A One-Month Social Experiment in Not Drinking


I quit binge drinking without giving up gatherings with my friends. Here’s why it worked


I’ve had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. It has always been like a long-term girlfriend with whom I’d go on an occasional — “We are on a break” hiatus—but never cheated on.

In short, I was a habitual binge drinker — someone who regularly drinks more than seven drinks in a single session of “social drinking.” Being a consulting professional living in Brisbane, regular office parties and weekend clubbing was part of my lifestyle. I was not an alcoholic, and the advice in this article won’t help you if you are an alcoholic. I would never get withdrawal symptoms nor was I drinking more than two days in a row. But I would binge drink every single weekend out of habit.

Alcohol was, sadly, my main source of entertainment and a means to socialise without feeling drained.

Every Friday morning, I would get excited during my work commute, looking forward to the refreshing taste of ice-cold beer going down my throat. Drinks with friends and colleagues was an ideal escape from the grinding realities of life.

The problem was not just the amount of alcohol. It was how I felt a few days after the binge sessions — guilty of drinking too much, unable to perform in the gym, feeling depressed for not doing anything productive, and most importantly, not being in control of my decisions. Some days I would experience brain fog; I am not sure if it was the effect of alcohol or post-alcohol depression. But it was a common occurrence.

Alcohol to me was like being in an abusive relationship. You know it hurts, but you continue to cling to it.

The Social Experiment

So, one fine day I decided to run a social experiment with alcohol. The rules were simple — quit alcohol for a month, cold turkey!

I know what you are thinking — Here goes another “30-days No Alcohol Challenge” post.

But this time, it was different!

By then, I had tried it multiple times, and every time I finished it with flying colours. But each break ended with another celebratory binge drinking session, and I was back on the binge drinking cycle.

My solution was unsustainable — there was a reward in the end that was the substance itself, and my lifestyle remained unchanged.

It is similar to what happens when you do a 30-day fitness challenge leading up to an event such as a holiday or a wedding, with almost zero focus on changing your everyday habits.

So, what was different this time?

In the past, I had been able to take a break from alcohol by changing my environment temporarily. I used to skip most work parties and stop going out with friends. But this time I decided to keep my environment unchanged. In short, continue to hang out with people who are drinking and not drink yourself.

Soon enough, my one-month break got extended to three months, and I decided to continue for the entire year. Here are five things I realised along the way.

1. You Can Socialise and Enjoy Yourself Without Alcohol

It was initially awkward to say no to alcohol when I would attend networking events. I felt that people would stare at me and judge me for being a teetotaler. Over time, I realised it was my judgement and insecurity that made me feel this way.

Most people are worried about themselves in social gatherings. It was just a matter of getting used to the no-alcohol lifestyle.

Soon enough, my confidence soared, and I started enjoying this new way of socialising. The alcohol glass got replaced by water or juice and the frivolous small talks were replaced by meaningful conversations.

I always wondered how quickly we transitioned from sports and outdoor activities as kids to pubs, clubs, and bars as full-grown adults. The experiment made me realise how easy it is to become a kid again and enjoy without alcohol.

2. Life Changes When You Start Focusing on Things That Matter

As I developed the no-alcohol lifestyle, I started feeling positive about everything in life. I felt empowered as I had conquered a new long-term mission that required me to exercise self-control. I stopped brooding over petty things and whiling away time on the internet. Instead, I focused my time and energy on things that matter.

I started listening to podcasts and reading non-fiction books at the library. I finished my Fitness Trainer (PT) course, something I had been procrastinating for a while. I began introspecting and started asking important and difficult questions to myself such as:

  • Am I happy with my current state?
  • What do I want in life? What is my purpose?
  • What is holding me back?
  • What all would I try, if I knew I could not fail?

Giving myself time to introspect allowed me to take the bold decision of making a career transition from management consulting to health coaching

3. Saying “No” Is Not That Difficult

When I first told everyone about my new experiment, most of my friends and colleagues were supportive. But now and then people would repeatedly ask if I need a drink, and it would get awkward.

With time, I perfected the art of saying no and realised it’s not that difficult. One needs to be unapologetic, assertive, and tactful.

Here are a few common situations and the appropriate responses I use now:

  • Before the outing or in the beginning — Set expectations and let them know that you don’t drink.
  • When you meet an old friend after ages — Let them know about your new lifestyle in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • When everyone is getting started — Order a non-alcoholic drink for yourself before anyone asks.
  • When someone asks — “Why aren’t you drinking?” — Say “I enjoy more when I am sober.”
  • When a friend forces you to drink — Ask them “Why is it so crucial for you that I drink?”
  • While dealing with bosses who don’t listen — Tell them you are on antibiotics, or you have an upset stomach — Make something up!
  • When everyone is getting tipsy — Tell them you will get a drink shortly, then get a non-alcoholic beverage of your choice.
  • When someone asks — “Where is your drink?” — Say “I just ordered; it must be on its way!”
  • When everyone is drunk — It is time for you to go home!

4. We Underestimate How Much We Spend on Unwanted Habits

I had never tracked my alcohol expenses. But this time, I decided to track and use them as a justification for my experiment. The results were astonishing.

I was spending about AU$200 per week on alcohol, sometimes more. Sober night outs allowed me to rely on public transport and my cab expenses disappeared. I also stopped eating junk late at night. Most people don’t track such expenses and wonder where their savings vanished. As I continued the no-alcohol spree, my savings soared to new heights.

No hangover during weekends meant I started cooking at home more often. It quickly added up, and I started saving more and more. After six months, I was averaging extra savings of about AU$1,250 a month. That's a whopping AU$15,000 a year.

5. Self-Control Is Empowering

Towards the end of my one-month social experiment, I took a conscious decision to extend it for another two months. I started enjoying the process of self-exploration and self-control.

The first month was difficult, but persisting through it made me invincible. All I needed was a strong intent.

Funny as it may sound in the hindsight, I used to track my sober days regularly. I still have screenshots of some of the milestones I had shared with my friends. This one was towards the end of the first month:

Photo by Author — 36 Days Alcohol-Free

I took this one to share with a friend back home when he wouldn't believe I had quit drinking altogether.

Photo by Author — 81 Days Alcohol-Free

And here is a screenshot of 275 days of sobriety. By this time, I had considered it a victory over binge drinking. This was the point when I uninstalled the app and have not felt the need to use it again.

Photo by Author — 275 Days Alcohol-Free

I realised true happiness comes from self-awareness. It’s about understanding your needs and learning how to live with yourself. Your happiness is never in the hands of other people or things. It is always about you.

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.” - Aristotle

Final Thoughts

Quitting binge drinking was one of the best decisions of my life. It empowered me to focus my time and energy on things that matter. I realised it is possible to socialise and enjoy without alcohol. The biggest challenge along the journey was not controlling the urge to drink, but managing expectations with friends and colleagues. Everyone assumes you are “restricting” yourself and suffering as a result of it.

Until you try it yourself, it’s hard to comprehend how enjoyable being alcohol-free can be. It’s a conscious choice, not a self-imposed restriction.

Some days I enjoy a couple of drinks with friends, and it no longer turns into an excessive binge drinking session. Self-control is truly empowering. You have to experience it to be able to appreciate it.

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I write about the latest in blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and NFTs. I specialise in breaking down complex information into simple language so it's easy to comprehend even for non-technical folks. Sometimes, I also enjoy writing about life experiences that are relatable and can help others in one way or another.

New York, NY

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