The Calculus of Drinking

By Molly Hurley Moran ’69 / September / October 2006
December 5th, 2006

I stopped drinking a year ago. At first I tried to hide the fact, hoping people would assume the club soda with lime I held at a cocktail party was a gin and tonic, or that my mug of O’Doul’s was a regular beer. At dinner parties I’d turn down the wine, vaguely explaining that I was on medication that shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol.

True, I met virtually none of the criteria generally used to identify alcoholism: I never drank before 5 p.m. and had never missed a day of work due to a hangover, nor had drinking jeopardized my career, my relationships, my legal record, or my health. On medical history questionnaires, I’d answer “two or three glasses of wine a day,” qualifying me as a moderate drinker in the eyes of most doctors, who probably assumed that an intelligent, health-conscious person like myself would be judicious about alcohol. At most, a doctor would occasionally observe that I might consider cutting back to one glass a day, given my gender and my slight build.

So what was the big deal? Why was I increasingly nagged by the fear that I had a drinking problem? Well, let’s start with those “two or three” glasses of wine. Instead of sipping on a couple of modestly filled wineglasses (five ounces being the technical definition of a “glass” of wine), I was downing filled-to-the-brim eight-ounce goblets. If I did the math honestly, my daily consumption was closer to four or five glasses—even more at social gatherings. And although I never missed work in my job as a college professor, I occasionally had to drag myself through morning classes with a fuzzy brain.

Even more disturbing was the role alcohol played in my mental life. I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about it: Did we have enough wine to get us through the weekend? Should I bring a magnum rather than a liter of wine to a dinner party? And on a road trip, if the restaurant we stopped at didn’t have a liquor license, should I push my hungry family to press on until we found a “nicer” restaurant?

Plus there was the gnawing fear that people would discover how dependent I was on alcohol. I found myself buying wine at a range of package stores, and avoiding evening phone calls lest a slight slur give me away. Waking up the morning after a party, I would scrutinize my behavior: Had I been too loud? Too self-revealing to a stranger?

At one point I cut back, drinking only on weekends and diluting my wine. But this only increased my preoccupation; plus I drank more on weekends and downed extra glasses of watered-down wine. I knew what I needed to do, but I simply could not imagine life without alcohol.

Then last September I experienced an epiphany of sorts. It suddenly struck me that I was looking at the whole situation wrong: instead of focusing on how deprived I’d be if I gave up alcohol altogether, I could focus on all I would gain—the self-respect, the mental clarity, the physical energy, the increased productivity.

It is this insight that has sustained me for the past year. Not that it has been easy—I’ve found myself gazing wistfully at the wine at a dinner with friends, or yearning for a gin and tonic to dispel my self-consciousness at a cocktail party. But I hang in there, partly through sheer grit, but mostly by repeating to myself a piece of wisdom I read somewhere that has become my personal mantra: The brief “joy” of alcohol is not worth the loss of true freedom.

Molly Hurley Moranis a professor of writing at the University of Georgia and the author of Finding Susan.

(Gilbert Ford)


When I finally decided to drop the façade, friends looked incredulous. “But why?” they’d ask. “You’re not an alcoholic!”


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September / October 2006