Since I Stopped Drinking Alcohol, I've Come To See Clearly — America Has A Problem With Alcohol

Want to know if Americans drink too much alcohol? Quit drinking for a day. Better yet a week — or a month. Better yet, quit drinking entirely. I wasn’t forced to quit drinking by the mood stabilizer that saved my life. Alcohol can increase the intensity of any side effects the lamictil causes but, by itself, it can’t hurt you. What I found lamictil does to alcohol is give it a terrible aftertaste that ruins the whole experience.

It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol’s in a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or in a martini — just when you expect the glorious aftertaste of whatever you’re drinking to carry on, instead you get grapefruit skin and lots of it. I was cooking clams al vongele the other day. It’s basically clams, parsley, garlic and a bottle of wine (I like to add a little celery and some Pernod to kick up the licorice qualities). I poured in the wine and Pernod — got the sauce back to a simmer and sampled it, expecting exquisiteness.

Instead, I got grapefruit skin. A bottle of wine is a bottle of wine whether it’s in your glass or simmering away in a sauce. It takes a lot longer than you think to burn off alcohol as you cook with it. I forgot that basic fact at first — then wondered why the sauce tasted so awful.

When I was growing up, my dad collected wines — French reds. He and his friends would buy Bordeaux futures — as yet unharvested (ungrown even) grapes in the expectation that they’d become great, age-worthy vintages like 1970 or 1971. When I say my dad “taught me” how to drink, I mean he taught me to appreciate the thing I was guzzling like it was bug juice at summer camp.

I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a responsible drinker — same as there’s no such thing as a responsible gun owner. 99% of the time — absolutely — most people behave responsibly toward both alcohol and guns. It only takes one slip up however to produce tragedy — one half glass of wine too many that resulted in an accident or traffic fatality or a gun that wasn’t locked up properly in its gun safe — and became a murder weapon.

In both instances, “responsible” becomes “irresponsible” just like that.

I was a lot less responsible than I gave myself credit for being. I’ve no doubt I drove while over the limit on multiple occasions. I know for a fact that I dodged a bullet or two or three where alcohol and driving are concerned. I know for a fact that I am hardly alone having that in my past. Sometimes I marvel that any of us are actually still here and walking (or driving) around.

Before lamictil made alcohol taste like shit, I LOVED drinking. I adored it. I marveled at the craftsmanship that went into a great scotch or a complex bottle of Petit Sirah (I loved em big and inky). I drank every single day — usually two glasses of red wine, sometimes a third glass. On rare occasion a fourth.

I was kinda known for getting even more opinionated than I already am. That’s a lot of “opinionated” to drunkenly throw at people. I don’t recall ever being drunk. I don’t recall ever being wasted or shit-faced or rat-arsed. But then, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t watching me.

These days, when I go to a party or a bar with my wife and/or friends, I’m the lone teetotaler. When the bartender or wait-person turns to me for my order, most of the time I don’t have one: I’ll have water, I say. Their face always betrays them. My beverage will not benefit their tip. I might as well be dead, as far as they’re concerned.

It’s strange to watch your friends as alcohol takes them over. That’s what alcohol does. It changes how people act. While making them feel good for a bit, it also undermines their motor skills and slowly destroys their capacity to make good decisions. I’ve never seen my friends get out-of-their-heads crazy from drinking. But I have seen them get loud, belligerent, unreasonable, disrespectful and downright unpleasant.

When my kids went off to college, I feared for them as they encountered the drinking cultures on their respective college campuses; I worried especially for my daughter since campus rape culture (like campus fraternity culture) is tied to campus alcohol culture. I was grateful to learn that she and her friends prefer marijuana to alcohol. No one has ever died from marijuana poisoning as they have from alcohol poisoning.

I feel almost blasphemous saying this: alcohol prohibitionists weren’t wrong. They wanted to accomplish something impossible in a free society — prohibition of a product the people want. Prohibition didn’t just make alcohol illegal, it criminalized virtually the entire population while giving organized criminals a nearly perfect product to sell. Prohibitionists used the wrong methodology though their insights were rock solid. Alcohol is far too easily abused. And alcohol abuse causes far too much long-lasting social and personal harm to too many people.

Ads for alcohol are aimed (alarmingly) toward young people. Hell, alcohol products themselves are aimed alarmingly at young people. If you have to fruit flavor alcohol up to make it palatable, maybe you aren’t really ready to drink alcohol. That may look like an umbrella in your drink, it’s not; it’s training wheels. And if you really need training wheels on your alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t ought to be drinking alcohol.

