Drinking alcohol was an after-work ritual for me

Photo of a man at the beach (seen from behind)
PantherMedia / Maksym Azovtsev

Ian, 49 years old

“Back then, it was about the effect of the alcohol, but it was also a daily ritual. An after-work ritual. The alcohol had a soothing, numbing effect and helped me to switch off.”

A few years ago, I would have described myself as a completely normal drinker. That is to say, I drank at parties and get-togethers. And the odd beer of an evening.

A life-changing experience

About six years ago, we went back to my hometown for a short break. I met up with some old friends and had a drink with them. We also ate well with my parents and drank with meals. When we got back home, I suddenly started getting pain in my upper belly that kept getting worse. It got so bad that my wife took me to hospital.

They quickly found that I had an inflamed . They kept me in for a few days, at first in intensive care. It was a pretty tough couple of days. It took quite a long time for the doctors to get the severe pain under control. That was a truly life-changing experience for me.

The question was: what had caused it? There are a lot of reasons for an like that, and often the cause isn’t clear. Alcohol is known to be a common cause, so that might have been a factor for me. I decided to stop drinking alcohol for a while.

I thought about the role alcohol plays in my life

I started asking myself whether I might have a drinking problem. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms or cravings for alcohol. I wasn't physically dependent on it. But I did notice a few things that I found concerning.

For instance, we were drinking wine one evening when we were with my parents. I suddenly realized how quickly I had emptied my glass. I've always been a fast drinker, but it really struck me then. My parents’ glasses were still almost full and I had already finished mine.

In the years before that, my wife used to travel quite a lot for work. I was then on my own with the kids and had a fair few other things to deal with along with work. I realized that I was drinking more than usual of an evening, sometimes two or three beers instead of just one, or maybe two glasses of wine. That just crept in, especially if I was feeling very stressed. An evening drink was a reward, a way of drawing a line under the day. I realized that was the case when I looked back and thought about it.

I used to enjoy drinking a bit more at parties, too. One too many, as the saying goes. My wife used to notice that too, and she brought it up with me on several occasions.

There was another key experience: A good while ago, we visited friends when our son was still little. I had drunk a fair bit and was holding him. And then I slipped somehow. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn't had five or six beers.

It was a gradual process overall. Little by little, I was drinking more and more without noticing.

Childhood experiences of alcohol

I come from a family where drinking alcohol was totally normal. It was simply a part of everyday life. Alcohol was drunk on all sorts of occasions, often a fair amount. My father regularly went to the pub after work, and as soon as it opened on Sundays. I grew up with those habits. But I don't think of it as something negative, more just as having fun and enjoying life. Nobody ever got aggressive because of alcohol, we were actually always in a good mood. So I always associated alcohol with positive things. I learned to drink regularly without really thinking about it.

A break from alcohol

These observations and experiences went through my mind after I had the pancreatitis. Whether alcohol really caused the or not, I took it as a sign that I should take a break from alcohol for a while.

And that wasn’t a problem because I never had cravings for alcohol. But I did have my rituals. So, the question was: What was I going to drink if I wasn't drinking alcohol anymore? I tried various non-alcoholic drinks, such as cola, juice, just water, and also some other drinks that weren’t sweet, like bitter lemon and tonic water. I ended up trying countless non-alcoholic beers, almost all of which are sadly rather sweet and therefore not good for quenching your thirst. Eventually, I found one of the few more bitter non-alcoholic beers that I really liked and still drink now. I think it's important to find the right substitute drink because then you can really keep up the old ritual of an “after-work drink.” We shouldn't underestimate how important those kinds of habits are.

I was tee-total for about 1.5 to 2 years after becoming ill. My wife helped to motivate me too, because my drinking had bothered her before and she had often mentioned it. That was another reason to really make long-term changes.

At first, my friends were a little surprised that I was completely tee-total. But lots of them also understood it after the pancreatitis. It was a little strange at first because we were used to drinking when we got together. Another ritual... It was just something we did, we never questioned it. So they did ask me about it a lot. But nobody pressured me. Actually, they gave me a lot of support. Maybe it also helped that at our age, we start thinking more about our health. Nowadays they're actually surprised if I do have a beer from time to time.

I now drink mindfully and on special occasions

That all happened five or six years ago. I still don’t drink any alcohol on weekday evenings, at least not out of routine or habit. Every now and again I'll have a glass of wine with dinner with my wife. Or if we meet friends for dinner. On special occasions. Then I might get a little tipsy, or shall we say: I notice the effect of the alcohol. But no more than that. It’s nothing like it used to be.

And I no longer drink alcohol in the evening when I'm stressed or worn out. Ritual, regular alcohol consumption was a problem for me and something that I completely underestimated. I have kept the ritual going, though, just without alcohol.

I often used to drink alone too. Especially when my wife wasn’t there and the kids were in bed. I don’t do that anymore, either. I no longer drink alcohol alone.

And I also appreciate having a clear head and being in good form the next day much more. That was different back then.

Rituals are important to me – but without alcohol

Nowadays my ritual is to have a nice, cool non-alcoholic beer at the end of the day. Back then, it was about the effect of the alcohol, but it was also a daily ritual. An after-work ritual. The alcohol had a soothing, numbing effect and helped me to switch off. But I can now do that perfectly well without alcohol. And I don’t feel like there's anything missing.

Acknowledgment

Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.

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Created on November 9, 2021
Next planned update: 2024

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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