Discover more from Exploring Sobriety
Why I Couldn't Cut Back on Drinking
I wanted to drink alcohol in moderation, but I always ended up going overboard.
Before I got sober, I used to drink a lot.
Sometimes I would downplay the severity of my addiction by comparing myself to alcoholics who had it even worse. I’d tell myself things like “well, I don’t drink in the morning,” as if that was an excuse for getting drunk every night. It wasn’t.
The CDC defines binge drinking as “5 or more drinks on an occasion for a man.” (That number is 4 for women, in case you’re curious.) Heavy drinking, meanwhile, is “15 or more drinks per week for a man.” (8 for women.)
I used to exceed that binge-drinking limit every single day. At a bare minimum, I’d drink a six-pack of IPAs, which have far more alcohol per beer than a standard drink. Some years, I was even going through close to a case of beer each day. Even in my best years, I was still drinking two to three times the heavy-drinking limit each week.
The reality is that I was never a “borderline” problem drinker. My drinking was far past the line, and it had been for years.
I remember that as a drinker, I used to look at guidelines like the CDC’s and think of them as goals. I’d tell myself that all I needed to do to get my life under control was rein in my habit so that I’d no longer be going over the “excessive drinking” limits.
So, I went through a phase of trying to cut back on my drinking. It’s a phase that I’ve since learned nearly every alcoholic goes through.
I created rules for myself, like only drinking two beers a day so that I wouldn’t exceed the 15-drink-per-week cutoff for “heavy drinking.” When that didn’t work, I tried limiting the number of days per week that I drank—only indulging on the weekends, for example.
No matter what rule I came up with, I always fell into the same pattern. I’d follow it strictly for a day or two, then start finding reasons to make exceptions (“today was such a hard day that I deserve an extra beer”), then, eventually, I’d forget about the rule entirely. And, although I use the word “eventually,” this entire process typically happened within just a week or so.
Trying to limit my drinking was an exhausting experience. When I was drinking just one or two beers a day, I was never actually enjoying myself. It was excruciating to resist finishing off my normal six-pack.
My constant failure to cut back on drinking left me despondent. So many of my friends were able to drink in moderation without giving it a second thought. Why couldn’t I be like them? Why did I always let my drinking spiral out of control?
I think that the basic mistake I was making during my moderation attempts is that I was mixing up cause and effect.
I thought that my heavy drinking made me an alcoholic, and that by cutting my drinking down to “normal” levels I would be a “normal” drinker. The reality is that my alcoholism made me a heavy drinker, and no matter how hard I worked to drink less, my addicted mind would find an excuse to start drinking more again.
What I mean is that my relationship with alcohol is a fundamentally unhealthy one. I was never interested in drinking just a beer or two and getting a relaxing buzz. My goal as a drinker was always to get as wasted as possible.
This sets me apart from the friends that I used to watch with envy. They weren’t alcoholics who had scaled back their drinking through a set of strict rules. They had never had a problem with alcohol in the first place. They drank in moderation because that’s simply how they enjoyed drinking.
I told myself that I wanted to drink in moderation, but that wasn’t actually true. Moderation was torture for me, because it was giving me just enough alcohol to keep my addiction raging, but not enough alcohol to actually get me drunk. The only reason I pursued it for so long is because it was a way to put off the real solution to my problem: getting sober.
I made excuses like that I wasn’t ready to get sober, or that quitting alcohol entirely was “too extreme.” But, trying to drink in moderation was nothing more than a form of denial and procrastination.
I’m not an absolutist—I believe that there really are some problem drinkers who are able to get their drinking under control without going completely sober. However, I now know from experience that I’m not one of them.
I regret that I wasted so much time and energy into trying to cut back on drinking. I was aiming for a target that I never really wanted in the first place.
Now that I’m sober, one of the great ironies that I’ve discovered is that it’s actually far easier for me to drink no alcohol than it was to drink just a couple of beers a day. I used to write off sobriety as the “extreme” option. What’s really more extreme, though, spending day after day miserably struggling to drink in moderation, or just cutting out alcohol entirely?
By quitting drinking, I finally broke the exhausting cycles of setting rules and breaking them, building up my hope and then disappointing myself. Instead of remaining stuck, I began to move forward with my life.
I’m grateful that I stopped torturing myself with attempts to “moderate” my drinking, and finally made the leap. Sobriety sounds harder, but, in the long-run, it has actually proven much easier.