, just like me, probably already know all of those things, and everyone knows that only alcoholics could fall prey to those effects.
And while that is not entirely true (you can read more about why here), that was my line of thinking as well.
Therefore, instead of taking you down the road of listing all the different ways alcohol will harm you that you know, I would rather share with you all the unrecognized things alcohol will do for you that I wish someone would’ve told me when I was younger and most people NEVER learn.
ALCOHOL WILL CREATE A NEED FOR ITSELF
I always saw alcohol as one of my best friends. It did so much for me. It made me less self-conscious. It made me able to say and do things that I wouldn’t usually in a lot of situations. It just gave me a lot of confidence.
This is good, right? Who wouldn’t want to have more confidence to do the things we desire? This never seemed like a problem until I got much older and was able to reflect on my life and see how far (or lack thereof) I had come.
Alcohol gave me confidence, but it was fake confidence that disappeared once the alcohol was gone. And after taking stock, what I realized was that alcohol held me back from gaining TRUE confidence on my own.
The danger of alcohol is that it becomes too much of a crutch to anyone that uses it. When most people first start drinking, they are younger and very unsure about themselves and life. This is not unusual, however, as most of us are just trying to figure out things in our teens.
I was nineteen when I started drinking, and while I wouldn’t consider myself shy, there were certain social situations that I didn’t feel as comfortable in since I didn’t experience a lot of them growing up. Dancing in front of others as well as talking to the opposite sex in social situations were two of those for me.
Therefore, when alcohol increased my GABA neurotransmitter production and made me feel much more comfortable in these situations, of course, I felt like this was my magical elixir for life.
Over time, I got much more comfortable in these situations and learned what worked versus what didn’t work and began to feel comfortable even without alcohol. However, there were still unusual situations in which I still felt a bit of nervousness that I couldn’t quite understand.
Even though I had experienced these things numerous times and felt like I understand what I should do, the nervousness never went away and even seemed to be stronger than in the past at times.
Many of these times I would just grab a beer to get myself “in the mood” and this feeling would go away.
However, I wasn’t aware that, while alcohol seemed to alleviate the anxious feeling at the time, it was the real reason that I had never been able to completely get rid of the feeling in the first place.
The reason for this relates to alcohol’s relationship to your central nervous system and the cycle of cortisol and serotonin creation that doesn’t allow you to feel comfortable without alcohol in these situations.
The only way to truly develop this ability on your own and grow is to face it WITHOUT alcohol.
And shared in, How Alcohol is CREATING Your Anxiety, this cycle will last for as long as you use alcohol as your crutch and get worse and worse with time, to the point that you will need alcohol to feel comfortable in situations in which you never needed it before.
Therefore, it was only after quitting drinking about 19 months ago that the reality of the trap I had been living for so long came to the forefront. Since I made the decision not to drink, I had to force myself to get through these uneasy feelings and observe what was happening to me.
This led to me not allowing my habits to control me and reaching for a beer to feel better but instead focusing on WHY I was feeling this way and implementing strategies to improve in this area.
Subsequently, this allowed me to actually lose these feelings of uneasiness and anxiety in only 19 months of being sober when I couldn’t do it completely before in 19 years.
Because I got rid of it as my crutch, it forced me to deal with it and gain the skills needed to feel truly confident from the inside-out instead of using alcohol to artificialize me from the outside-in.
ALCOHOL WILL ROB YOU OF YOUR ABILITY TO GROW AND LEARN
While I have always considered myself a deep reader and learner, I never realized the subtle way that alcohol was holding me back as it relates to this.
Alcohol affects the brain in a number of different ways that make it more difficult to grasp concepts while you are drinking. This is why it is never a good idea to try to study for that upcoming applied finance exam after you’ve had a few Michelob Light Ultras.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that over time, this impairment to your learning ability doesn’t only take place when you’re drinking, but instead, is forever present as long as you continue to drink excessively (defined as 4 or 5 drinks or more at one time) on a consistent basis.
As shared in How Alcohol KILLS Your Ability to Learn and How to Fix It, alcohol affects your short-term and long-term memory in a number of different ways due to it slowing down your neurotransmitter’s connection to your neurons over time and the possible shrinking of your hippocampus.
You don’t automatically notice this since this happens slowly, but you will recognize it when you begin to find it more challenging to grasp difficult concepts than it has been in the past.
You will find yourself reading and rereading passages and giving up entirely on other more spatial, theoretical concepts that take a fully-functioning brain to grasp.
This will limit your ability to truly learn new concepts and be able to apply them to your personal and professional life for advancement. This will often prevent you from making great strides either at work or personally.
You may be giving 100% effort to learn and grow but because of how alcohol has impaired your brain, you are only getting a 60–70% output for your results.
Since you are giving 100% of your mental effort, you might feel that you are doing all you can to be successful, but you are not cognizant of this continual governor that you have placed on yourself that won’t allow you to reach your full potential as long as you excessively drink to keep it there.
ALCOHOL WILL STEAL YOUR TIME
This is probably the biggest and most subtle danger of alcohol that so few people ever realize.
Despite all the issues that it could cause by creating the need for itself and making it more difficult for you to gather and retain new information, the biggest danger of alcohol is that it steals so much of your time that could be spent working on your dreams.
As a young ambitious college graduate, I was driven to work hard and put in the time to be successful in so many ways. I would wake up early in the morning and stay up late at night, believing in “the grind” to make sure I was putting in the hours needed to see the level of success I desired.
The only caveats to this were the days after I went out with my friends to have a drink and enjoy the town to relax and de-stress a bit.
This started out by being just maybe one night per week, as Saturday was the night of choice to let it hang out a bit to have a little fun.
Saturday night, over time, then turn into Friday and Saturday because “why not?” I didn’t really have any major plans for the weekend, so I might as well drink both days to double my pleasure and double my relaxation.
Friday and Saturday then gave way to Sunday Funday, as I was drinking mimosas at noon and trying to find the coolest day party before ordering a Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza and crashing in bed by 8 pm.
This then eventually gave away to Tuesdays and Tuesdays for happy hours with co-workers and clients, with me telling myself that as long as I didn’t drink Mondays and Wednesdays, I was fine.
This led to me spending a lot of hours either getting ready to go out or recovering from going out that tremendously cut into my time to be productive.
If I added it all up, alcohol probably robbed me of anywhere 30–40 hours of potential work time per week that I could’ve been spending in so many other ways. This could’ve been me improving my knowledge to excel at my day time job or working on my side skill or hustle to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
Either way, I could never get back these hours, and they were a complete waste as I look back on the various ways I could’ve spent them that would’ve yielded much more ROI for my life today.
I mentally cringe when I think about all the wasted hours I spent on alcohol and how I incorrectly assumed I was “seizing the day” when instead I was wasting it.
And as someone who has been there, done that, and has the t-shirt to prove it, I can unequivocally tell you one thing:
It’s not worth it.
While you might have a few memories and stories that you can tell with friends one day down the road, what you won’t have is the feeling of accomplishment that comes with achieving your goals or knowing that you did everything you could to do so.
Don’t make the same mistake I did.
How? Keep your drinking in moderation or don’t drink at all if that is not realistic for you (it’s not for me).
Need help? Check out AINYF, where this is our purpose.
But whatever you do, don’t think alcohol will have no effect on your life or, years later, you could be writing this same article to your younger self.