December 31, 2009

2009: Our Year of Not Buying Alcohol


Today Linda and I mark one year of not buying anything with alcohol in it. It has been an interesting, and occasionally challenging experiment. Time to raise a glass of apple juice and toast our self-control, not to mention the hundreds of dollars we saved.

I used to enjoy drinking more than I have lately. When I went to university the hot 'n sweaty booze-fests at the Students' Union were a fire-code-busting right of passage. Hoisting a couple with friends on a hot summer day is a pleasant way to pass the time. But is it the booze, or is it the friends?

I think it is more about recovering from work and our fast pace, than having fun. I noticed over the past year that the time I felt most like buying alcohol was when I was working the most. I also felt that this was when I most "deserved" a drink. Driving home after a long, hot day of grounds keeping was the worst - cold beer called, beckoned, promising instant body/mind liquid relaxation. I kept driving.

Still, set a cold beer in front of me and my reflex will be to drool and reach for it. Is it any better than a cold lemonade, or is that just drink industry propaganda? Somehow you are more adult and happening if you drink alcohol. It is strange that part of the reason I started drinking as a teen was to be rebellious, and now, 34 years later, quitting is the rebellious act.

Is it possible to enjoy life without alcohol? Advertisers will tell you that you can't. Is history on their side? Can 10 000 years of beer consumption be wrong? Beer has been around longer than bread. That must count for something.

A WHO report found that in 1998-99 twenty-two percent of Canadians were non-drinkers, including 17.8% of men, and 26.1% of women. Compare this with Egypt at 99.5%, Cambodia at 85%, and India at about 50%. Are all these people having less fun than drinkers? If my past year is any indication, I would have to say no. Drinking non-alcoholic beverages when socializing made things no less special or enjoyable. Decaffeinated coffee, green tea or water sufficed nicely.

A few years ago we quit buying alcohol at the liquor store in order to trim our budget. We started to brew beer and wine at the local U-Brew establishment. It was an educational, enjoyable process, and the product was acceptable to us. It was a fraction of the cost of store-bought beer and wine.

Then around this time last year we discussed not buying any alcohol in 2009, and decided to go for it. We knew it would be a challenge socially - almost everyone we know drinks. Gradually we came to more or less forget all about drinking. Reading about the weekly car accidents in our community due to drinking made it easier to stay away.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, in 2004 alcohol was responsible for 4.6 percent of global death and disability, causing 2.5 million deaths, including 320,000 deaths among young people between the ages of 15 and 29.(1, 2) When WHO compared the burden of disease from alcohol, tobacco and 24 other risk factors in 2000, alcohol ranked just below tobacco in its impact on global health and had a greater share of the global burden of disease than unsafe water and sanitation, cholesterol or obesity. http://www.globaldrugpolicy.org/3/3/commentary.php

Will we buy any alcohol next year? No. We have broken our habit. We are not buying the whole "have to drink to have fun" myth perpetuated by advertising. Life is fun without it - we still get silly with the best of them, and no hangover or empty wallet. And if work and life are so busy that you "need" a drink to get you through, I recommend slowing down and working less, not drinking more.

Happy New Year.

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