Session #65: Drinking Alone

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Our 65th Session is hosted by British blogger Nate Southwood who multi-blogs at his Booze, Beats & Bites. The topic he’s chosen is “So Lonely,” meaning going to the pub to have a beer alone. Here’s how he describes his Session topic:

Speaking of fun, going to the pub with a bunch of mates is great… you have a few beers and a laugh, generally a fun time and all.

I love going to the pub with mates but sometimes I go to a pub alone and I enjoy it.

Other people say I’m weird for this as there seems to be a stigma attached to being in the pub alone — alcoholism.

There are many reasons why I go to the pub alone.

  • Sometimes I just want to spend some quality time alone that isn’t at home.
  • Sometimes I’m walking home and fancy a pit-stop.
  • Sometimes my mates are all busy with their girlfriends/wives/children and I want a pint.
  • Sometimes I just fancy going to the pub and observing the bizarre people around me.
  • Sometimes I want to sit down and write blogs on my tableaux while having a pint.
  • Sometimes I just want to play angry birds while having a pint.
  • Sometimes I just want to prop myself at the bar and discuss beer with the bartender.
  • Sometimes I want to explore pubs that I’ve never been to before but my mates don’t want to.
  • Sometimes I’m just a miserable bastard and don’t want to socialise but want a nice pint.

The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don’t see why I should only go to the pub when I’m with other people.

Am I weird for going to the pub alone?

How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?

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So to get in the right spirit, I’m putting on the Police’s song So Lonely and pouring myself a beer as I sit in the house all my myself, alone, as it were. It seems to me the only way to write about drinking alone is by actually doing just that. The profession of writing is itself a rather lonely one, hours upon hours spent in relative solitude tapping on keys and watching letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and, hopefully, fully formed thoughts and ideas spool out onto a computer screen in the vain hope that someone else will read them, like them (or at least be moved to think about them), and ultimately pay you for them.

Being a writer about beer is essentially a double whammy of loneliness, drinking and writing alone. As I wrote two sessions ago, “[m]y job often requires me to drink beer alone, which is far from my favorite thing to do. It’s perhaps the worst way to have a beer, even though it’s sometimes necessary. Alone, beer is stripped of all its intangibles, its raison d’etre. You can evaluate the constituent parts, its construction, even how they come together as a finished beer. In other words, on a technical basis. And that’s how you should begin, but there must be a discussion waiting at the end of that process.” So now I’m going to contradict myself and say that while that remains true some, or even most, of the time, there are indeed times when drinking alone isn’t as terrible as I made it out to be and that we can, and should, be allowed to enjoy a drink in silence and solitude.

For myself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ducked into a pub for a quick lunch and a beer, usually with a book in hand. It’s a satisfying way to eat a meal, drink a beer and feed your head, too. It usually reminds me of the great Bill Hicks’ bit about reading alone, “looks like we got ourselves a reader:”

But for reasons passing understanding, drinking alone is often equated with having a drinking problem or being an alcoholic. Even the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition” does not mention solitary imbibing as a symptom of alcohol dependence. These are outlined at About.com’s Alcoholism page and you won’t find drinking alone among the symptoms. But when you click on their online quiz of 20 Questions known as the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to discover if You Have an Alcohol Problem, question sixteen is “Do you drink alone?” But even most honest counseling centers, AA, what have you will admit that it’s not the act of drinking alone that signals, in and of itself, problem drinking, but the reasons for drinking alone, the underlying cause. Yet the notion of drinking alone automatically meaning an alcoholic persists. It’s downright pervasive in our society. Do a Google Image search for “drinking alone” or “at the bar alone” and look at what comes up. The great majority of images are depressing looking people, heads down, slumped over, with very few, if any, smiling people or positive associations shown.

Alone_in_the_bar_by_gabrio76
Alone in the Bar by Argentine artist Gabriel Hernan Ramirez

As is typical, the neo-prohibitionist, anti-alcohol version of reality gets more play and has wormed its way into the public consciousness through a concerted effort of their propaganda over many decades. It doesn’t really matter that there are numerous legitimate, healthy reasons one might have a drink alone that isn’t a sign of anything untoward or problematic, but that would make the narrative more difficult to carry. It’s far easier to keep it simple and not have to explain nuance or an understanding of how, and why, people drink.

For example, the Abuse & Addiction Help Information website — who, it must be remembered makes their living by having people pay them to seek treatment for addiction — lists their Ten Warning Signs Of Alcoholism. There is is at number 2:

2. Do you drink alone? Social drinking is one thing, but we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency. Drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.

