Socialising at the bar

Quit drinking alcohol with a cost-benefit analysis

When making big life decisions, like when you’re thinking to quit drinking alcohol, it’s important you put a lot of thought into what you want to do, and why you want to do it. We often make spur of the moment decisions that don’t quite turn out how we thought they might. How many times have you done something, then in hindsight realised it wasn’t the best decision you’ve ever done? If you’re anything like the rest of us, it’s regularly. These rash decisions can be as insignificant as choosing the wrong breakfast at the local cafe, to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the wrong family home.

That’s why, when making big decisions, I recommend you do a cost-benefit analysis. This is a business term that sets out to analyse whether the financial implications of a business-related action will have any benefits. But it can be applied in other ways, and we often we do it subconsciously anyway, in a split second when making small decisions. For example, should I get the hamburger, fries and milkshake for lunch, or the tuna salad and water? You make a decision in your mind based on all sorts of questions that you answer almost instantaneously. What would taste better? Do I need all of those calories? How much money do I have? The list goes on. Then how often do you get to the end of your meal, and realise you made the wrong decision? “Oops, should have had the salad because now I don’t feel so well!!!”

When making life’s bigger decisions, applying the same supersonic subconscious cost-benefit analysis doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider how easy it is make the wrong decision about what you should have for lunch. Yet we often do it anyway, over and over again. Giving up alcohol is a big decision, not because it should be that hard to give up on consuming one food product, but because drinking is such a massive part of most cultures. We’ve grown up with it. It’s been all around us since we were children. So in order to give it up, we need to take our time and methodically understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what impact it is having on our lives.

My alcohol cost-benefit analysis

A mug of beer
A mug of beer

This simple business premise can be applied to a plethora of situations. And it’s so simple, yet we rarely sit down and create our own cost-benefit analysis for making decisions. And they change over time. For example, a cost-benefit analysis of drinking alcohol when I was 20 would look much different to the analysis when I was 35. Fifteen years of drinking will have a serious impact on what you think of it. Here is a very basic cost benefit analysis of how I feel about drinking today:

COSTSBENEFITS
HangoversTaste
MoneyRelaxing
Health ImplicationsSocial
Time Lost
Feeling of Being Drunk

Your list make look much different to mine. It could be longer, it may even be shorter. But take your time with it, list as many factors that are important and deserve consideration. Put it down and come back to it over the course of several days or weeks. Ask other people for their thoughts in case you’ve missed anything. Then once you feel as though you’ve got a definitive list, assess it. Do the costs outweigh the benefits? It might be time to quit drinking alcohol. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Perhaps you’re not ready yet.

Here are my thoughts on each of the factors in my cost-benefit analysis:

COSTS

Two friends toasting with a click of their drinks
Two friends toasting with a click of their drinks
  • Hangovers – I hate hangovers, and I’m yet to meet anyone who enjoys them. Some people claim not to get them, but I have my doubts about that. For me, deliberately inflicting a hangover on yourself is insanity. Especially if you do it over, and over, and over again!
  • Money – When I first started going out in the early 1990’s, $50 was enough to have a big night out. Nowadays it’s easy to burn $200 or more. That’s a week’s worth of groceries for my family! Again, to pay that much money to give yourself a hangover is insanity.
  • Health implications – Drinking causes chronic disease and other health issues, particularly when done to excess. These include weight gain, heart and liver disease, high blood pressure, a wide range of cancers and digestive problems. So spending thousands and thousands of dollars over the course of many years to cause damage to your body is madness.
  • Time lost – I’m scared of death. Many people are at peace with the fact they are here for a small period of time. They are born, they live, then they die. Not me. I want to live forever. I have a deep appreciation for how much time we have on this Earth. So wasting days hungover on the couch, while shortening my life because of the health implications, is crazy to me.
  • Feeling of being drunk – I used to enjoy being drunk, now I can’t stand it. Perhaps it’s something to do with maturity and feeling far more comfortable in your own skin. To be perfectly honest, I  much prefer the sober me to the drunk me these days.

BENEFITS

Chocolate Milkshake (Source: Flickr - PROnew1mproved)
Chocolate Milkshake (Source: Flickr – PROnew1mproved)
  • Taste – The best part of drinking for me is the taste. There are a few drinks I really do enjoy, purely for the taste. Having said that, there are non-alcoholic drinks that taste much better, like chocolate milkshakes for example! So if the only thing going for drinking is the taste, and I prefer the taste of other things, what’s the point?
  • Relaxing – I must admit, if I’ve had a particularly big or stressful day, a bourbon and coke or two really does hit the spot. But what I’ve found is if you can get through the first 5-10 minutes of that desire for a drink, the feeling subsides and you realise a lay down on the couch does the trick just as well.
  • Social – I really put this one in to try and even out the columns, but the truth is I don’t need alcohol to be sociable. I’m actually not that interested in hitting bars and clubs that much any more, and when I do, I certainly don’t need a drink to feel part of the group. Admittedly at first this is a difficult concept to get your head around given this is exactly what it’s been like for many years. But once you get through the first few social outings with your mates without drinking, it becomes very easy.

