Alcohol: Reward or Saboteur?

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

A friend recently asked me a thought-provoking question: Have I ever sabotaged my own success?

While I couldn’t think of a major, concrete example, what did come to mind was how often alcohol has sabotaged me on a small scale.

Here is the general cycle: I’ll work hard on something and produce work that I feel proud of, whether mental or physical. Progress and achievement results in greater positivity, optimism, and self-confidence, and sparks a thirst for more. Riding a high near the end of the week, I decide all my hard work and progress are worthy of celebrating with a drink. One drink often leads to another, because instead of experiencing and appreciating the good feelings I already have, I am subconsciously focused on just enhancing them. The next day I wake up feeling a little dull and lacking energy, which disrupts the positive momentum I worked so hard to obtain. Now the hardest part of the cycle — getting started — must begin again.

Energy is everything in life, and yet it can be a scarce and fickle resource. Although I know how important it is to celebrate the small wins in life, stepping back to observe this pattern makes me think about how alcohol’s net effect is so often to drain energy from me, instead of replenish it. It makes me wonder if there are other ways I could choose to reward myself that would add to my energy (or enhance my recovery) instead of taking it away.

With that said, after taking several breaks from alcohol over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my quality of life is higher with it than it is without. The heightened joy of an intimate conversation with a friend or loved one is priceless, and its benefits can often easily outweigh the costs. It’s also just more social and fun (and less awkward) to accept a drink the first time one is offered, and people rarely notice if you decline after that.

One of the benefits of being a biometric data geek is that I’ve observed a drastic change in the cost/benefit ratio between one and two drinks per night. One drink doesn’t impact my sleep (and thus my energy the next day), but two does. I also feel like I get 95% of the positive benefits from the first, and exponentially less for each one after that. So like most things in life, I suppose it’s all about the dosage.

Looking ahead, here are my aspirational goals to change my relationship with alcohol:

(1) When I feel good, try to just notice the positive feelings I have and enjoy them in the moment. Maybe even try writing them down to help me notice them more easily in the future.

(2) Make an effort to reward myself with things that add to my energy, instead of take it away. These things often need to be planned ahead — a massage, a weekend away, or reservation at a nice restaurant — so get them in the calendar now.

(3) When I do decide to have a drink, notice and enjoy the feelings it brings on, instead of automatically reaching for the second glass as soon as the first is empty.

Let me know if any of these resonate with you, or if there are any strategies that have worked well for you in the past.

Be well,

Note: This essay was originally shared in my email newsletter, In The Know. Every other Friday I post my thoughts and recommendations on books, podcasts, articles, quotes, as well as some of my own writing about how to live a healthier and more examined life. Please check it out at

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