A grain of salt: Summer in Sandpoint — one long booze session

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Columnist

Let’s be clear on some basic facts before we disappoint our readers today: There are nearly zero scientifically-proven health benefits to drinking alcohol. 

Ammi Midstokke.

I know. I read that piece about a glass of wine being the same as an hour at the gym, too. If you want that kind of anti-oxidant punch, you can get it in anything labeled “super food” or a squeeze of lemon on your salad. Without the brain damage, immune suppression, depression, dehydration or blood sugar dysregulation. 

We never really say we drink because of the antioxidant properties anyway. We drink to: relax, enjoy ourselves, come down after a long day, laugh with friends, partake, because we like the taste, because our children don’t stop talking, because we don’t want to engage in our relationships, because it has become a coping tool that meets a number of valid needs in our lives.

At least, that’s why many of us started consuming alcohol. The truth of alcohol and how it works in the brain, though, is that it is an addictive substance and so we tend to drink more of it, more often and then we only notice when we try to discontinue or reduce our intake. We go on Whole 30 challenges and Dry February and declare ourselves non-addicts because we can give it up if we want to. But none of us really wants to.

No one (or at least not this author) is suggesting that society become teetotalers. The righteous path of following rules is rather droll, and they always have cheap sparkling water at weddings anyway. Just have the champagne. That being said, on the cusp of our Community Season of Cocktails, I invite each of you to observe with curiosity your relationship with alcohol. Do you like that relationship? What would you change about it, if anything?

When people in my practice begin drinking less, whether prescribed for health reasons or of their own curiosity, they return with observations and new understandings that apply to their entire lives, not just their wine tastings.

What I hear most often is this: “I am more particular about what I spend my time doing and with whom I spend my time.” When we do not numb ourselves to the shallow conversations of the partially (or mostly) inebriated crowds, we may realize that we’d much rather be spending our time doing something different. Like truly connecting. Or finishing some yard project. Or reading that book we are enjoying. If you wouldn’t have fun at an event because you aren’t drinking… plan something (or someone) you like more.

I also hear: I sleep so much better. I wake up refreshed. I make better food choices. My skin is healthier. I connect to my children more. I set better boundaries with said children so they don’t make me think I want to drink. I have better orgasms. (That one alone should be a motivator.) I am less depressed. I crave less sugar. I waste less time. 

Studies show that people who complete 30-day alcohol-free stints actually have long-term reductions in their alcohol consumption, suggesting that even a single extended stint of cognitive questioning and self-awareness about consumption can have lasting health benefits. Studies also show that life-long consumption of alcohol is associated with brain degeneration, liver damage, oxidative stress, depression and on and on. 

Now that summer is approaching, the social engagements and boat outings are plentiful. But that doesn’t mean we have to obliterate our livers or shrink our brains for the next three months. Think in terms of moderation, explore what it is like to not drink alcohol at a party. Hydrate between drinks. Make mocktails. Take your B vitamins. Avoid those sugary cocktails (they disrupt glucose levels and lead to more drinking). 

In the very least, ask yourself why you think you want alcohol and if you have a different need that should be met. Needing to relax. Needing to disconnect. Needing to laugh, let go, live a little — these are all valid. Surprisingly, beer doesn’t actually do any of that and the true need risks never getting met. And precisely that is how we develop an unhealthful relationship with the placebo of mojitos. Grab some kombucha and see if the sex gets better. The research says it will…

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