The result of my cost-benefit analysis

A quick look at my cost-benefit analysis and it’s easy to see that the cost of drinking alcohol well and truly outweighs any benefits I may get. And even my benefits could almost be transferred into the cost column! Of course, all of these factors are subjective. The emphasis you put on your factors will be different to me and everyone else. It’s up to you to decide how much weight they have.

Should you quit drinking alcohol?

Pouring beer at the bar
Pouring beer at the bar

Grab a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle from top to bottom, put the ‘COST’ and “BENEFITS’ headings in each column, and start filling it out. It literally took me 10 minutes to fill mine out, and elaborate on each factor, but I have been thinking about this for many years so it’s understandable. If you’re doing this for the first time, take your time. After your first attempt, put the list down and come back to it again in a few days. Do that several times if you need to, often we think of things that we should have included afterwards. Ask your friends what they consider to be the costs and benefits of drinking. You don’t have to tell them you’re doing your own cost-benefit analysis if you don’t want to, but it will give you a few ideas that you may not have thought of.

If you end up with a long list on both sides and can’t work out the result of the cost-benefit analysis, give each factor a mark out of 10 based on how much weight you give it, then turn the total of each side into a percentage. See my example below:

COSTSBENEFITS
Hangovers - 9/10Taste - 5/10
Money - 8/10Relaxing 5/10
Health Implications - 8/10Social - 2/10
Time Lost - 8/10
Feeling of being drunk - 6/10
TOTAL - 39/50 or 78%TOTAL - 12/30 or 40%

While my list is very short, which makes this kind of point scoring technique less accurate, you can still see the cost of drinking far outweighs any perceived benefits. But from my elaboration of each factor earlier, it’s obvious that I don’t want or need to drink alcohol any more. For most people the result will be quite clear without the need to assign scores, and even if you’re undecided after completing your cost-benefit analysis, that probably means you’re edging closer to that scenario anyway.

Now it’s over to you. Once you’ve completed your drinking alcohol cost-benefit analysis, leave a comment below and let me know how you went. I look forward to hearing from you.

Good luck…

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6 Comments

  1. Enjoyed reading your Goodbye drinking and have decided today 4 th January 2016 that I no longer want to drink anymore and have realised I haven’t really enjoyed it the last 3 years but still continued too, silly really but after reading this morning it has given me encouragement that I can stop drinking …

    • Hi Cathy, you sound just like me! It took me about 4 years to quit after deciding I didn’t enjoy it any more. I’m so glad you’ve made the decision to quit, you won’t regret it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and I have no doubt you’ll enjoy a new lease of life from this moment. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

  2. Great website, Chris! It’s been years since I first started flirting with the idea of cutting back on alcohol. The nasty hangovers, embarrassing moments, and reckless behavior started to become more and more frequent. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any catastrophes directly related to alcohol, but there’ve been a few near misses…

    I still enjoy drinking, but I’m just about ready to quit. The Dutch courage, the delicious taste of a good beer, and the quick relaxation after a long day at work are tough to give up. Your tip of running a simple cost-benefit analysis helps put things in perspective. I’m almost ready to quit!

    • Thanks Thomas, I appreciate the feedback. Sounds like you’re just about at that tipping point where the negatives begin to outweigh any positives you might be getting from drinking. You’ll definitely know when that time comes. My problem was I knew I wanted to quit four years before I actually did, so it took me a while to give it away. My only piece of advice is when you definitely know, don’t wait to act on it. Quit that day and never look back. You’ll be very happy that you did.

  3. Alexandra Evans

    I love your website and thought process. I read some of your stuff four months ago, made it mostly alcohol free for 3 months, then fell off the wagon, drank for the last month and now I am back in the saddle! Ready for great sleep, more money! less weight, healthier brain, more energy, more money! Thanks for your writing. It is really encouraging. Thanks also for the reminder that you might have some failures but to just get back on that horse and try again. I am very motivated. Cost benefit done and goals SET! Big hug to you.

    • Hi Alexandra, thanks for your message. Sounds like you’ve hit one of those speed bumps on the way to where you want to be. The main thing is you get back on the horse and go again. But by the sounds of things you’re a strong person and ready to do just that, so I have no doubt you’ll achieve your goals and live the life you want to lead. Big right back at you, good luck 🙂