Hmm, “drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.” Really? It does in all cases? Of course, not. It could just as easily be explained by being thirsty, for chrissakes. And notice that they don’t say it absolutely is a sign of alcohol dependencey, but instead say “we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency.” Well, sure, if it’s in your best interests to have as many people pay for your services, then it’s no surprise that you’d believe whatever creates the impression of more alcoholics because that means more customers, too.

Even the Medline Plus online medical encyclopedia, a “service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health,” on their Alcoholism and alcohol abuse page, includes drinking alone under their list of symptoms, as does the celebrated Mayo Clinic.

But in every case, the context is not explored. It’s presented as black and white: if you drink alone, you’re a problem drinker or alcoholic. Even if tempered by “might be,” the impression that these authoritative sources give is that drinking alone is to be feared as the beginnings of a downward slide into degradation and life-crippling alcoholism. To know that’s true, just ask any ten random people. Most of them will tell you that they believe that to be the case. And that’s because certain people and groups have been saying so for so long, with virtually no dissenting opinions or contrary evidence or even common sense or reason being allowed into the debate. We say so, end of story, case closed. Like most of the propaganda coming from, or having been twisted and influenced by, anti-alcohol concerns, it’s both infuriating and grossly untrue. This is especially so because it makes people feel guilty and shameful for doing something as natural as drinking a beverage they like and want to have just because they’re alone. It’s why this could even be a topic, because it’s so taken for granted by so many people. If you’re alone and want a beer, goddammit, order a beer.

Happily, not everyone is so myopic and certain you’re life will fall into ruin with a solitary drink. Modern Drunkard published The Zen of Drinking Alone, which includes this bon mot:

Drinking alone, on the other hand, is a much more pure and forthright form of imbibing, and I say that because it focuses entirely on the simple act of putting alcohol into your bloodstream. It tosses aside all the half-hearted pretensions about merely using alcohol as a social tool. It gets down to what drinking is all about: getting loaded, and by doing that, getting down to the inner you. The inner joy, the inner madness, the subconscious you, the real you.

And a few years ago, Esquire magazine published suggestions on How to Drink Alone, which included some I agree with — ignore the television, look up often and read, don’t pretend to read — but also some I do not — don’t eat or that it’s never about being happy. Still, I love that they not only have no problem with drinking alone, but positively celebrate it. I think that’s how it should be. No one should tell another person or society as a whole that something that may be a problem for a minority of people should be avoided by everybody on the off chance that they can’t handle it. It would be like making red meat illegal because some people insist on eating too much of it and develop a heart condition. It sounds absurd when applied to almost everything else, but no ones questions it when it’s alcohol because neo-prohibitionists have dones such a good job of painting alcohol with the broad brush of danger. At the same time, they both ignore and insist that there is nothing positive about drinking alcohol, despite common sense and the obvious error of that position.

That people enjoy alcohol for a myriad of reasons and that most can continue to enjoy it as responsible adults should, it seems to me, be so obvious that it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. But as long as there are people who fear it and believe it is the ruin of everything good in the world, I guess we have to keep reminding them that their position is not true for everyone; it’s not even true for most people. Most of us can have a drink alone for the best of reasons and not fall into a ruinous life. That we should wonder if that’s okay is perhaps the unkindest cut of all; proof positive that the anti-alcohol wingnuts are winning the war. They’ve obviously been allowed to frame the argument in their terms, because the question really should be why should we even have to ask if we can drink alone. If we can, we can. Now go away, I have a beer to finish and I want to be alone.

Comments

  1. David Brattstrom says

    I find that I meet more people when I go out drinking alone. If I am with friends I tend to talk to them which is fine but I am not meeting new people. If I am sitting at the bar alone I am likely to say hey to the person to my left or right. One reason I enjoy going into certain bars is that the patrons at these bars seem more open to any conversation without getting mad. While at the Horsebrass or Lucky Baldwins I have talked politics, religion, beer, and even sports.

  2. beerman49 says

    AMEN to Jay & Mr. Brattstrom. Being a lifelong bachelor, I’ve gone to bars & pubs alone forever. I now have a “local” (Elevation 66 in El Cerrito) that I visit 2-3 times/week for happy hour (3-5 MTuW, 2-5 ThF). In its 9 months of existence, it’s developed a loyal cadre of “regulars” who are a pretty interesting bunch of characters. Not to mention that the proprietors & staff are good people!

    As I’ve said many times before on these pages – the clueless “neo-prohbes” can stuff it where the sun don’t shine.

    And a toast to whoever wrote the song that George Thorogood & the Destroyers made famous in the 80′s: “I Drink Alone”!

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