Understand the Marginal Utility of Booze and Drugs
Well, the Safety Pirates have finished their raiding of the Reno/Lake Tahoe area, and returned home to their lives of responsibility. As expected, the trip has furthered my education in several dimensions of Mustachianism and led to some insights. And the title of Brave New Life’s guest posting on Thursday nicely describes one of these dimensions, so I have closely emulated it for today’s article.
For decades, Mr. Money Mustache has walked a fine line between two worlds of people. One one side is the productive and healthy and slightly nerdy land of the non-drinkers, and on the other is the reckless and fun and slightly self-destructive world of the drinkers. I meet many people who are deep in one territory or the other, but a much smaller number who are right in the middle. I know these people do exist, but there seem to be forces in human nature that push us to extremes. So people without much enthusiasm for alcoholic beverages or other recreational drugs end up quitting completely, and people who enjoy them end up taking things up quite a few notches in their youth.
Because of my place in the middle of the spectrum, there have been many nights in my life which have involved consuming a few servings of the various party supplies, and if all goes well, getting just a bit out of control and silly. Laughs are had, lifetime stories are created, and ridiculous songs are recorded.
But at some point around 10PM, I realize that if I have another drink, I will severely regret it in the morning. After fearfully imagining a hangover, I will invariably start running through the things I hope to accomplish in the next day as well as the various other reasons I don’t want to dump more mild toxins into my body, which hasn’t been 18 years old for about twenty years. So I’ll fill up a big glass of water and start drinking it, repeating the process until the party ends several hours later. Meanwhile, the true party people will keep pouring themselves stiff drinks or cracking more beers. We’re all having a great time, but when the night is through there will be four or five bottles in front of me while a heavy-drinking man of my size will have a dozen or so, possibly with a few wine and shot glasses on the side (and maybe an empty bag of weed depending on the crowd).
As this pattern has repeated across the many years since I was a teenager, I have seen heavy drinking pulling down quite a few of my friends and coworkers. The luckiest ones are just less wealthy than they would otherwise be. Others have gained weight and lost the ability to do active things outside, in turn leading to other health problems. The least lucky ones are now dead.
The difference between light and heavy drinkers is multiplied further when they are placed into an environment where alcoholic drinks are ridiculously expensive, which is any place other than your house. The light drinkers will escape the night with little or no financial damage, depending on how much fun was had before ending up at the bar*. The heavy drinkers will dump out tens or even hundreds of their scarce dollars, with nothing more to show for it at the end.
Much of this difference is explained by alcohol tolerance. Just as your body can adapt to cold and hot weather, bicycle commuting, food surplus and shortage, and almost anything else you can throw at it, so can it adapt to repeated floods of alcohol through the blood stream.
Alcohol tolerance is still looked upon with respect in certain circles. High school football players, mustachioed gamblers in Westerns, and college students on spring break still all slap each other on the backs after they pound a fifth of whiskey or funnel a gallon of Bud Light. These people may indeed be somewhat cool, because they have developed an unusual ability through perseverance and ignoring pain. But it’s a misguided form of coolness, because it runs directly against the Bushy Follicles of the Money Mustache.
A Mustachian does NOT want any sort of alcohol tolerance. It’s a sign of weakness, because it is a sign that you drink too much, and too often. Wikipedia sums this issue up perfectly: “Long-term use of alcohol in excessive quantities is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body”. It will also damage your finances to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars over a few decades.
Deep inside, we all know that any alcohol consumption is bad for us, and we also know that it is a purely optional expense. And developing a tolerance is a double expense: Not only does it takes a lot of spending to create the tolerance, but it decreases the pleasure felt from all future alcoholic beverages. So my heavy-drinking friends on the Party side of the dividing line have to spend twice as much as I do, just to experience exactly the same amount of Good Times.
We Mustachians are an extremely diverse lot. Many of us are masters of self-control and I regularly hear from people who have willed themselves into incredible feats. Just the other week there was a guy in the comments who casually recommended running 70 miles per week as a convenient method of weight control.
But there are also many beginners in training here, and surely a division of masters of self-deception as well. “I don’t really drink all that much. Way less than my friend Joe. I’m still functioning well at my job and I’m even pretty athletic. And I really like having a few beers with my friends. Sure, on the weekends that may turn into a dozen beers.. but what’s the problem?”
The problem is simply this: you could be even better.
Are you already completely financially independent? If not, there’s a huge and unarguable reason to limit drinking to, say, two drinks per week as a personal challenge. You can’t yet afford to be throwing away money!
Do you already have exactly your idea of an ideal body? If not, alcohol is a very powerful drug for fat gain – why continue regular dosage when it works directly against you?
Are you already able to accomplish any task you set your mind to? If not, this is a great one to work on. Alcohol is difficult to reduce and quit. Whenever something is difficult, that’s usually a sign that you should start doing it. Every drink you skip or postpone, builds your self-discipline muscle, one of the components of the larger Frugality Muscle group.
The bottom line is that Alcohol, like many other drugs, is addictive to many people. That brings up some very confusing feelings about whether or not we will gain happiness by drinking more of it.
I do believe it has some use for increasing the amount of fun in our overly repressed society, which is why I’m not a complete non-drinker myself. But I also feel it comes with a marginal utility curve that starts to slope down very quickly, and that most drinkers are already way beyond the peak.
Even with all this caution, I also feel that while Mr. Money Mustache dishes out some good advice, there are special occasions in life when all good advice must be damned and you must go crazy. But when you go crazy, you should at least acknowledge that you are being crazy and not rational. And you must realize that I am right there watching you, glad that you are having a good time, but watching and waiting with a Brandished Fist for signs of Excusitis, the failure disease.
Drink wisely and rarely**!
* The whole idea of bars has always seemed sucky to me – you can have expensive drinks and too much noise for real conversation at a bar, or you can have cheap drinks, great food, and your own comfortable house for talking, even without giving up the benefit of meeting attractive strangers, when you host or attend actual parties.
** In the spirit of this article, I’m cutting my own drinking limit from the previous MMM limit of six drinks per week, down to TWO (with rollover beers still allowed), and looking forward to reaping the benefits!
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