Many of us spend the beginning of each new year thinking about alcohol. Often, that's because it's coming out of our noses, thickened by the half-digested halloumi we picked up on the way back from our New Year's Eve party. And then comes the rest of the month: Dry January and the rigmarole of discussing a colleague's temporary sobriety for an entire 31 days.
This year the government has helped prolong our booze-related thoughts, telling us halfway through last month that we should drink no more than seven pints per week, and then that we should think about cancer every time we have a glass of wine – both kind of buzzkill memos, but also technically completely true.
When alcohol dominates cultural consciousness in the way it has for the past month or so, it's difficult not to consider its role in your own life. To help a few of our friends and colleagues work through those thoughts, we asked them to write them all down and let us share them with the internet.
JOEL GOLBY, STAFF WRITER, VICE
I didn't drink until I was 19 because my dad was an alcoholic and it killed him when I was 15, which, on the whole, doesn't make you too thirsty. That means I sort of missed out on that entire teenage rite-of-passage with alcohol – of drinking until you're sick on a park bench, of sneaking into rock clubs with extremely lax ID policies (it's always rock clubs), of loitering outside Londis with a pocket full of change and the one person in your group with the most polite voice asking adult passersby if they can score you some Bacardi – because I had too many searing memories of coming home to find my dad passed out in front of the TV; of having to make him strong black coffee to sober him up before my mum got home and they had yet another argument about it; of him moving out and dwelling in this tiny council flat, alone and watching televised golf, slowly slouching towards death.
Here's a fun anecdote: there was a time, after he had moved out and died, that I went up to the attic to sort some things, and this whole cascade of plastic cider bottles fell down on top of me, icy blue and crumpled, pooling to the floor at the base of the ladder, one final little gift from dad. By the time we counted them up – laughing hysterically throughout, because you have to, because death is so absurd – there was something like 40 empty bottles of Frosty Jack there, chucked drunkenly into the attic to disguise a habit we all knew he had. Was a bad time, if I'm honest. Wasn't a fun time.
But now I love alcohol! It's great!
Second year of university I decided I was my own man – that alcohol wasn't a curse, that it was a vice, that I was better than that, that I could control it if I knew the size of it, and also it's really fucking hard to make friends when you just sit in your room in halls soberly playing Xbox alone – but that was before I knew the statistics about children of alcoholics: that they are anywhere between two and nine (the regularly cited statistic is a firm "three") times more likely to develop drink or drug dependencies, three times more likely to consider suicide.
That seems at odds with how I think of alcohol: the lubricant for the best nights of my life, something I drink to relax and unwind, the pints I drink when I'm bonding with friends. But then sometimes I find myself drinking a few tins at home and I think: this is alright, isn't it? Find myself two or three drinks drunker than everyone else at the party and go: this is... this is cool. This is OK. Wake up with a hangover and spend an entire bottle of Lucozade telling myself I'm not my dad. I got this. I'm in control.
I don't know: I think every child of an alcoholic spends moments of reflection wondering if they've slipped into the quicksand, too. My relationship with alcohol is a complex one, and if I'm honest, there was a two-year period back there where I was drinking too much, too familiarly. My mum died and I didn't know what to do. A relationship died and I didn't know what to do. There's no direct causation there – that feels like I'm firing blanks in the dark, desperately trying to find something to blame – but the fact is that the quantity slowly started to increase. Alcohol was a blanket I could wrap around parts of my brain that got too loud in quiet moments. That's bad, isn't it? That's not good.
I think a lot of us, if we're really honest, are stranded in a similar boozy purgatory: always on that knife between "being drunk and having fun" and just "being drunk". Maybe for me the edges are just that little bit sharper because I've seen what alcoholism can do (makes your family really sad!).
Personally, I'm trying to shift out of the habit of drinking six cans in front of the TV on a weeknight; I'm trying to take a more responsible attitude to myself and my health. I'm trying to lose weight, for goodness sake, because beer has made me look like someone put a haircut on the Stay-Puft man. I'm trying to escape a curse that's not a curse, a too-obvious destiny left by the man who came before me. But I don't want to give up drinking cold, because... well, I like drinking, and it's hard to tear my social life away from it without killing them both, like ivy growing on a tree. I don't want to admit that I'm not in control. But maybe in this, the year of our lord 2k16, it's time to be a little bit more grown up about it. Or get bang into smack instead. One of those two.
