I’ve lived in New York for almost six years. Of those 2,190 nights, I've spent a good number of them going out. After all, why stay in when you could be out in the city that never sleeps—meeting new people, drinking on rooftops, dancing in clubs?
Most of the time, I can shake off the side effects with lots of water and a large coffee. I've never messed up in a major way—no ruined relationships, no DUIs, no arrests. I don't drink a lot during the week. And I’ve only lost one phone!
We commiserate about how terrible we feel, we laugh it off, and then we do it again.
But I have lost credit cards and jackets and scarves. I've sent too many texts and made too many late-night calls I shouldn't have. I’ve had too many nights that started out shiny and full of promise, only to devolve into fights and tear-streaked cheeks.
I need to stop drinking so much, I say to myself those mornings after. My friends say the same thing, texting each other after a big night out. We commiserate about how terrible we feel, we laugh it off, and then we do it again. It's OK—we don’t have a problem. We’re in our twenties. We’re just having fun.
Yet I can’t shake the question: Haven’t I had enough? Enough partying, enough drinking, enough late nights? The thought runs through my mind, but inevitably, after a few days pass, I’m ready for more.
Haven’t I had enough? I could ask myself on a date, when I say yes to a third round of cocktails over a conversation that’s run its course. But maybe he’s just loosening up. Sure, I'll have another.
Haven’t I had enough? I could ask myself at a bar on a Friday night, when a friend offers me a shot at midnight. But she’s moving soon, and it’s her last weekend in town. How can I say no?
Haven’t I had enough? I could ask myself at a wedding, when I go for a fifth glass of wine. Hey, it’s an open bar. Here’s to the happy couple!
Why Enough Isn't Ever Enough
With alcohol, it’s just too easy to have more, especially when you like the way rosé tastes on a warm summer night. Plus having one or two drinks makes you feel great! It’s science: Alcohol triggers the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals in your brain. Alcohol consumption induces endogenous opioid release in the human orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. Mitchell JM, O'Neil JP, Janabi M. Science translational medicine, 2012, Sep.;4(116):1946-6242. At first, it acts as a stimulant. You feel giddy, excited, ecstatic even.
But your return on investment drops after those first couple of drinks. Your senses start to dull as alcohol's sedative effects kick in. Your inhibitions lower. You become more impulsive. That third—or fifth—drink start to sound grand, no matter what “limit” you told yourself before you started drinking. Why stick to two drinks? You only live once.
That's just it, though. You only live once. The clichéd phrase means much more to me now at age 27 than when I was in college or my early twenties. I know people who have been through health scares and illnesses and accidents. I have known and loved people who have passed away—sadly, sometimes in incidents involving alcohol. And it’s not like I don’t know about the effects of alcohol on your body—I’m an editor at a health and wellness website, after all.
Over the Limit
So the question remains: Why is it so hard to stick to one or two drinks when I go out? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think any of my friends know either, judging by the repetitive “I’m never drinking again” texts we all send most weekend mornings.
It’s not like I can't ever stop myself. Plenty of nights I don’t drink at all or happily stick to one glass of wine. I even gave up drinking for a month in January (and wrote about it). Plus moderation is an easy enough concept for me when it comes to food and exercise—I don't tend toward extremes in either.
It’s tempting to point my finger at New York City itself, where I could hit up happy hour every day if I wanted to and bars don’t close until 4 a.m. But I can’t blame my environment. I’m the one who’s picking up the glass and bringing it to my lips.
I could point to the fact that alcohol has been shown to be addictive. Or to my general sense of anxiety or uneasiness that flares up in some social situations. Alcohol helps alleviate those anxious feelings, at least for the time being. It makes me feel like I made the right choice. It makes me into a cooler, funnier, friendlier version of myself. Until I'm not.
I want to start living with eyes wide open, not halfway closed after two vodka sodas too many.
I may not be able to pinpoint what occasionally pushes me past my limit. But I do know that I want to start living with eyes wide open, not halfway closed after two vodka sodas too many. I don’t want the fun to end, but I do want to remember it—all the fleeting nights and sunny summer days I spend in this city that's become my home. I want to stay ahead of my tendency to drink too much, before I suffer more serious consequences than a forgotten credit card or jacket at the bar.
I may take this back next Friday night, but for now, I think I’ve finally had enough.