young man drinking beer from a baby bottle

Drinking makes you less of a man

You’ve probably noticed that there’s been a lot written lately about women and alcohol, but what about men and alcohol?

The hard truth that I’ve discovered through a lifetime of my own personal experience is that drinking made me less of a man. Less of a person, less myself, and also less of a man. Since I’m by no means unique, I am inviting 👉🏻 you, dear reader, to consider the question for yourself: if you drink alcohol, how does it affect your masculinity, your manhood, your self as a man?

Guys, you’re not going to like this, but it’s time for some tough love. Let me share some of the ways that alcohol interfered with my own manhood:

1. Drinking makes you less you

You were born into the body that would become the man1Clearly, there are plenty of other points of view, including those of other genders, but I’m speaking from my own experience. that you are. Ethanol is not part of human biochemistry, and so, very simply, adding alcohol to your system cannot make you better or more yourself.

As I became an adult, I looked at being a man as something that I had to learn how to do, a persona that I felt more comfortable with at some times, and less at others. Often I felt that drinking made me feel stronger, more expressive, more extroverted, more free—things that I associated with being how I wanted to be as a man. As I’ve grown into myself more completely as a man, I can look back with experience and what I see is that when I was drinking I wasn’t fully myself. I was altered and inhibited, actually less expressive and less free. It’s clear to me now that being a man is being myself, that I want to be my full self all the time, and that drinking interferes with being my true self.

Whether in subtle or dramatic ways, drinking prevents me from feeling and thinking clearly, from communicating and connecting with others, and from being able to express myself. As a man, the way to be a man is to be myself as much as possible, and I don’t want anything getting in the way of that.

2. Drinking blocks your intuition and creativity

Intuition is sometimes thought of as a more feminine trait, but intuition is a key part of what makes us human, and intuition is hugely important for all of us. Intuition is the voice of you, and you cannot know yourself or be yourself fully as a man without your intuition functioning at its highest capacity.

And it’s intuition, my friends, that is the wellspring of creativity. Now, you may not think much of your creativity… but trust me, you use it all the time, and you need it like the air your breathe. Not just for artists and “creatives” (a strange word, because we are all creative), creativity is what you use to make beautiful things, solve problems, to innovate. The intuitive moment is the creative spark, the source of creative inspiration. Where else do good ideas come from? Without your intuition working at 100%, you simply don’t have access to your full creative self.

If you drink and you’ve ever wondered why you don’t quite ‘trust your gut’, why you’re still not sure what your real passion is, or that you’d like to be more creative but don’t quite know how, the truth is that alcohol is interfering with your intuition.

3. Drinking weakens all of your relationships

Drinking while dating? Drinking with your partner, lover, wife, husband, your ex? Drinking with friends? Drinking on vacation? Drinking at weddings, funerals, and family gatherings? Sound familiar?

Do you remember conversations that you’ve had while drinking better, or worse, than conversations that you’ve had sober? Do you tend to get into fewer arguments, or more, in sober conversations vs conversations while drinking? Being honest with yourself, do you feel you know the people you’re with better, or worse, when alcohol is part of how you’re with them?

Let me tell you a very short story. I’m a San Francisco native. I grew up and have spent most of my life there. It’s a small city, I have a lot of friends there going back to middle school, high school, college, my first career—all sorts of people. And yet, as I got into my early thirties, I realized that I really didn’t know any of them very well, and that they certainly didn’t know me. When I met with friends they would almost invariably ask me: “so, where are you going next?” — and nothing else. What people knew about me was that I wasn’t around much, that I was good for a party, and that I would likely be leaving again soon—and that’s it—and I didn’t know much about them either.

I felt lonely and frustrated, and I would get angry hearing this same superficial question again and again. For a long time, I didn’t know why nobody knew me better. Part of the reason was certainly that I was coming and going all the time, and so it’s true, I wasn’t around much, but the deeper reason didn’t become apparent until my head began to clear.

The real reason that my friends didn’t know me very well was that the main thing my friends and I did together, from the age of 11 onwards, was drink. We had a lot of conversations, most of which I don’t remember clearly, and many of which weren’t really about anything all that meaningful in the first place.

Along the way, I had many intimate relationships that included a lot of drinking too, from the first meeting to the nightly ritual of having a nice bottle of wine with dinner. I was never drinking in catastrophic quantity, but far too often, it seemed like the only way that we could relax and enjoy each other’s company was with drinks and dinner—and at other times I found the thought sneaking into my mind: I don’t really like this person. You too? Bummer, dude.

These are all degrees of the same truth: that when alcohol is part of our connecting with another person, that connection is weaker and ultimately less interesting. With alcohol in the mix, our thoughts and intentions aren’t as clear. Our boundaries—and our vision—get blurry. Our actions and reactions become more violent and more impulsive. Our conversations become louder and more repetitive. Our ability to understand each other decreases, and our natural human empathy is dulled.

