A breakup letter to alcohol

By Emma Gallagher

To my dearest 2-for-1 cocktails, the happy hour shots which disguise themselves as a good idea, and the endless pints who made their claim to fame during festive pub outings: I’m sorry, it’s over. 

2024 is well underway and with the bravest soldiers taking on dry January, thousands take this fresh calendar as a chance to turn a cold shoulder to their mischievous little mistress of alcohol. But without fail they will run back into her arms come February 1st, some of them are even counting down the days until they can see her again. I cast no blame on these people; not everyone has the same relationship with alcohol. For some people alcohol is like a casual fling: someone you see at the club, who adds a little bit of drama and fun to your night, but you wouldn’t dare give them any of your attention once the lights come on and it’s time to go home. 

For most people, that’s how the relationship starts – you only see her on special occasions or at a party. But once you start spending more and more time together it starts to stop feeling special.

I have tried to end my relationship with alcohol before, go completely no contact and look for a rebound in non-alcoholic alternatives; mocktails, ‘no’secco and when i’m feeling less fancy a lemonade. But that never really works, does it? You can’t treat a breakup that way or you will inevitably fall back into the trap of a cheeky little affair which will no doubt leave you feeling even worse than when you started. 

We always think we are in control, yet the alcohol seems to be the one consuming us. People who undertake dry January are met with pity and an array of “I just don’t know how you’re doing it mate”, as if it is the greatest sacrifice anyone can possibly make in the name of their own wellbeing. We laugh at stories of friends blacking out week after week, as if that’s normal? Believe me, I am not preaching from a high horse on this one – I was one of those people up until more recently than I would like to admit. But once you realise just how odd it is, it’s quite difficult to ignore. Drinking feels almost unavoidable, but not in the weird peer pressure way we were warned about from our parents – it’s something more than that. There is nothing worse than someone bringing your ex to every party you go to, except for maybe when she’s everyone’s guest and they are all completely enamoured by her and cannot stop telling you how they love her and how hard you must be finding it without her. The only thing worse than the looks of shock and confusion when you tell everyone you’re going sober for the night, is the pity that follows them. 

I get it, I have no superiority complex over deciding to pull back on the drinking. Alcohol is fun, drinking is fun when you do it right. She holds your hand on the dancefloor of the club and she tells you that you look pretty in the bathroom mirror. She’s in every joke I make and she makes every laugh even bigger. Without her, it’s difficult not to worry about being boring; you break up and suddenly people worry whether you will be different, like this relationship was so integral to how they knew you, that they don’t know how to see you outside of it. They’re not wrong, you will worry about this new reality beyond alcohol – as with every messy breakup you will wonder if you did the right thing. What if you aren’t as fun? What if you aren’t as confident? What if you can no longer tolerate the drunken messes you meet in the bathroom line or dance until 5am? What if when you break up with alcohol, she takes a bit of you with her? 

In times like these, when you anguish over an ex and worry what life will be without them, I give you the same advice any good friend would give: stop thinking of the good things, and start remembering the bad things that made you want the breakup in the first place. Sure alcohol might have given you a flirty little giggle when at the bar, but she also made you cry, made you sick, made you fight with your friends and made you so anxious the day after that you could barely get out of bed. For me, the payoff isn’t worth it. I can learn new jokes, I can have an energy drink to keep me going until the early hours of the morning, I will know that I can get myself home safe and all of my emotions are actually mine. It’s fine to miss the relationship you once had, but be realistic about what it was really like. 

I hate to be one of those people that says “I hope we can be friends someday” during a breakup, but I’m sure we will get to the point where we can interact at a special occasion again, and enjoy one another’s company. Next time, I’m staying at the light and flirty stage, and making sure I go home when the lights come on. 

Illustration by Francesca Corno

Emma articulates to readers why she's breaking up with alcohol this Valentine's.


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