Thought Catalog
August 28, 2013

The 5 Stages Of Drinking You Go Through In Your 20s

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The first time I got drunk, I was 18 years old, a senior in high school, and it was off of cheap champagne. Cooks Brut, to be exact.

I had been “fake drunk” for almost an entire year before that. I remember going to a Halloween party (dressed as Morrissey because that was the kind of closeted game I was working back then), taking two sips of vodka and pretending to be blackout wasted for the rest of the night. I imitated farm animals, tripped over coffee tables, told friends “I FUCKING loved them.” Everybody bought it.

The truth was that I hated the taste of alcohol and only until I discovered champagne did I find it to be tolerable. I drank the entire bottle to myself because I thought that’s how much you needed to drink to really feel it. My body felt warm, my face felt hot, I danced with friends. It was amazing. NEW FEELINGS DISCOVERED AT EIGHTEEN. New ways of being, of relating, of being with my friends. It’s fantastic!

That’s how it is during the first stage of drinking. Everything feels crackling with possibility because it is. Getting drunk gave you license to act like a psycho, to kiss who you wanted to kiss, to yell at whoever you wanted to yell at. You could be a party foul. In fact, the bigger mess, the better! Vomiting was encouraged!

Drink the cheapest shit because it all tastes the same. You wouldn’t know a “good” white wine if it bit you in your tight teenage ass. You’re drinking not for taste. You’re drinking to be crazy, to have stories to tell the next day.

It’s always like this in the beginning. You have zero baggage. Everything is for the first time.

Then you have the second phase, which occurs around college. You sample different alcohols and find one that you truly love. For me, it was whiskey. I loveeedddddd whiskey, oh my god. The calming effect was instant. I drank it straight in people’s dorm rooms. I invested in high-quality bourbon like Maker’s Mark. In a pathetic way, I considered my love for whiskey to be a solid identifier of my personality. I was the guy who always brought the brown stuff to parties. People even gave me bottles of whiskey for my birthday. Then, when I was 23, I got violently sick from drinking it and never touched the stuff again. That’s usually the case with any kind of first love though, isn’t it? You get obsessed with them fast and quick. Then they make you puke and you promise yourself you’ll never touch them again.

The third phase is when you pretend you’re mature about drinking, even though you still haven’t the slightest idea how to manage your liquor. You talk about “only drinking wine now”, of staying clear of the hard stuff. “OMG, I can’t do shots anymore. I just can’t. I haven’t done them in so long.” “So long” in drinking time usually means four months.

You also are understanding that the key to getting laid is being drunk. You will sleep with someone twice a week for four months, only to realize that ZERO of those times were sober. Still, you have fun. There’s nothing like having wild drunk sex in college, being a kinky psycho, and waking up with welts and hickeys all over your body the next morning. “I have no idea how those got here,” you gush to your friends the next day. Yeah, you have no idea but you’re sure glad they’re there, aren’t you? Any proof that you’ve been getting laid is considered to be positive.

Fourth phase happens after college. Drinking a lot on friends porches, maybe not going out as much. Keeping it mellow. Even though you complain of your hangovers being really bad now, you’re still able to run on five hours of drunk sleep and excel at work the next day. Testing your body like this makes you feel every ounce of your beautiful youth and you fucking love it.

You’re beginning to understand what it’s like to drink responsibly, to have two glasses of wine instead of five. You also are getting a handle on your limits. You know that if you have anything more than four drinks, things could get crazy. Anything before that though, you’re in the safe zone. You also understand that you can’t skip dinner before a night of drinking, unless you want to be puking on your cab driver later. Still, just because you know these things, doesn’t mean you put them into action. You’re old enough to know better but still young enough to feign ignorance.

The fourth phase is also when you realize that some of your friends are, in fact, are alcoholics. They’ve become the person everyone fears they’ll be with drinking. The one that’s always begging for you to have one more drink with them, the friend that pretends to go home but actually goes back into the bar when they know you’re gone. You feel guilt for being relieved that you’re not them.

The fifth phase happens, of course, at the tail end of your twenties. You have your drinks that you love. They are your staples, like old familiar friends, and all the vomit in the world couldn’t keep you away from them.

I drink exclusively white wine, margaritas if I’m feeling festive, and gin and tonics if I want to get drunk without feeling out of control. Getting out of control is considered the enemy now. In high school and college, it was a game of “Who can be the hottest mess?” Now it’s “Who can be the biggest adult!” It’s boring but better for everybody in the long run.

I don’t get hangovers very much anymore because I don’t drink enough to have a hangover. What a concept. All those futile years of trying out hangover remedies, of trying to pull the wool over my hangover’s eyes and somehow trick it into not happening. The secret to beating hangovers is to not have six drinks the night before.

You’re totally okay with drinking by yourself now without feeling like an alcoholic. You can watch a movie and drink half a bottle of wine, maybe even a full one, without shame spiraling the next day. Your relationship to alcohol is fairly stable now. You adopted to the learning curve. That being said, if you want to get wasted, you can and will. It just has to be an occasion worthy enough to merit the hangover you’ll experience the next day.

Drinking is fun. It’s comforting. It helps you meet people. Still, sometimes you miss guzzling vodka out of plastic bottles in the same way that you miss the first person who touched you. The beginning is always romanticized, even as it’s happening.

You can never go home (or back to Popov) again. TC Mark

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