Drugs Part 1: Alcohol

I want to talk about drugs. I want to talk openly and honestly about drugs. Nearly everything I see swings heavily either into the “Drugs are terrible” or the “Drugs are amazing” category. Both are true and false at the same time. It depends on the drug, the amount, the environment, your mindset, and other contributing factors. We hardly ever hear honest, informative information about drugs, drug use, and their effects.

When most people talk about drugs, they do so in hopes of persuading others to their opinions of it. Pro-drug people will purport positive stories while diminishing negative stories. Anti-drug people will exaggerate the negative while dismissing the positive. I too want to push you towards my opinion of drugs. I want you to know there is a giant grey area when it comes to drug use that cannot be easily slapped into the “they’re all great” or “they’re all bad” piles. My agenda for this multi-part series will be to inform as unbiased as I can, based on my own history of drug use.

The first thing I ever tried was alcohol. I was the December before my 20th birthday and I was at a house party. A small, intimate gathering of about a dozen friends hanging out, listening to music, talking, and having drinks. I’d been asked what I wanted to drink by one friend and I confessed I didn’t know because I’d never had any alcohol before. The reaction to that news was mild surprise.

Growing up in a small, desert mountain town with a population in the low thousands, there really isn’t much for high school age kids to do besides fuck and drink (and not necessarily in that order). I was one of the rare ones who did neither. An irregularity among his peers. I hung out in many different cliques without ever really belonging to any of them. Some cliques smoked, some drank, some did drugs, some fucked like rabbits. I was able to weave in-and-out of them all without being peer pressured to participate in any of those activities.

In fact, I was staunchly anti-drug. In my formative years, I was inundated with D.A.R.E. classes and “Just Say No” commercials, like this one:

The D.A.R.E. classes made drugs seem cool in a strange sort of way. Police officers telling a group of 8-year-olds that consuming PCP will make you think you’re bulletproof isn’t quite the right strategy for making them not want to someday try drugs. But for an 80’s kid who looks up to people as influential as Pee-Wee Herman or Michael Jordan and they sorrowfully warn against drugs, you take that message to heart.

Took it to heart I did. If people wanted to put whatever they wanted into their bodies, I didn’t care. Their body, their choice. I simply didn’t want to be around it. For the most part, everyone in high school was respectful of that. There were seldom times I was offered drink or drugs and I was never peer-pressured into trying anything.

That’s why my friend was only slightly surprised when I said I’d never tried anything. Sure, I’d said that all throughout high school, but I’d graduated a couple of years prior to this party. I was almost 20 and I’d never tasted so much as a single drop of alcohol. He asked if I wanted anything and I said, sure. We agreed after a little explanation of my options that a screwdriver would be the first drink I’d ever have.

And it was… okay. The taste was good. It was strong. I felt lighter than normal after consuming some. Looser. I had a total of 2 drinks during that party. The second drink was consumed more slowly than the first. This drug didn’t affect me in any particular way. I didn’t have the best night of my life, nor was I doubled-over vomiting the night away. I was simply more relaxed and more malleable.

Over the years, my relationship with alcohol has essentially remained the way it was since my first drink. I’ll have a couple, but rarely to excess. I’ve never blacked out from alcohol-consumption. In fact, I’ve only ever vomited once from drinking. It was another house party when I was 23. I’d already had some fruity wine cooler before the host of the party busted out some absinthe. This was before you could buy what passes for absinthe in liquor stores and bars. The host had been brewing his own wormwood-based green fairy.

Served in a vial and poured over a sugar cube, I tried true absinthe for the first time. It sure was a tasty treat and the promise of hallucinations was intriguing. The stuff was strong though and I sipped it slowly. By the time I’d finished the first vial, a fresh second one was in my hand. I was already light on my feet and consuming the second helping much more slowly. Then everyone in my group (and also my ride) said it was time to go. I had no choice but to down an entire vial in a rush and head out the door with them.

I’ll spare the graphic details, but suffice to say when we got home everyone else fell fast asleep while the toilet and I became very well-acquainted (and there were no hallucinations to report). I’d never gotten sick from alcohol before or since that singular occasion. I learned that I don’t like being drunk. I’ve also learned that beer is gross, rotten wheat water. That tequila can fuck me up faster than anything else. That I prefer vodka and can drink it straight with little issue.

When I’m heavily buzzed or drunk, I become clumsier, louder, and incautious with my words and actions (none of those traits are desirable to witness or to act out). I also dance more. Alcohol numbs the senses and relaxes you. That’s its attractiveness. That’s how it seduces people. It helps pull down barriers that in a public setting can make you more personable and fun. It numbs the mind and the body. That’s where the danger lies because simply put, it’s fun to be numb. It’s fun to dance and be social and not be bogged down with worries about work or responsibilities. It’s a “socially acceptable” drug, despite it causing more damage than several, more illicit ones.

Because alcohol is “acceptable,” it wasn’t painted in the same bad light that marijuana, heroin, and others were. The lessons of D.A.R.E. and Just Say No were “When you’re 21 alcohol’s fine, but everything else will ruin your life.” I was trained by society to not view alcohol with the same lens I was supposed to view all other drugs. This is why I had no issue trying it shortly before I turned 20. Sure, it was before I was legally allowed to, but the legal drinking age overseas is much lower than here and I was born in Germany, so I didn’t see the harm.

Alcohol, like most things, is fine in moderation. I never really drank to excess in my life and to this day, my drinking is limited to the infrequent occasions when I go out. Rarely do I consume more than 1 or 2 beverages and I don’t drink at home to “relax.” Alcohol’s simply never had much of a presence or importance in my life and as I get older, I find myself consuming less and less of it.

Alcohol was the first drug I’d ever consumed. It didn’t rip the doors open to a brand new world of drug use for me. That came from marijuana, the “gateway drug” I’ll talk about in part 2.