April 13, 2022
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When you are diagnosed with a chronic condition like psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you’ll often find yourself in conversations with people who offer suggestions as to how you can better support your health: “Have you tried yoga?” “What about turmeric supplements?” or “Maybe you should go vegan!”
These are well intended, but usually unsolicited, suggestions that we spoonies have all heard, and often tried, before. What is interesting to me is that the one lifestyle change that has made the most impact on my health is one that no one ever suggested: cutting out alcohol.
Considering the social and societal expectations around alcohol that we often face as adults, transitioning to a “dry” lifestyle can be a tricky thing to navigate.
Drinking culture is tied to many social interactions, so much so that when someone decides not to partake, they are oftentimes met with discomfort, questions, or assumptions.
Growing up in an Irish-Catholic, party-loving family, I viewed drinking alcohol as a rite of passage, a part of adulthood that I never questioned. I just started to partake and it quickly became a slippery slope. I was in college at the time, so the social pressures and opportunities to drink were everywhere.
Alcohol was a great way to self-medicate and forget my troubles for a bit. It became quite habitual, and while my arthritis progressed and symptoms worsened, I never once considered alcohol could be causing harm.
Not only was I using alcohol as a way to cope with the physical pain I was dealing with, but also to help me forget about the mental distress doctors were causing me by denying my pain was more than just tendonitis.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my drinking was setting off a chain reaction of more anxiety, stress, pain, and fatigue. I managed to ignore the domino effect it was having and instead focused on the temporary relief. I justified it by telling myself I was just having fun and living my life as a 20-something, but my body was paying the price.
When I was 25, I had a massive flare-up, and rheumatologists still were unable to come up with a diagnosis beyond inflammatory arthritis. Hesitant to try biologics without a true diagnosis, I began working with a holistic health coach who taught me all about gut health and inflammatory foods and pointed out the damage my drinking might have been causing.
I decided to cut back, and I told myself I would drink only on occasions. Once I eased up on the nights out and boozy brunches, I realized how much better my body felt.
My arthritis was still very present, but I was having an easier time managing my health without the cycle of alcohol-induced inflammation, poor food choices, and fatigue that would follow a night out.
Even with the obvious benefit to my health, I continued to drink every so often for a couple of years. My tolerance was dwindling, leaving me hungover from just one glass of wine. I knew it was hurting me, but I still felt socially obligated to have a drink in my hand.
I desperately wanted to be able to partake socially and feel included with my friends. Living in New York City, bars and nightlife can feel central to being social. I worried that if I were to totally remove alcohol from my life, I would be missing out.
Circumstances changed when my rheumatologist suggested I add methotrexate back into my treatment plan. She explained that it can be very hard on the liver and that alcohol should be avoided while taking methotrexate to reduce the chances of liver damage.
My rheumatologist must have noticed the concern on my face because she then told me that drinking would be OK in moderation. But I knew moderation wouldn’t come easily to me. It was at this point that I decided to cut alcohol out entirely. I was ready to embark on a dry lifestyle, but not without worries.
I had to conquer my fear of socializing without booze, as well as the fear of how friends and family might react.
People sometimes become defensive or uncomfortable around a non-drinker because of how strongly our culture is tied to alcohol consumption. When you proclaim you are no longer drinking, it can strike a chord with certain folks, who might feel judged for their own drinking habits.
I had to constantly remind myself of my own “why” and remember that others’ opinions or feelings on the matter were not relevant.
At first, I felt uncomfortable declining someone’s offer for a drink. That might sound silly to some, but when people in your life know you as someone who loves a glass of wine, suddenly declining prompts confusion and curiosity.
It took me some time and practice to get used to being in settings where drinking alcohol was expected. After a few events, I found my groove.
Per the advice of my cousin, who also has PsA and no longer drinks, I started ordering fun mocktails at the bar. This helped to deter unwanted questions while allowing me to feel more included.
Now that I have over 1 year without alcohol under my belt, I have become confident in my choice. I have realized that I am actually able to enjoy myself more in most social settings without drinking.
I feel more present and less anxious. I can socialize more frequently because my recovery time from a night out is now a fraction of what it used to be.
And while declining a drink should never require an explanation, I now like to take any opportunity I can to normalize not drinking by proudly announcing, “No thank you, I do not drink anymore.”
Choosing to eliminate alcohol has allowed me to have important conversations with friends and family about drinking culture and how we view alcohol, despite the negative impacts drinking can have on our health.
I no longer care how it makes anyone else feel when I reject a drink because it makes me feel healthier, happier, and more in control. I will never judge any person for choosing to drink — I have simply come to learn that my body functions better without alcohol in the mix.
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