We often call alcohol a social lubricant. It makes us less self-conscious and more willing to open up to others, and we believe this leads to deeper relationships. People trying to get sober often worry that by giving up alcohol, they will also be giving up social connection. This is especially true for people who have struggled with social anxiety and see alcohol as the only way they can function socially. This belief is simply not true. The notion that alcohol deepens social connection is an illusion. Here’s why.
Alcohol helps you talk, but it doesn’t help you listen. If expressing your opinions were enough to make you feel socially connected, your daily screeds on Facebook should do the trick. As you are probably aware, that doesn’t work at all. So what makes you think drunkenly spewing your opinions to a friend would deepen your relationship? Real connection is about give and take. You listen, try to understand, and contribute something of your own. People want to feel understood, not simply talked at.
A real conversation requires presence of mind. Often what people tell us is not really what they’re trying to tell us. We really have to listen and make an occasional inference. This is much harder to do when you’ve been drinking. It’s harder to focus and it’s harder to think. Subtle cues–and even not subtle cues–may easily escape our attention. If you are both drinking, you will both probably just end up talking and not listening. Your only connection will be having been drunk together.
You can’t unsay it. Alcohol certainly makes talking easier, but that’s often a bad thing. If you have social anxiety, alcohol may seem like an ideal crutch to get you through the office party, but then you wake up the next day in a panic, thinking ‘oh no, what did I say last night?’ Now you feel even worse than you would have had you remained awkwardly silent the whole evening.
Connection takes courage. If you feel you need alcohol to open up, it is likely a sign you fear rejection or criticism. Drinking doesn’t eliminate that fear; it only mutes it long enough for you to say something you will regret later. There’s always some risk involved in making social connections. It’s better to face that risk while sober. Then you can acknowledge your fear and maybe decide it’s worth the risk to open up or try to connect with someone. Social interaction is a skill, and like most skills, it’s better to practise sober.