Click through to the next page to read VICE columnist John Doran's thoughts on booze, and the pages after that for a few more writers' reflections.
JOHN DORAN, COLUMNIST, VICE
So another [coughs up phlegm, rolls it around mouth, spits violently at floor] DRYNUARY is over. Is there any bigger indication of what a nation of absolute whoppers we've become than this nascent "tradition"? What a truly appalling time to be alive. As we speak, millions of goons all over this green and pleasant land are over-exaggeratedly telling each other about the "struggle" to stay dry for the last four weeks; how they nearly "didn't make it" like they're discussing their participation in the Charge of the Fucking Light Brigade.
Look, I don't want to be the ghost at the banquet, but only an idiot would think that drynuary works. Only an idiot would think that by being a raw-eating, pilates-practising, auto-enema administering fruitarian on a Monday means you can shoot yourself in the face with a rocket launcher every other day of the week – because, funnily enough, that isn't how it works. And it's the same with alcohol.
Any idiot can stop drinking for four weeks when they can count down the days from 31 to zero. The real difficulties (and real benefits) lie in being able to have a few days off drinking every week – or, god forbid, drinking more sensibly in the first place. Instead, we have what is essentially the same as a macho drinking contest itself – a next to useless drying out period that puts strain on the internal organs, with benefits that can be wiped out in the stampede back off the wagon on the 1st of February. It's the equivalent of the coked-up banker insisting on his heart-bursting game of squash every Friday morning, despite the amount of racket he puts up his hooter every other point during the week, and has little or nothing to do with health.
But then everything about drinking culture in this country is hypocritical and ill thought out. As drinkers become thirstier and thirstier, the advice we receive from above gets more and more laughable. In Great Britain, more than nine million people drink "more than they are supposed to", and that figure will have gone up dramatically since the government issued new stringent alcohol consumption guidelines a few weeks ago.
Speaking as a chronic alcoholic (recovering for seven years) who was drunk nearly every day for well over 20 years – who nearly died several times over because of this; who, on average, exceeded the new government guidelines by a factor of 20 to 30 per week – I think it's fair to say I have a horse in this race despite being teetotal.
Everyone who drinks knows this advice is a waste of public money, and no one pays any attention to it other than the sort of people who would drink moderately anyway.
Admittedly clearer links have been found between drinking and cancer than were evident the last time they were updated 20 years ago, but the difference these changes will make to those who already drink moderately are negligible. The new figures reflect a desire by the medical establishment to bring the risk of dying by alcohol-related causes to below 1 percent – what they deem a reasonable figure. But according to Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in risk analysis, it is important to put this figure into context. It turns out that now, if we follow the new guidelines, it's actually more dangerous to watch an hour of TV or eat bacon twice a week.
Coming soon! New government guidelines report that you can reduce your risks of getting seriously injured or killed in a car accident to acceptable levels by only leaving the house once a week between 11AM and 4PM. It's all based on 100 percent accurate statistics!
Government figures coming soon! Reduce your risk of becoming Pope by not converting to Catholicism and reduce your risk of becoming smeared in bear faeces by not rolling around in the woods!
The real picture of heavy drinking in the UK – the one essentially ignored by this advice and drynuary – is disastrous. Approximately 1.5 million people are either chronically addicted to booze or feel that they really can't control their drinking, and of them, 33,000 per year die because of alcohol-related incidents and chronic drinking combined.
To everyone reading this who is healthy and happy and going out for a drink tonight – I hope you have a really good time. It's none of my business, but seriously, do think about having a few days off a week if you don't already. Being able to drink is great; getting in a position where you have to stop isn't. To all my brothers and sisters who have quit the booze and taken the pledge – right on and stay strong, relish waking up tomorrow morning and your first thought not being either about phoning in sick or apologising to your partner/flatmates/parents. To anyone who is drinking but doesn't feel in control of the experience (anyone who really did struggle with staying dry in January) or doesn't derive any joy from it any more, please get in touch with your doctor or go to a walk-in NHS centre and ask for an appointment as soon as possible. Quitting (or moderating, if that's right for you; chronic alcoholism and habitual binge drinking aren't the same thing) is tough, but if a dickhead like me can do it, then anyone can. Good luck.
John Doran's book on coping with alcoholism and drug addiction, 'Jolly Lad', is available from Strange Attractor.
Click through to the next page to read VICE Junior Editor Hannah Ewens' thoughts on booze, and the pages after that for a few more writers' reflections.