We all know of cases where drinking has contributed to behavior that is dangerous, damaging, violent, or violating. Less extreme are the examples of drinking that has resulted in conversations, interactions and entire relationships that would not otherwise have happened at all. At the more subtle end of this spectrum is the way that alcohol weakens and dulls any interaction that it’s part of. Alcohol not only made me forget things, but it made me say and do forgettable things. Alcohol made me forgettable, and you’re no different—drinking makes you forgettable.

Have you ever looked your lover in the eyes and felt something deep and true, wishing you had the words to share the feeling—only to have the haze of the night’s alcohol buzz wash over your again, and slip into the soft embrace of mindlessness? I have, far too many times. Have you ever felt close to understanding something that your friend or lover just said, wanted to understand, wanted to merge your consciousness with theirs, just for a moment, to share the truth together—and been blocked by the dull throb of drink? I have, far too many times.

What sort of connections do you really want with the people that are closest to you? If as a man you want to have deep, interesting, meaningful relationships with friends and lovers, you have to factor in the truth that drinking weakens all of your relationships.

4. Sex is better sober

I once fell asleep during sex, reason being that I was so loaded on wine and “Bourbon Dwelle’s” (my own namesake cocktail, what an achievement!) that I couldn’t maintain consciousness even while I was making love to one of the most beautiful and dynamic women I’ve ever known. This delightful person with whom I was blessed to meet so briefly in intimate union was also remarkably gracious. In fact, despite my crude ignorance of her in that moment, she granted me a lifelong dream and a very specific fantasy that I had always a had: to fall blissfully asleep while literally within the deep sexual embrace of a lover. 

I have another entire article on this subject forthcoming, so for now let me just say that some of the first subtle messages I got about my drinking were related to sex. Sex is the first and most primal expression of our self, and the most direct and visceral way that we have of connecting with others. Anything that interferes with our sex is going to make itself noticed, and in the years leading up to my decision to become alcohol free, I had started noticing that I often had a choice: drinking or sex, but not both. The usual dinner-time program of cocktails and wine simply didn’t leave me with the energy or the presence to want or enjoy sex afterwards. Sometimes I’d find myself choosing to enjoy drinking instead… and then finally, I had a growing awareness that I could also choose not to drink as much, or at all, and that if I made that choice, I wanted to have sex more often again, and enjoyed it much more—as I’m sure my partner did. Who wants to have sex with a drunk person? Only another drunk.

Excessive alcohol use can interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence, infertility, and reduction of male secondary sex characteristics such as facial and chest hair.

CDC fact sheet on excessive alcohol use and risks to men’s health

Do try this at home, and you’ll soon see the truth for yourself. If sex is part of your life as a man, it should be crystal clear that alcohol makes you less of a man in this way too.

5. Drinking disrupts your sleep

Let’s just get this out of the way: alcohol does not help you sleep.

The popular myth that a nip before bed is somehow a good idea is just that: a myth. There have been many studies on this subject, and the results are conclusive. WebMD sums it up as “Alcohol and a Good Night’s Sleep Don’t Mix“, and The National Sleep Foundation provides further detail, starting with the fact that “while alcohol, a depressant, can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to poor quality sleep later.” Both sources (and others) agree that in addition to disrupting your brain activity and normal rhythms of sleep, alcohol also blocks REM sleep, “which is often considered the most restorative type of sleep.”

How important to you is sleep? It’s a valid question. For most people, a good night’s sleep is one of the things they value most highly. I notice the positive effects of a great sleep the entire following day and into the evening. As I write this I’m aware that I slept very well both of the past two nights, and that today I had the energy to write before breakfast, fix a toilet in a friend’s flat, meet another friend for a long walk, fly my paraglider for an hour, drive to the beach, kitesurf in San Francisco Bay for another hour, have dinner with the friends whose toilet I fixed, and then write this article. I feel like I had two days in one, or maybe three! And the main reason is that I’ve been sleeping so well lately.

How well do you sleep, my friend? I think you’ll agree it’s important, and if you drink and you wish your sleep was better, you can’t avoid the truth that drinking disrupts your sleep.

6. Drinking makes you less productive

Drinking is so often about pain relief—no wonder I liked to drink at work! Fuck yes! I took any chance I got to get paid while drinking keg beer, ice-cold vodka or oversized bottles of wine. I hold enough of a grudge against work that if you can get away with drinking on the job, I say go for it—but only if you don’t want to keep the job. Consider that carefully.

Needless to say, aside from actually drinking at work, there’s no way to argue that drinking the day before, or even two days before work has some negative effect. And for many of us today, there’s no hard line between work and the rest of life. We’re always working a little, and often switching from work to play multiple times a day. Even moreso in that context, drinking alcohol is going to affect your work, whatever your work is. The upshot is that if work is part of your life as a man, the truth is that alcohol is making you less of a man.

