When it comes to drinking, what is ‘normal’?

Measuring our behaviour against others is a habit we all indulge in from time to time. Dru Jaeger believes there's another way – what makes you happy?

Portrait of Dru Jaeger
By Dru Jaeger
Dru Jaeger is co-founder of Club Soda, the mindful drinking movement, where he designs and leads programmes to help people become more confident in their personal and social lives. He’s also the author of How to Be A Mindful Drinker.

Humans are social creatures. We take a lot of cues for our behaviour – especially what’s regarded as normal or acceptable – from those around us. As it’s human nature to want to fit in and seek acceptance, one of the ways we attempt to understand boundaries is by comparing ourselves with others, especially those we’re closest to. This can be especially true around subjects which are personal and potentially emotionally charged, such as how much alcohol we drink.

See ‘normal’ as unhelpful

For some people, drinking can turn into a hobby. You can end up spending a lot of time surrounded by people who drink like you, and this can affect your perspective. If your friends drink like you, they might not be the most reliable comparator. What if you’re all drinking more than you should be and just never talk about it

If you only look at your friends’ drinking, comparison could give you a false reassurance. So it might help to look more widely. Across societies, most people don’t drink every day, to excess or just to get drunk. If you’re concerned about your habits, you’re probably drinking more than the average person. So comparing yourself in this way can give you some context.

But it could also be a distraction. You can waste a lot of time trying to work out whether you’re normal and forget to ask a more important question – does your drinking make you unhappy?

Trust your own happiness

Drinking alcohol in moderation can bring pleasure to life: a way to relax, to enjoy new flavours and to share experiences with others. For many people, this type of drinking is part of a balanced lifestyle. But for some, they discover that it takes their happiness away. They find themselves pursuing short-term pleasures with diminishing returns, and instead cause long-term unhappiness to themselves and others.

Making changes to your drinking habits is ultimately about giving yourself more choices, finding new ways of bringing pleasure into your life, rather than getting stuck in an unhappy rut. So if your drinking is making you unhappy, that could be a cue to make changes.

If drinking has shielded you from your unhappiness, changing direction could take some courage. But bravely facing how you really feel is worth it.

Remember change is a process

It can be hard to face up to your unhappiness, especially if you realise your behaviour has caused some of it. If drinking has shielded you from your unhappiness, changing direction could take some courage. But bravely facing how you really feel is worth it.

If you’re thinking about changing your drinking habits, do it on your own terms. Whether you’re cutting down or taking a break, you don’t have to make a dramatic ‘forever’ decision. Make change a learning process. Begin to pay attention to your habits and routines, identify the situations in which your drinking is enjoyable, and take control of those moments. Switch up your routines, notice what works and build on your successes.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to change, only your way – and ideally, a positive way. So stop comparing yourself with others and let go of the idea of being normal. Instead, use balance as your guide, day by day, and begin to take steps in the right direction for you.

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