My reasons are, to be frank, vague. I've always had a slightly uncertain relationship with alcohol (in fact, you could say my attitude towards drinks is mixed*). It's fun to get drunk sometimes, but at other times it's just depressing, and I find it hard to tell in advance which it's going to be. It's a mood-enhancer, I guess, but it doesn't consistently enhance the right mood.
Also, when I drink it's normally at a pub or party with my mates, and the purpose of the gathering is chatting (at least, as far as I'm concerned). What I'm hoping for is to hit that sweet spot where a few drinks have been drunk, the conversation's flowing, and fancy flies free. The conversation takes strange turns; schemes are hatched; jokes recounted, re-purposed or created; and we collaborate in producing a ephemeral structure, a house of cards of speculation and invention which pleases and surprises us all.
I'm not sure whether this blessed state is actually induced or assisted by alcohol, or just frequently coincident. The problem is that it requires a perfect conjunction of mood, circumstance and company that's rare enough that it's hard to draw firm conclusions. And for every time it helps, there's a time when it hinders, making me tired and withdrawn, or leaving me feeling (rightly or wrongly) that my conversational skills have been impaired. Perhaps bizarrely, if I'm going to say something really ill-considered or incoherent, I'd rather that it was because I'm intrinsically insensitive or rambling than because my judgement was clouded by alcohol.
The deciding issue is simply my biology: when I get drunk, my memory is the first of my faculties to fail. Quite apart from the slightly creepy idea that I then wander around like a philosophical zombie, it sucks to only be able to remember the start of the party or the support acts at a gig, even if other attendees can attest that I seemed to be enjoying myself.
So, I've jacked in the booze, for January and perhaps beyond. I'm in good company:
Richard Herring, comedy genius, does this on a regular basis; and white_hart & topicaltim are the ones that gave me the idea+. Part of white_hart's reason really resonated with me: 'I'm starting to wonder whether I even enjoy drinking that much now... in the right company I can have just as much fun sober as drunk; in the wrong company alcohol doesn't really make things any easier.'
The practical effect has been fairly minor. I've attended a few gatherings and not had less fun than I reckon a hypothetical drinking 'control' oxfordhacker would have had. I've been tempted a couple of times (I often feel like a beer after a few hours lugging books at Oxfam) but haven't caved in yet.
I don't feel any particular peer-group pressure (apart from the good-natured mockery I mentioned in my introduction), because my peer-group has always ranged from tee-totallers to fairly hard-core drinkers. I think I'd feel more self-conscious in front of 'new' people, but I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps I don't like the assumptions that I assume that they would make about me based on this. I'm sure I'd cope somehow.
I've lost a couple of pounds, which was not really part of my aim. It is quite reassuring though, as I've always told myself I'll give up booze if I start getting fat, and it's nice to know that that might actually work.
Ideally, after this experiment is over, I'd go back to drinking in moderation. As I say, I like the relaxation that a pint or two can lend. I do enjoy the taste of many alcoholic drinks as well, though (un?)luckily I'm not much of a gourmand, so I feel don't feel this loss as highly as another might.
However, I know from past experience that moderation is difficult, much harder (for me at least) than giving up altogether. I suppose imposing inhibitions on one's consumption of a inhibition-lowering substance is bound to be a tricky endeavor. This is especially true when the reasoning behind the inhibition is pretty flimsy. Perhaps the perspective that I have developed from performing and writing about this little experiment will help in future. We shall see...
* Be grateful that I scrapped the draft which had a pun like this after every sentence for the whole paragraph... It was nigh unreadable for several different reasons.
+ Though at the time of posting, I believe that both have revised their resolution to 'drinking only in moderation'.