The other night I caught up with a mate and was chatting about my latest binge drinking escapade: after-work drinks with an ex-colleague, tracing an arc from beers, to shots of rum, to ‘negronis’ and ‘old-fashioned’s to vomiting for half an hour in my backyard after attempting to (belatedly) eat some dinner. From first sip to last shout was around seven hours, with a few handfuls of popcorn being the only other belly-filler.
As a guy who doesn’t drink much, and certainly doesn’t indulge in the kind of drinking that leads to purging, he couldn’t quite understand the psychology behind my binge-drinking. He was also surprised at how calm I was about describing what is, in essence, an issue that occurs with greater-than-desired regularity.
And it got me to thinking about my psychology of drinking. I certainly don’t claim that this is relevant to anyone else, nor even 100% of the time for me, but I think it goes some of the way to explaining some of the factors that lead to my episodes of excess.
1) I never want to miss out on ‘the fun’. I am an extrovert who thrives on social interactions and seeks validation from others. As a result, there’s a desire to be part of the action, part of the team, part of ‘the fun’. As a kid I never wanted to go to bed, and this has barely changed in the subsequent decades, when ‘the fun’ goes even later into the night.
2) Alcohol has been fundamentally incorporated into my concept of ‘the fun’. When I was growing up, I was geeky and uncool, and had to try hard to be part of the group. This extended to trying to curry favour by volunteering my parents’ spirits for the group’s rocket fuel (basically a concoction of as much alcohol as you could steal from each bottle of spirits without it being noticed, mixed with coke). When the said rocket fuel was being consumed, I felt validated: a factor in the group’s collective enjoyment and a key contributor to ‘the fun’.
Then, when I moved out of home, I didn’t even really drink. Not only that, I couldn’t stomach the taste of beer. But when you live in a house with 6 uni-students, a whole lot of time, and seemingly endless cartons of booze, well, you adapt. A house full of 6 good friends is rarely quiet at the best of times, and there’s an odds-on chance that someone will be up for a tipple on any given day. After living with parents for 17 years, this was a revelation. And while we didn’t need alcohol to have a good time, more often than not, it was there – ubiquitous, free-flowing… fun.
This has carried on from share-house to share-house, throughout university, to my year overseas, to the UQ beach volleyball club, and even to Friday after-work drinks. If something fun was on, you can be sure it was fuelled by beers.
3) I don’t want ‘the fun’ to end. If I suspect you’re near the end of your night (or your leash) I’ll be the one offering to buy the next round. If it keeps you here, I’ll buy the next 3. I quite simply don’t want ‘the fun’ to end. I don’t want to go home and watch a movie/ read a book / do my taxes. I want to stay here with you, drinking beers, and having ‘fun’. It doesn’t seem to matter that we’re getting obnoxious, that enjoyment levels are dipping, that we’ve burned through dollars… Let’s not stop, and lose ‘this’, whatever ‘this’ is… (I largely expect that ‘this’ is me feeling part of something, part of the group, part of ‘the fun’… My validation loop is complete, and fuck it… I’m riding this bad boy until the hangover comes).
And this is where it all goes downhill… This is where we don’t eat; where we switch to spirits; where we could be responsible for hefty RSA fines if anyone ever bothered to open their eyes. This is where the night goes from ‘a couple of quiet ones’ to vomit/tears/or worse…
4) There’s no shame in it. I revel in telling the stories – the time I passed out in front of Maccas after tearfully calling Storm to come and pick me up, throwing up when we got home, and falling to sleep on the tiles in the bathroom in a distraught bundle of confused human emotion… I’ve told that story, multiple times. I’ve told the story about last Friday night a few times as well… As though there’s some honour in it. As though I’m somehow cooler for having spent half an hour talking to my shoes in my backyard. What a fucking hero… And the funny thing is, people groan and empathise, or quietly listen and don’t sympathise. No one says “don’t you think you do this too often, too hard?”. No one says “you’re a fucking idiot man… you should try and sell your vomit because lord knows you paid enough for it.”
I feel there’s something in this, in terms of social normalisation of behaviours, but maybe that’s for another time/place.
5) I have like-minded friends. I don’t binge drink alone. That should tell you something.
So there you go. These are my preliminary thoughts about the psychology of my binge drinking. I’d be happy to hear thoughts or objections. Hell, throw some solutions into the mix if you’d like.