7. Drinking makes you less interesting

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with“. Looking back, it’s clear to me now that when I was drinking, I surrounded myself with people who wanted to drink with me, or who I wanted to drink with. I may (or may not) have had any other interest in being with them; the first criteria was that we enjoyed drinking together. This led me to surround myself for many years with people who were less interesting and less inspiring than I might have otherwise chosen. It’s also true that I sometimes purposefully chose to spend time with uninspiring people, or people who weren’t doing that much, because that saved me from having to acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t doing much with my own life. I kept the bar safely low, so I could spend more time in bars.

alcohol doesn’t make things interesting; it makes your mind stupid so that things that we would otherwise have ignored are suddenly enough to occupy it… this is why drinkers can sit in a bar or pub and talk rubbish to an uninteresting stranger for hours on end…

William Porter: Alcohol Explained

Here’s a fine idea: Surround yourself with people you admire. Who do you admire more, your happy-hour drinking buddy, or the friend-of-a-friend that gets shit done on a regular basis, but that you’ve been hesitant to approach because you’re not quite sure you measure up?

Looking at this from the other direction, when the phone rings, who’s calling—it is opportunity, or just company? I find that when I wanted company drinking, I reached down, but when I want inspiration, leadership, mentorship, real conversation, I reach out and up. Are people reaching up or down to you? If you drink and you’re wondering why your friends aren’t that interesting, think about how interesting you are yourself, and know that the truth is that drinking makes you less interesting.

8. Drinking makes you weak

Everyone knows that “dad bod” is shorthand for the beer belly and scrawny arms that come from a combination of overwork, lack of exercise, and pints with the other dads. That double-IPA might seem like a much-needed relief after a week of commuting, email and kids, but how does it leave you feeling?

Poor eyesight? Lack of energy? Slippery farts? Puke breath? I thought so. Here’s a question for you guys: how many miles can you run while keeping up a regular conversation? For me it’s about eight. How many pushups can you do? It should be more, but yeah, about the same number. Now have your happy-hour usual and try that again. What are your numbers now? Zero, amiright?

All of that exercise, whatever it is that you do, is being mostly negated by however much alcohol you drink. I used to be a regular at the climbing gym, did yoga, pilates and even some crossfit, and I was still a fat bastard. It wasn’t stopping drinking that caused me to lose weight—for most people, that won’t really do it on its own—but when I did stop drinking, I regained the energy that I had been missing, and lost the hesitation that I used to feel about going out for a run or to a vigorous yoga class. Instead of dreading the exercise because of how my body felt, my body already feels good, and I know that physical activity will only make me feel even better.

If being happy in your body and with your body, and having your body feel strong, capable and embody the you that you want to be is part of being a man, you can’t avoid the fact that drinking makes you weak.

9. Drinking makes you more of an asshole

Nobody likes an overtalker (except the Irish, but they’re born blessed with the ability to overtalk any overtalker, including another Irish person), and nothing turns an ordinary person into an overtalker, or an overtalker into a totally insane person, like a few drinks.

Drinking makes you forget what you were just talking about, but it doesn’t matter because the conversation is an endless mishmash of tangents and loud interjections that begin with “I”. Drinking makes you loud and obnoxious. Drinking ups the volume and buries the truth. If you’re talking to another person who’s drinking, you’re both heroes. If you’re talking to a sober person, you sound like a dipshit, and you’re shouting. If you’re already an aggressive person, as I’m sure you know from your own experience, drinking makes you more aggressive, more willing to say “fuck it”, more willing to drive drunk, more willing throw a punch—or a slap?

Most people are not normally assholes. If you drink and (unlike Pablo Picasso) you’ve ever been called an asshole, you’ve already been told the truth: drinking makes you more of an asshole.

10. You look like a child

young man drinking beer from a baby bottle
no, that’s not me. I searched for “man drinking from baby bottle” and found this unattributed image.

This one really got to me. At some point I realized that whenever I was with other people (and also often alone), I had some sort of drink in my hand. You know that anxious feeling when you get to the bar, or a party, and you don’t feel comfortable until get a drink? That feeling.

Seriously, the image started to become clear to me: I was a grown man who always had a hand dedicated to a comforting, infantile prop. A drink. A sippy cup.

Do you really need to be holding a drink all the time, just to feel comfortable walking around a party? The simple truth is: you don’t.

The Truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” 

The Bible / Joe Klaas / Gloria Steinem

Even if you only read the headlines above, I bet you’re at least wondering if I could be right (and, there are many more reasons to consider changing your relationship with alcohol).

How much alcohol are we talking about here? I rarely drank to huge excess. The CDC defines “moderate drinking” for men as no more than two drinks per day, and my average may have been less than that—but there were many days where I exceeded that. If we’re talking about sleep quality, the studies have shown that consuming any amount of alcohol negatively impacts sleep. Clearly, the effect varies. It’s a personal decision, and I’ve written this to share my own experience. Drinking made me less of a man, and my own decision was that I wanted to be 100% of myself, all the time.

If you’ve read this far and I still haven’t convinced you, you must know something that I don’t—or, like me, you never really developed a real you that existed without alcohol. Either way, we should talk.