HANNAH EWENS, JUNIOR EDITOR, VICE
A house party was the beginning. We all planned to stay over at the mate's house who had the most blasé parents, who wouldn't mind picking up six squawking teenage girls at 3AM.
In the morning, I found myself wearing a slutty Alice in Wonderland outfit, hugging the toilet and dribbling on the pedestal mat. I called my dad to collect me – the stoic knight who'd always do the lifts out of the parents – and he physically placed me into the front seat of his Ford Galaxy. For the entire drive back around country roads I threw up every time we braked, turned a slight corner or stopped at lights. It was collecting in the curvature of the leg space. After half an hour, it was surprisingly full. When we emergency stopped, it splashed up my white knee-high socks and stained them pink, making me puke harder through burning nostrils. Dad just sat silent and straight-faced, not angry, not disappointed. Just accepting, like he would every time I fucked up over the following 10 years.
On to university: a dystopian social experiment where friendships are based on, and fuelled by, drinking large quantities through funnels, tubes or other seemingly unrelated household items. Drink equals fun, therefore not drinking equals boring. When the second wave of borderline eating disorders descends among your female friends, it's skipping dinner to drink a bottle of wine after work in Spoons in order to have sex with someone from your shit part-time job. It's pre-drinking on the top deck and deliberately annoying other passengers while your feistiest mate sticks her boobs in some bloke's face. It's every weekend. Despite all its faults, it feels like freedom.
Until you're part of a generation who hit their mid-twenties and feel apathetic towards it. For me, it was accepting that the morning after a night of heavy drinking would always mean anxiety rattling through my bones. Without the comfort blanket of best mates there to pile in the bed with you, or spend the entire next day moaning and hungover with, it was different anyway. The sense of all being in it together was gone.
Bar the occasional blow out I usually only drink a couple of glasses. I say this like it was some sort of mental health epiphany, but it's partly down to the fact that, for the past couple of years, I've been skint – really fucking skint – so can't afford to go to the pub in London anyway. Maybe when I'm rich and famous I'll be back throwing up my stomach lining in people carriers. Until then.
Click through to the next page to read VICE Executive Editor Sam Wolfson's thoughts on booze, and the pages after that for a few more writers' reflections.
SAM WOLFSON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, VICE
People really love to tell me about their drunken fuck-ups. I'm not sure why – I'm not very trustworthy and bad at eye contact – but somehow I've ended up being my social group's paper of record for fumbled blow jobs and light trespassing committed under the influence of nine Stellas and a packet of scampi fries.
When people tell those stories, the booze is the first thing they get out the way, almost like a disclaimer. I think "I was drunker than I've ever been" and "the following report contains flashing images" are of similar minimal importance to the narrative of what follows – just something to bear in mind.
That's how it should be. Alcohol is the least important part of any night out. Only the worst kind of schmuck bases their whole evening around the right kind of claret. For most people, the drinking is just a means to an end.
But then this year, I actually did dry January, and I really felt my whole life change colour. I'm not a very dark person – I don't identify with personal essays on Thought Catalogue or anything like that – but stopping drinking did make me realise that there was more mess in my life than I was probably accounting for. Confused internal tangles managed to straighten themselves out; I was able to follow a train of thought with being knocked over by its implications.
It's not like everything in my life changed, or I felt healthier or my skin improved. It was just a bit like I'd been wearing a pair of wet socks all day and I'd popped home and put on some nicer dry ones that had just come out the wash. I told you I wasn't dark.
Christ knows, I couldn't wait to start drinking again. Abstinence, vegetarianism, celibacy, holding in farts – I can imagine all these things have their advantages, but seeing as you only have one life it seems a waste to spend it not doing stuff.
Click through to the next page to read VICE Staff Writer Joe Bish's thoughts on booze, and the pages after that for another writer's reflections.
JOE BISH, STAFF WRITER, VICE
As a teen, I pretentiously shirked drinking. While my peers were going to parks and each other's houses to drink entire two-litre bottles of blue water before sicking them back up again, I was there scoffing, rolling joints, confused and angry at their pointless shitfacing. The main thing that bothered me about it was that they didn't really like each other and would get pissed together to make each other more bearable. At the time I thought this was the height of pointlessness, not knowing that imbibing narcs to make humanity seem more tenable would become a great fixture in my life.
