Alcohol Wimp by
(194 Stories)

Prompted By Drugs and Alcohol

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My nonalcoholic drug of choice.

Anyone who meets me, even casually, soon learns that my drug of choice is caffeine, usually taken as black coffee. I have been using this drug consistently since the age of 11. Other drugs and alcohol, not so much. I am not a teetotaler, nor am I against drugs that expand consciousness. Although I was more risk averse about substances ingested than many of us who grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, in my case it was primarily biology that held me back.

While others around me seemed bright, relaxed, and happy, I became dull, sleepy, and sad ... And, I could tell, very clearly, that I was physically impaired.

It wasn’t until much later that I understood the role that metabolism, genetics, and the types of receptors in the brain (which vary from individual to individual) play in our responses to drugs and alcohol. But by the time I was in college, I knew that alcohol and I didn’t get along well. To my great discomfort, I found that beer, red wine, and champagne triggered violent migraines and nausea, which they do to this day.

I could tolerate modest amounts of white wine, but I noticed that, at social gatherings, while others around me seemed bright, relaxed, and happy, I became dull, sleepy, and sad. In my brain, the alcohol failed to induce a high and directly became a central nervous system depressant. And, I could tell, very clearly, that I was physically impaired. Even after a half glass of wine, I wouldn’t be able to drive safely.

During my senior year, there was a large Hawaiian luau party on campus in the evening, and drinks were offered to those over 21. Never having consumed hard liquor, I decided to see what effect it had on me, and I doubted the drinks would be strong. So, I had two Mai Tais about an hour apart. I vaguely recall stumbling back to my dorm, and woke up the next morning on my bed, still in my party clothes. I didn’t remember entering the dorm or my room. No hangover, though … I concluded I would lose consciousness before I could drink enough to have a hangover.

I am blessed with compatible receptors for cannabis and I get along well with it, occasionally enjoying the mild buzz. It never interested me enough to seek it out, but I would take it if offered. Now I am mostly interested in it in edible form for a bit of relief from muscle pain. Ah, how times have changed.

As far as alcohol, not drinking can have advantages. In college I could “chaperone” the Mills freshwomen at the Berkeley frat parties we were invited to and know that we’d be safe. No one seemed to mind that I wasn’t drinking. Anyway, all the beer thrown around at those parties smelled awful! Later, when I worked at events for the alumnae association, I could tend bar without being tempted by the offerings.

When I entered the work world in the mid-1970s, I found some odd attitudes about alcohol. My first job was at a technical company and I really enjoyed the people, who partied hard and had a lot of happy hours. Some of the managers felt threatened by my not drinking alcohol, and one senior level person, who was paying for the drinks, insisted I get something alcoholic. I complied but somehow managed to surreptitiously pour out most of the contents.

Over time, attitudes toward drinking have changed, and people didn’t think it odd that I was having a nonalcoholic drink. At parties, sometimes I am asked if I am a “Friend of Bill,” which is the code name for being in AA. This does not offend me, but I reply negatively and say that alcohol simply disagrees with me. Also, in my last full-time job I had a Muslim coworker, and when our group went out for happy hours she felt more comfortable knowing there was another person not drinking.

When I look at the featured image above, I can smell that freshly ground coffee, so I will continue to enjoy that beverage and leave the alcohol to those it makes happy.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Thanx for this story Mare. I too suffered from migraines when I was younger and red wine was definitely a trigger. And so I avoided wine and alcohol in general for years.

    But migraine is hormone-related I was told and can cease for some people after natural hormonal changes in the body, and for me it did after menopause. Now I drink wine and enjoy the taste and the buzz, but other alcoholic drinks have no appeal.

    As for the migraine hormonal thing, I had a colleague whose wife suffered migraine monthly like clockwork and often he took her to the ER for relief. On one of their ER visits he reminded her jokingly that they’d once been told that sexual climax can stop the nausea and pain, and he could close the curtain around her gurney and give them privacy if she wanted to try it.

    Despite her agony she was able to tell him to go to hell!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I understand your situation entirely. As you will read, I have little tolerance for drink (I do get migraines, though alcohol is not a big trigger for me). I was never much into pot (the story I wrote about that was for the prompt “Altered States” about 6 years ago). I do NOT like being out of control.

    I never acquired the coffee habit and decades ago on Yom Kippur I watched a cousin develop a severe headache from the lack of caffeine. That was enough to scare me away, until a few years ago. We were visiting our son in London, eating breakfast in the hotel and I had coffee with breakfast (decidedly NOT black; I like the smell, but not the taste). I noticed that I didn’t have a headache the whole time I was in London…that was noteworthy and I discussed it with my neurologist the next time I saw her. She said she wouldn’t normally recommend adding coffee to the routine, but one cup in the morning wouldn’t hurt and the burst of caffeine might help. So I’ve drunk one cup a day ever since. I think it might help if I am a bit headachy first thing in the morning, but not if the headache increases as the day goes on.

    But clearly, this is your one drug of choice and that is great for you, manageable and not too terrible, if you don’t drink too much during the day.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Betsy, I watch my coffee consumption carefully and limit myself to about four cups a day, which supposedly is the threshold for safety. With all my allergies and food restrictions, I’ve told the doctors that coffee is the one guilty pleasure I won’t give up!

  3. Suzy says:

    I can totally understand your avoidance of alcohol, and also your addiction to coffee! I’m happy to know that you do indulge in cannabis occasionally, otherwise I would be worried about hanging out with such a straight crowd here on Retrospect!

    • Marian says:

      I probably would have done a lot more cannabis in the 1970s if it were less expensive and if I could identify the source to be sure it wasn’t laced with anything else. At least now we don’t have to worry about the legal system!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating story, Marian. For whatever reason, almost all of the non-drinkers I’ve known have been recovering alcoholics rather than people who, like you (and Betsy), simply don’t tolerate liquor. As far as I can tell, other than the — unfair — social stigma it can create, such an affliction is probably a good thing. And my sense is that you would agree.

    I had not heard about the sexual climax/migraine relief correlation, but have heard that the former can help clear stuffed sinuses. However, it is probably even tougher to convince one’s partner of the medical necessity of having a clear nose.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, John, I consider it good that I can’t tolerate alcohol because I have no fear that I would ever abuse it. I am often mistaken for being on the wagon and I do like to clarify that I’m not, just to stem any inaccurate gossip. I knew about the sexual climax theory of migraine relief but have felt so bad during the headaches that I had no desire to try it. For sinuses, maybe, but as you say, that’s a tough ask.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    That picture of the espresso portafilter full of ground coffee spoke to me! Caffeine can keep me awake, but I do savor my morning cup, and also find it helps with headache. Caffeine is one of the ingredients in pain relievers (in Canada Tylenol #3 has acetaminophen, caffeine and codeine, and in the US Excedrin has aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine, not to mention the old cafergot migraine remedy). I am also an alcohol lightweight and it comes in handy driving around visitors to wine, beer, cider or distilled spirit tastings in our lovely valley (open invite to any retrospectors interested…)

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