My suggestion? Pick up a gram of top quality sativa or hybrid instead (unless of course you want to go to sleep then pick up a gram or two of indica). As self-medcations go, cannabis blows alcohol clear out of the water. It’s so much more versatile (you cannot work with alcohol in your system just like you can’t drive with it or do athletic things with it because of how profoundly it impacts your motor skills).

Having switched from alcohol to cannabis, I’ve also come to see that America has a cannabis problem too. We don’t smoke anywhere near enough of it.

Notes From A Former Drinker — Drinking Culture Is Really, Really, REALLY Stupid

Perspective is the damnedest thing. For the overwhelming majority of my adult life, I was a drinker. I never thought of myself as an alcoholic though I drank at least 2 glasses of wine every day. Religiously.

I prided myself on making not merely a good martini but a great one (I still do as my wife can attest). I savored the creative output that some craftsperson spent years probably putting into whatever bottle I had just cracked. I actually pitied anyone who didn’t drink.

Oy.

Meanwhile, alcohol fed my depression. Theirs was a sick, co-dependent relationship with me caught in the middle. Toward the end, it’s not like I was drinking great stuff anyway — I couldn’t afford great stuff anymore (though I still had some pretty great stuff in my dwindling “wine cellar” including some Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and some Opus One). Even after I came within inches of killing myself, it still didn’t occur to me to look at my 2+ glasses of red wine every night as a possible co-conspirator.

I owe a small debt to lamotrigine, the mood stabilizer I now take every day to keep my darkness in check. I owe an even bigger debt to a great therapist and a smaller but not insignificant debt to cannabis — the other part of my mental health regime. There are no specific warnings about taking lamotrigine and drinking alcohol. And, at first, when I started my regimen, I continued right on pounding down my two plus glasses of red.

But then a strange thing happened. I noticed it about a week in to taking the lamotrigine (I got very, VERY lucky by the way; I leveled within 36 hours at the minimal dose, 25 milligrams). All alcohol suddenly had an aftertaste. All of it. Beer, wine, cocktails… A lovely glass of Zinfandel or Petit Sirah (I loved em big & inky) would start perfectly from the nose to the first blast of fruit on the palate then start to settle in for the aftertaste when — kapow! A flavor like grapefruit rind took over everything. And it didn’t go away quickly.

As I was already deep into cannabis, I figured “what the hell” — that would be my “cocktail” of choice from now on. Funny thing? I have not missed alcohol for two seconds. Not even one.

Now, I do take my marijuana with me. I’ve got a little traveling pouch with an unbreakable silicone pipe and three or four pre-ground flower strains (sativas and hybrids) in 10 dram glass containers. I may not go drink for drink when I go out socializing, but I’m not relying solely on my fizzy water, ginger beer or overpriced mocktail for a thrill.

For the record, I do not get high. Ever. I’m not interested in being high. To me, cannabis is for sleeping, working or relaxing. When relaxing (think strains like Cherry Pie, GSC or Bruce Banner), I want to be mellowed a bit but social. I want the warm, friendly euphoria to keep my hypomania at bay. So — even when I go to a party at someone’s house, in no way am I “keeping up” with everyone else around me who’s drinking.

Watching other people drink from a place of alcohol sobriety is almost always eye-opening. I’ve watched friends slowly get silly over the course of an evening. I’ve watched the quality of the conversations descend from heights of great repartee to meandering repetitiveness — all within an hour or two. People getting soused by the way have no idea that they’re not being witty any more.

Also remarkable — the amount of planning that has to go into drinking. I can make a few grams of my favorite strains last for a month. A bottle once cracked will probably disappear within an hour if shared. While most restaurants have liquor licenses, I have been part of dining decisions made where we overlooked a place’s inferior food because the cocktails were special. When the cocktail is the point, nothing else matters.

A group of people drinking and a group of people smoking marijuana have very little in common — even though our perception might be that they’re all self-medicating. Because of the way marijuana was demonized and falsely mythologized, we have it in our heads that marijuana and alcohol do the same things to us. That’s absolutely not the case.