It was only after I got my first job at the tender age of 16 that I really dove headfirst into the world of alcohol. I was working at a record label after avoiding college. I wanted to hang out with older people – people who "got" me – not more guffawing, pizza-faced dilweeds. After a few months the inevitable sleigh bells of Christmas began to chime. This would be my first ever festive work do, so I decided to make the most of it and have a few jars.
As with any music biz shindig, there was a free bar all night, a tab running into the tens of thousands. I started my night with a cocktail called a "Wibble", a crimson liquid in a stupid shaped glass. I had a few conversations, milled about, got a couple of beers. Then came the turning point. I switched to red wine, it having been a mainstay of my childhood and a lot less gassy than constantly necking bottles of Becks. I had one, then another, then I had a dance, then two more. I started shouting gags at people and swanning around, almost knocking over a giant papier maché horse, and had some more wine.
Next thing I knew I was sat with my trousers around my ankles in the bathroom, mid shit. I was sleeping, but woken by an angry bouncer whacking the door, telling me the venue was closing. In a daze I dragged my trousers up and buttoned them. I opened the cubicle door and immediately vomited into the basin, which was a large metal trough. My vomit was a deep red.
I went outside to find my friends, who were all waiting. It was snowing and I was just in a T-shirt because my coat was in the cloakroom. I gave someone my ticket to collect it for me, leaning on my friend's shoulder, which I then threw up on.
We got in a cab and went to someone's house. While they stayed up doing drugs on a table, I slept on the sofa. The house had no heating and was unbearably cold, but I was so pissed I fell straight to sleep. The next day everyone, including me, got a taxi to the office. They had McDonalds breakfasts, but I couldn't stomach it. I spent the next four hours periodically vomiting and lying on a sofa in the middle of the office. At one point I threw up in a metal mesh bin with no bag in it. Some of it went on the head of A&R's carpet. I got a cab home not long after that.
Ever since then I've been getting pissed almost constantly. I love it. That wasn't even my worst hangover. If you wanted to know about my worst hangovers then give me a fucking book deal, because there have been some absolutely catastrophic, life-changing ones that almost always end up in me paying £80 for a taxi. The point is, my first proper experience with alcohol was exactly as it should be: extremely excessive, extremely embarrassing and extremely painful.
Click through to the next page to read Noisey Staff Writer Emma Garland's thoughts on booze.
EMMA GARLAND, STAFF WRITER, NOISEY
Every year, one by one, people around me stop drinking. The reasons cited aren't morally, socially or even health-driven, but usually down to lack of interest. Some were never bothered to begin with and others went too hard on the quad-vods at uni, and now their body is telling them to go home urgently. Either way, it's easy to let go of something when you don't miss it. "Straight meh-dge", Noisey editor Dan Ozzi calls it. For some people, though, it can become more than a choice or even a lifestyle – it becomes a personality trait, something that goes towards defining who you are, whether it's "straight edge" or "alcoholic".
My granddad passed away this time last year, and most of my of memories of him involve drinking – some of them funny, like when he got too plastered to drive so he stole a horse and rode it home over Caerphilly mountain. Some of them not so funny, like when he died because of a clusterfuck of health problems relating to alcohol abuse. It didn't matter how many times I'd visit him and try to explain my vegan diet or social drinking, he'd still offer me a vodka and tonic and a boiled egg the minute I sat down.
There are a number of reasons why I could call that sad or a waste, but to be honest he lived how he wanted and was seemingly pleased about it until the last few months – and that was because they were spent in distinct sobriety on a mattress in his living room. Somewhere in my parents' house there's a faded photograph of him performing in drag as George Michael that says more about his character than his alcoholism ever did.
I always figured dealing with something like that close to home would give me some kind of cross to bear, but it hasn't. What – I'm not going to pop that ice-cold tinny on the bus on a summer's day because my granddad had a drinking problem? Not bloody likely. Will I ever run around a club again chasing shots of Jaegermeister with more shots of Jaegermeister and being sick into a selection of pint glasses? Perhaps not.
There are people I know who base their decisions on where they go not on who else will be there or what the activity is, but on how many beers they can get for a tenner. Personally, it doesn't mean that much to me. I would pick a particular person or a snack over a drink most days of the week, but if I tried to convince myself that I don't spend between 4:50PM and 5PM every Friday refreshing my work email until the announcement about free desk beers arrives, I'd be an absolute sham of a human.
More on VICE: