I had my first alcoholic drink at the age of 21 and a half. Before that point, I had told plenty of people I was never going to drink. It seemed an unnecessary danger as well as an unnecessary expense. My family had a long history of alcoholism and I had heard alcohol damaged the brain in any case. The only drinking culture I was familiar with beforehand was that which exists in America, particularly its younger crowd. In the United States use of liquor is associated with getting drunk. Drunkenness is achieved using the cheapest liquor possible. Watery canned lagers are consumed by the case(An impractical, flavorless way of getting drunk). Even when the party people see sense, they resort to the cheapest rum and vodka, drinks so noxious that they usually have to be mixed with something else. Even so, these cheapest drinks cause them to throw up and cause monster hangovers.
I found this American drinking culture to be repugnant. I could not think of a single good reason to participate. In fact, I asked people why they did it. Most people told me it ‘loosened them up, got rid of inhibitions.’ This was less than convincing as I remembered some nights on campus when it sounded as though several species of dinosaurs were calling out in the night. There were some inhibitions I thought I would rather keep. The only possible lure was the association of drinking culture with getting laid. Even so, drunken sex, I could infer is for the most part forgotten the next day and is a fantastic way to knock someone up, get an STD, or both. It occurred to me that one might be inclined to forget condoms and pills while inebriated. I continued to ask people why they did it and I still got the same answer. The reasons I wasn’t being given became evident in personal observations and reading on the subject. It was an odd, self-destructive ritual of social acceptance. The bizarre ethos of youth drinking showed itself when I listened to party people boast about how they had turned a drunken friend’s head while prone so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit. This they cited to me as if it were evidence of how their drinking culture promoted interdependence and bonding. I was disgusted that these people were willing to put themselves in danger to have a bonding experience by having their friends save them from themselves. What really struck me wrong was that the entire situation upon which they were desperately trying to create friendships was wholly contrived. This fundamental falseness and dishonesty turned me off above all else. The emotional dependence of party people on drinking troubled me. Plenty of party people told me they thought it was fine I didn’t drink, but I couldn’t help but notice that I was always outside of their inner circle, which consisted of fellow party people. They say that there’s no pressure to drink but they don’t quite seem to be aware that it simply isn’t true. In any case, there was a decision to make. I rejected the drinking culture and by extension, alcoholic beverages.
My perspective began to change when I studied abroad in Argentina and lived with a family there. Evening meals would quite often be served with a glass of red wine. I would opt for water instead, but no one cared. It was no more important than whether I wanted milk or fruit juice; it was just a beverage to be had with a meal. No one ever drank enough to become even mildly intoxicated and it quickly became clear I was witnessing something different. I eventually tried some wine and found it to be very much an acquired taste. Even so, I liked from the beginning how a bit of it could clean the palate of flavorful, thick, or salty foods. The flavor itself quickly grew on me until I actually preferred a glass of wine with dinner. I returned from Argentina a drinker and I quickly got into trying different drinks for the pleasure of the taste, the feeling on the palate, and a mild relaxing effect after a long day. I learned I had started out on some of the driest and most flavorful reds and after acquiring the taste, liked them best of all. From wines I expanded into liqueurs, whiskeys, meads, beers, brandies, cognacs, cocktails, and absinthe. Even with the passage the last few years, I have gotten intoxicated only rarely and never anywhere near the point of being unable to freely move about. I have never had a hangover and I have never thrown up from drinking. Rather, it has been an engaging hobby and a celebration of the senses.
The trend of needlessly destructive drinking that seems so strong in the USA in part arises from the fact that alcohol is stigmatized and kept in the closet. Since it is treated as some forbidden substance it is a natural temptation for impulsive children, who never having been taught a healthy ethic of imbibing alcohol, quickly move to excess. They don’t even know exactly what they’re doing to themselves until they’re already drunk. During my time in college, it was almost always freshmen who would drink to the point of alcohol poisoning. They were young men and women who drank like children in the truest sense. Without Mom and Dad to keep an eye on them, they were utterly clueless. Ironically, cultures in which consumption of alcohol is a part of everyday life and the family seem to have less of a problem with such reckless abuse. When alcohol is no mysterious substance nor an elixir of adulthood, there is less motivation to drink for the sake of getting drunk.
In the United States at present, drinkers are growing fewer every year and I can’t blame them for abstaining. One could live a lifetime in American society without seeing alcohol cause anything but the misery that results from its chronic abuse. They might never know that there is another way of drinking.