I do some work occasionally for a marijuana tour company here in Los Angeles. The tours start out at a dispensary where (after lots of good, quality information about legal pot), the tour goers buy lots of marijuana. The next stop — a house (owned by the company) where the tour goers can smoke the pot they just bought. That part of the tour lasts about 45 minutes.

Then we take this dozen or so people of varying ages (all over 21 of course) to a glass blowing factory where they can see how bongs are made (it’s very cool actually). Then the tour takes them to a glass warehouse. Now — here’s where the difference between drinkers & pot smokers is most pronounced. This group of people who’ve just spent 45 minutes smoking pot walk into a glass warehouse… and nothing breaks.

Think about it — would you dare take a dozen people who’d been drinking beer for an hour into a glass warehouse? Does that sound like a good idea? Of course not — because people who’ve been drinking lose motor control whereas people who’ve been smoking marijuana GAIN motor control. Fine motor control even.

I’ve watched people I know for a FACT are “high as kites” pick up beautiful, delicate glass bongs — works of art, some of them — like surgeons doing microsurgery. Smoke a lot of strong indica and, yeah, you can get “dopey”. But — because marijuana actually makes your brain “think more” (it causes more of your synapses to open so you process more information — the reason some people feel paranoid), most users can pull out of a cannabis high and think clearly; if you really want them to think clearly, feed them a little CBD; it will mitigate the THC’s effects almost instantaneously.

And, another huge difference, though pot smokers can get loud — they do laugh a lot — they never get violent (contrary to the mythology first drug czar Harry Anslinger invented to scare white people).

Imagine if sports fans smoked pot instead of drinking beer. There would never be violence at the end of a sporting event — though there might be lots of hugging (“You played great, dude!” “But you played better — ya won!”) and a few people happily sleeping or dealing with a severe case of the munchies.

Violence wouldn’t spill from the stadium onto the city streets. That’s for damned sure.

From time to time, I do miss some of the rituals around drinking. I like the process of making a martini. I loved the theater surrounding absinthe and the way a good bottle of red opens up as the tannins oxidize over the course of an hour.

But then I tap a little Durban Poison into my regular glass piece — and, as my mind focuses and the world comes into sharp relief — I could almost forget alcohol ever existed.

Drinking Culture Vs Cannabis Culture: We’ve Got It COMPLETELY Upside Down…

Long story short: A few days before Christmas 2016, I not only ‘flirted with suicide’, I stared long and hard into its eyes.

I was lucky — and walked away alive.

The medication that helped me walk away alive – Lamotrigine – is mainly used as an anti-seizure med for epilepsy sufferers; anecdotal observations suggested it stabilized mood too.  That’s what I use it for — and part of my luck was that Lamotrigine worked and works for me as well, as completely and as quickly as it did.  One of the unexpected side effects (unexpected becasue there IS no ‘literature’ on my use of this drug.  I’m one of the guinea pigs) is that alcohol now leaves a terrible aftertaste in my mouth.

It doesn’t matter how beautifully structured that glass of  Zinfandel is, or how inky and taut the tannins are in that Petit Sirah — the aftertaste is so profoundly unpleasant — and so particular — that it simply made drinking anything with alcohol in it cringe-inducing.  So, I did the logical thing:  I stopped drinking.

I had already turned to cannabis for other things.  That I had turned to cannabis at all was a testament to my NEED for cannabis.  It was not terribly attractive to me when I was young — it made me too sleepy to be functional.  And, back then, I wasn’t having sleep problems.  Cannabis was ‘solving a problem’ I didn’t have.  So I used other drugs.  Alcohol.  Cocaine.  But mostly alcohol.

Those drugs DID solve my ‘problem’:  They made me social when I needed to be, sped me up when I wanted and made me feel like I was Golden.  In point of fact, my drugs of choice weren’t ‘solving’ anything; they were making more problems and harming my body — in small ways but significant ways.  And the Drug that I chose most often — every day, in fact — three glasses of red pretty much guaranteed — was alcohol.

And I LOVED IT.  I adored good red wine.  I loved a perfectly made, ice cold gin martini.  I loved bourbon and single malt scotch.  I loved grappa & calvados.

I loved the whole creative endeavor, the craftsmanship and passion that went into a bottle of ‘fermented, alcoholized fruit’.

The fact that it was legal meant that I could drink as much of that product as I wanted to — even if it made me sick.  But — as an adult — that is my right & privilege so long as I harm no one else.  This is as it should be and must be.

