- Mathew Silver
While we’re all aware of the physical, financial, and emotional consequences of consuming alcohol on a weekly basis, it seems that our social behaviour is largely dependent on the accessibility of liquor. Drinking is so prevalent that we may overlook or even ignore its effects on our overall performance, and you could even argue that when human beings make decisions they do a cost/benefit analysis on some level, conscious or not. It could just be that the perceived benefit of the social interaction that often accompanies drinking outweighs the negative short-term effects. But the issue is that we tend to ignore the long-term ramifications of our drinking habits, and instead assume that the damage is done once the hangover recedes. As someone who drinks alcohol regularly (1-2 times a week), I can’t tell whether I’m uniquely qualified to talk about the subject, or completely out of my depth. Let’s assume the former.
It makes me physically ill to imagine how much money I’ve spent on alcohol to this point in my life. It only adds to my disturbance to calculate the number of hours that I have lost to a hangover; hours that could be ear marked for schoolwork, exercise, or other personal projects. As someone invested in my emotional and physical health from Mon-Fri, it’s completely irrational for me to indulge myself so shamelessly on the weekend. Or is it?
Maybe drinking alcohol is that meaningful. It could well be that alcohol is just an effective way to decrease stress and relax. Considering the sheer volume of drinkers worldwide, maybe drinking is an important part of life, and when human beings have access to a social lubricant they are naturally inclined to indulge. As a social tool alcohol seems very effective: companies use it at corporate functions, college-aged students depend on it as a vehicle for most of their social interaction, and it makes golf seem fun. You could even say that partying provides a useful psychological incentive to work hard during the week.
But while it would be difficult to dispute the value of these examples, it shouldn’t be overlooked that this same sort of bonding can take place without alcohol, and that developing a dependency for alcohol when faced with uncomfortable social situations actually inhibits us from learning the necessary life skill of making simple conversation. Certainly, you won’t be able to pull out a flask of Jack Daniel’s to get through a meeting with a strange client (unless you find yourself randomly in an episode of Mad Men). And there are plenty of cultures that develop healthy relationships without the luxury of alcohol. Mormons are able to develop healthy social relationships without alcohol, for example.
If prolonged happiness is the goal of life, I would point to other, less toxic, ways of achieving this. Exercise, consistent sleep, and healthy diet can all have a positive impact on this. It should come as no surprise, then, that alcohol has a negative impact in all of these categories; a damning consideration to say the least.
Are we really willing to compromise our long-term goals for the immediate gratification that alcohol promises? If human habits are any indication, then it would seem that this answer is “yes”. That is, of course, if we grant that alcohol impacts our long-term potential.
The responsible millennial exercises during the week and maintains a healthy diet in anticipation of the weekend. Then all of this discipline turns into wholesale indulgence, and their behaviour largely revolves around the consumption of alcohol and its immediate after effects. These are things like a fancy dinner out, drinks at a night club, greasy food on the way home, and then a full day spent nursing a hangover. Popular hangover remedies include more food, more alcohol, marijuana, over-the-counter drugs, naps that disrupt the sleep-cycle, and more food. Most of the day is spent in bed or on the couch, and you certainly aren’t making it to the gym. And this doesn’t even begin to mention all of the negative things that can happen when you’re drunk: injury, alcohol poisoning, unprotected sex, urinating in public, death, kissing your coworker, kissing your boss, kissing the head of HR, getting a promotion, etc.
If we had the rational foresight to predict how destructive alcohol is in the long-term on our health, our wallet, and on our social aptitude, we might just reconsider the short-term gratification that comes from a night on the town. Of course, as human beings we’re more inclined to be short sighted, with our desire to fulfill basic needs often ruling over our capacity for reason. For Plato, the human soul could be divided into three parts, our appetites (food, sex, drink), reason (logic, foresight), and spirit (anger, joy, sadness). Life involved constantly balancing all of these three competing faculties on Plato’s model, and the virtuous man had the type of self-discipline to allow his capacity for reason to rule over all of the others. This man was able to weather frustration, avoid instant gratification, and eschew impulsive behaviour in the pursuit of future, more meaningful pleasures.
All of us want to be successful. All of us want to have a happy life. But for some reason we’re still content getting wasted and missing out on a productive day for fleeting pleasure and keeping up appearances. You could be working towards your fitness goals. Learning an instrument. Working a second job. Discovering a hobby. Writing for Dash. Hell, people will even organize entire vacations around where they will go out and drink, succumbing to the allure of a night out in a new city, and losing a genuine opportunity at exploration the next day. It makes absolutely no sense, yet we pursue our basic pleasures at the risk of wasting the resources (time, money) to achieve higher ones. I guess the question I leave to you is whether you value your alcohol-fuelled experiences more than weekends of productivity? If it seems like a leading question, it’s because it is. If this made you feel bad, don’t worry, you’ll forget about it after a couple of beers.
- Matt Silver
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