Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Year Not Drinking

With Blackhat, Defcon, and BSides Las Vegas coming up, it seems like an appropriate time for a quick blog on alcohol.  In 2017, for my birthday I took a year off drinking.  Now that my birthday is past, I figured I'd share a bit about it.


Honestly, I felt I was drinking too much.  There was always an excuse to drink. It was a holiday.  Friends were over.  My wife and I wanted to go out.  There was something interesting to taste. etc.

Also, it became an end-of-day thing.  Have a beer to relax after work.  Just adding that up alone becomes a number not to be proud of.

I also wanted to see if it changed how I felt.  Would I feel more healthy? Would I feel smarter?  Since alcohol is a depressant that can last a week+ in your brain, would I be in a better mood?

And I wanted to try and save some money.

It also helped that I read a book where the main character didn't drink.  I think it provided subconscious acknowledgement that it could be done as well as giving some ideas as to how.

What it took

It was easy.  much easier than I expected. My goal wasn't to avoid alcohol like an allergy, but just not to have a full drink.  It also helped to have a goal.  "I'm not going to drink a full drink until at least X."  I could easily tell people "I'm taking a year off drinking" and didn't get much pressure to drink after that.  

To make it work, I had to have something else to drink though.   (I drink a LOT of fluids.  2-4 liters of hot tea during the work day.) I don't like sweet drinks or fruity drinks.  I also need variety and don't drink caffeine after like 7 at night, so that kinda limits my options.  What I did find was:
  • Herbal Tea - TONS of variation here. Better during the winter when warm drinks are nice. I wish someone would make condensed herbal tea similar to what's available for ice tea.
  • Bitters and Tonic - This was my go-to.  I have about 20 bitters of various flavors and a soda stream (modded w/ a real CO2 tank) now.  I can drink these for ever and a day with a ton of variation.
  • Water with sliced fruit, then carbonated - It turned out this was great too.  Cut a cucumber and a grapefruit into the water and let it sit a day.  Then bottle it up and carbonate it.
  • La-croix - Not sweet and great flavors

Positive Impacts

First, I did feel like it was easier to solve complex challenges.  The mental gymnastics just seemed a bit easier.  Plus, it saved a BUNCH of money (minus stocking up the bitters).  I'm sure the long-term effects of not poisoning myself regularly are good though I haven't quite termed long enough to find out.

Another interesting impact was social interactions were more productive.  Instead of meeting over beer at the end of the day in a dark, loud place, I'd meet people in the morning or mid-day over tea.  We tended to get a LOT more done.

Negative Impacts

On the other hand, there's a LOT less to do. A lot of the things that seem like fun (many times vague 'going out somewhere' concepts) just aren't exciting if you aren't drinking.  Going downtown is now kinda 'bla'. Going out to bars is pretty much out of the question. (You could, but why?)  So now when my wife and I try to find something to do on a free night, we actually have some trouble figuring it out. (That said, it may also be that because we have kids and so free nights are so rare we're not sure what to do with them.)

More stress.  The reality was drinking was relieving stress. (Obviously not in a good way, but it was.)  Life not drinking is much more stressful.

Also, I consumed a LOT more sugar.  Probably linked to the last point about stress frankly.  Instead of drinking alcohol, easting sweets became a way of dealing with stress, which I'm pretty sure is also not healthy.

When I drink

A side affect of this is it became very clear _when_ I drink.  
  • First was after work to relieve stress.  
  • Second were social events, basically as something to do when meeting people.  
  • Third were celebrations.  These tended to be heavier drinking.  The problem is that the world makes sure there is always something to celebrate.

Going Forward

So my plan going forward.  I don't plan on not drinking at all but I do plan on drinking less.

I plan to pick the days to drink in celebration way ahead.  Probably my birthday and my wife's birthday, but likely nothing else.  I think it's very important to do this ahead of time so that I have an idea how often it's happening throughout the year.  It's very easy to impulse-celebration-drink and if I don't think about the year ahead, looking back on the year it's easy to find out I drank way more than I would have if I'd planned ahead.

Socially, I think I'll only drink in rare cases.  And when I do, only make it one drink.  Last year, I wish I'd had a drink of scotch with my father and brothers at home at Christmas.  On the other hand, I probably won't drink when meeting up with people in Vegas.  Those will be tea or tonic and soda type things depending on the time of day.

I'm not going to swear off tastings, particularly when offered.  But on the other side, I'm not going to take an entire drink just to taste it.  It's silly not to try interesting things, but it can't be an excuse to drink more.

My plan is to completely stop drinking after work.  It's just too much of a slippery slope.  Instead i plan to get out to the gym more and meditate (I pray, but you do you) to relieve stress.


So as you prepare for Vegas, drink the amount you want.  But don't feel it's something you have to do.  Many people don't and everyone I've spent time around has been understanding.  And recognize that drinking won't make you cooler/more of a hacker/give you a fuller experience.

Now to figure out what to do about the sweets.


  1. Feynman had a similar realization (the slippery slope casual after work drinking) and he stopped completely :

    "On an ordinary afternoon in 1949, the physicist Richard Feynman was going about his business as he felt a pull to have a drink. Not an intense craving by any means, but still it was a disconcerting desire for some alcohol. On the spot, Feynman gave up drinking right then and there. He didn’t want anything to have that kind of power over him."

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I really apricate your well written article. It look you spend a lot of time or effort in this article. I love it. Now it's time to avail luxury airport transfer for more information.