One of the things I adored about alcohol was ‘Alcohol Culture’ — otherwise known as A PARTY.  You arrive at a party, plop down YOUR contribution (a six pack or bottle of something too cheap for YOU to drink) and away you go — merging your drinking rhythm into everyone else’s drinking rhythm.

Funny thing?  I never used to know that parties — and partiers — had a ‘drinking rhythm’.  That’s because, back then, I was PART of that rhythm.  I might have been a BIG part of that rhythm.

And then circumstances stopped me from being part of it — and, instead, made me AN OBSERVER of it instead.

This is not a revelation to anyone who doesn’t drink — but socializes with people who do.  Going to a party or a bar — anywhere where other people are slowly surrendering their faculties to alcohol — is a fascinating — but isolating — experience.  Literally everyone else in that room is on a journey you are NOT on.  And YOU — the person NOT drinking — almost always feel relief about that fact:  Who would WANT to act as silly as all those people slowly getting plastered?

 

I live in California where cannabis is now legal.  It is already normalizing (though it still has a long, long way to go — the product was demonized so relentlessly — and so DISHONESTLY — that it will take a while just to strip out all the bullshit from Our Common Knowledge of the product.  Disinformation and misinformation are far more prevalent in the culture than actual data on the subject.  Our laws reflect that too unfortunately — but we’ll fix it in time.

As more and more people use the product and take it to heart (and mind), the laws will have to catch up — because our experience with it will demand no less.

 

Yes, cannabis can make you feel awesome.  It can take the edge off a bad mood like few things.  That includes alcohol.  Especially alcohol.

But — and this is several years of actual experience talking (anecdotal experience every last bit of it — but valid as data nonetheless — and even more valid because it’s such consistent data).

I re-considered cannabis as a product four years ago when I needed help sleeping.  My experience with OTC sleep meds was poor and I feared anything stronger.  Cannabis — indica strains — solved my problem simply, effectively and without breaking the bank.  I fell asleep feeling good — slept longer than I was sleeping previously — and awoke just about EVERY MORNING feeling rested.  Even if the quantity of my sleep still needed improvement, the QUALITY of that sleep was exactly what I needed.

I learned — as I began to explore different cannabis strains — that sativas and hybrids effect my brain differently than most indicas.  I learned from repeated experience that GG4 (a hybrid) and Durban Poison (a sativa) and Dutch Treat (a hybrid) and Trainwreck (another hybrid) and Alaskan Ice (a sativa) and Bertleberry Cheesecake (a sativa) and Chemdawg (a hybrid) — among others — brought not only a sense of ‘well-being’ but discernible CLEAR-HEADEDNESS.

Each and everyone of those strains — when smoked either alone or in concert with each other in various combinations — produced (and produce) a laser-like focus in my mind.  Whether I’m working, cleaning my house — or even playing tennis — these strains make me measurably better at whatever I’m doing.

I also discovered strains that, while not focussing me quite so intensely, did make me feel chatty and social.  Cannabis, like alcohol, gives one a ‘social high’.  But, whereas the social high with alcohol soon devolves — alcohol breaks down prohibitions but also the good sense to NOT break them down when appropriate — cannabis DOESN’T have that effect.

And, as a lot of other people have learned and are learning — if depression has any purchase inside your head?  Alcohol is not your friend.  Cannabis on the other hand is.  It’s not for everyone of course (why, oh WHY does one always have to explain that?)  Everyone’s brain chemistry is different.  But — if we look at the Big Picture (keeping in mind that even pharmaceuticals can kill you or hurt you) — lots and lots and lots of actual DATA says that cannabis is incredibly efficacious for a wide and widening group of people.

Want to argue with me?  Okay.  We may argue but we won’t fight (so long as we’re both toking).

You don’t see a lot of fist fights break out among pot smokers the way you do drinkers.  That’s brain chemistry at work.  And it describes two very different experiences inside our brains.  Perversely, we as a LARGER Culture accept what Alcohol Culture does to people (just as we still accept what Tobacco Culture has done to us — WHY is it even remotely acceptable for A SMOKER to toss their butt as if OUR WORLD were THEIR ash tray?  How the hell did THAT ever become ‘acceptable’ in the first place?)

Alcohol & Cannabis effect us — who we are, what we do — AND WHY — in two vastly different ways.  We need to recognize not only that there ARE differences but WHAT those differences are.

In the meantime — I’m thinking Allen Wrench…