Why I Quit Drinking Alcohol
After more than two decades of drinking, last summer, I decided to stop drinking alcohol for good. There were a lot of reasons for this, and obviously, there were benefits—I lost some weight, slept better at night, and no more ungodly hangovers.
But also some life changes happened that I was completely unprepared for. And once these hidden benefits kicked in, I knew that I was probably done with alcohol forever.
But first, before we can talk about the benefits of not drinking, there’s a far more important question to start with, and that is: what are the benefits of drinking?
The Benefits of Alcohol
For me, the benefits were social.
I started drinking as a teenager. And as someone who struggled with a lot of social anxiety and codependency issues, alcohol was the only thing that allowed me to socialize with large groups of people comfortably.
Then, at university, I discovered what I thought was a superpower: I could hold my liquor. I could drink. A lot. More than most. And still somehow remain highly functional.
I never blacked out. I rarely got sick or fell over. I was a happy drunk—funny and outgoing and completely uninhibited. Combine this with a social environment that rewards an ability to drink with status, and by my early 20s, I had adopted an identity as “the party guy.” I was out every night, Tuesday through Saturday, drink in hand, laughing it up, having a blast.
This lifestyle continued throughout my 20s into my early 30s. By this time I had moved to New York City and as anyone who has lived in New York City can tell you, it’s a (ridiculously expensive) alcoholic’s paradise.
In my case, I was now in my 30s, married, a successful author, flying around the world writing and promoting books, speaking at conferences and to large corporations, once again finding myself in novel social situation after novel social situation.
Throughout all of this, the alcohol continued to flow, a constant quell for my anxiety, a social lubricant for the high stakes situations.
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The “Party Guy” Identity Starts to Crack
But it was around this time that something started to change. See, my “party guy” identity had helped me survive my anxieties and insecurities in my twenties—it helped me build the confidence and social experiences necessary to become the successful man I was in my 30s.
But, it also began to destroy me in my 30s. Because by then, my life had changed, my values had changed, my career had changed, and my body had changed.
My body and mind couldn’t handle the booze anymore. I gained a ton of weight. I fell horribly out of shape. I slept poorly and became stressed all the time. By age 35, I began to experience some mild health problems related to my weight, poor diet, and my drinking.
Like many people, I decided to use 2020 as an opportunity to lose some weight and get back into shape. Drinking less was a big part of that, and I cut back drastically, from 10-15 drinks per week, down to just 3-5 per week.
But then, a few things happened, all around the same time, that made me quit for good:
1. I started to notice how bad alcohol made me feel
This is going to sound paradoxical, but when you’re having 15 or more drinks each week, you’re pretty much constantly in a state of being either partially drunk or partially hungover. So you don’t realize the degree you’re harming yourself with each drink.
But when you cut back to 3-4 drinks per week, you start to open up enough gaps of clarity to notice how fucking terrible a drink, even one fucking drink, can make you feel. And not just that night or the next day but even two or three days later.
2. New research made me rethink my relationship with alcohol
It showed that alcohol is actually far worse for us than anyone initially thought.1
When I was young, the conventional wisdom was that a few drinks each week was actually good for you. Hell, a glass of red wine a night was supposed to make you healthier.
But now, we have better data and better studies and… well, it’s bad. It’s all bad. Every last drop of it. And not only is it bad for you that day or that week, but if you’re a heavy drinker like I was, alcohol can affect you for months.
3. I left New York. And I moved to LA.
Now, this is going to sound dumb to a lot of people. But it is impossible to overstate how big of a deal this move had on my day-to-day health. Everything in New York revolves around bars, restaurants, parties, and shows. Everywhere you go, there’s tons of alcohol and everyone is drinking. It is how you meet and relate to people there.
LA on the other hand, is in many ways the opposite. First off, you have to spend hours in your car to get anywhere, so you can’t drink much because of that. Second of all, the weather is perfect all the time and there are beaches and mountains a short distance away, so you have healthy fun activities in the sun that require energy, clarity, and favor getting up early in the morning. Suddenly, hangovers have real social costs and downsides.
In New York, alcohol makes your social life easier and more enjoyable. In LA, alcohol makes your social life more difficult. In New York, alcohol made boring activities more interesting. In LA, alcohol makes an interesting activity, well, kinda dangerous.
Throw on top of that the fact that everyone out here is so goddamn beautiful and health conscious and yeah, you start to feel weird ordering a double rye Old Fashioned at 5:30 P.M. on a Tuesday.
And by weird, I mean you feel like a total fucking degenerate. People look at you funny.
5 Unexpected Benefits I Saw From Quitting Alcohol
Finally, everything reached a head last summer:
First, there were the obvious benefits. I lost some weight. I slept like a baby. Date nights with the wife suddenly got way cheaper.
But there were some unexpected benefits, things that took me by surprise.
1. Less insecurity
I actually began to notice this when I cut back to drinking only a few times per month. The 2-3 days after I would drink, even if it was only a couple glasses of wine, I would be more emotional. I’d get crankier, more excited, more embarrassed, feel more guilty.
Since stopping drinking alcohol entirely, I am on an incredibly even keel. I don’t get as upset when something goes wrong. This has been an unexpected boon for my productivity and work. Less energy spent trying to manage my emotions is energy that can be invested into my writing and recording.
2. More clarity around my values and priorities
Perhaps the greatest side effect of the steadier mood is that I feel more clarity around what I care about. Back when I used to drink a lot, I used to get excited about 3-4 project ideas in any given week. I’d feel anxiety and FOMO at passing up opportunities. I would dedicate myself to a new idea only to start questioning that idea a few days later. I would ride this rollercoaster of emotion, one day feeling like I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing, and the next having an existential crisis that it was all a waste of time.
Now, I have a handful of goals that I know I want to accomplish. And I focus on them and work. I say no to all conflicting opportunities. No drama. No bullshit.
3. Fewer, but better friends
In my 20s, I drank alcohol at social events to bury my anxiety. In my 30s, I drank to bury my boredom.
The epiphany I had when I stopped drinking alcohol is that if I’m bored hanging out with certain people… I should simply stop being friends with those people. For some reason, this thought never occurred to me in the 15 years I was drinking, but now that I’m sober it seems like the most obvious fucking thing in the world.
It goes without saying: if you need to drink to enjoy that person or that thing—then you don’t actually enjoy that person or that thing. And you should stop doing both.
Meanwhile, without the distractions of booze, I’ve found that the friends I hang out with sober, I’ve deepened my connections with them. Sober socializing is definitely a case of quality over quantity.
4. Changed hobbies and interests
For years, I thought I was really passionate about food and fine dining. Turns out, I just liked getting drunk at restaurants. I thought I loved the theater and live shows. Turns out a lot of them aren’t that great sober. I thought I loved certain events, networks and parties. Turns out, sober Mark doesn’t.
Removing alcohol from my life has replaced social energy with physical energy. I took up surfing. I started running again for the first time in 12 years. Hell, my favorite thing to do with a friend these days is go on a hike.
Overall from the outside, my life probably appears boring and dull, but strangely I’m way more satisfied and happy.
5. Better sex
Let’s just say, when I step up to the plate these days, I’m not worried about my bat giving out when I swing…
So, if you’re considering laying off the sauce, even for a little while, I say give it a shot.
- This two-hour video may make you think twice about cracking open that beer.↵