Rethinking the Role of Alcohol in Friendships: Navigating Change with Hitha Palepu | EP66

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From happy hours to boozy brunches, alcohol is often at the center of social activities with friends. But what happens when one person decides to cut back or stop drinking altogether? In Episode 66 of Friendship IRL, host Alex Alexander talks with entrepreneur and author Hitha Palepu about her journey to more conscious consumption – and the impact it’s had on her friendships.

The Glamorization of Alcohol Culture

As Hitha points out, alcohol consumption has long been not just normalized but glamorized in our culture:

“You think of the shows we watched, and that Nancy Meyers aesthetic of someone sipping a glass of wine while they were cooking dinner in this beautiful open kitchen. Those were some pretty formative memories of our media years spent watching Sex in the City and them all drinking their cosmopolitan.”

But the reality of regular drinking takes a toll on our bodies and relationships. Hitha found herself re-evaluating her own habits, especially in social settings like networking events and parties.

Questioning the “Liquid Courage” Crutch

Many people, including Hitha, have used alcohol as a social crutch to feel more at ease in group settings. But as Alex notes, this reliance can actually create barriers in friendships:

“Somehow we think that this is making us better friends. But I think it’s really just this barrier that is there between us…I don’t want [my friends] to wonder whether I wanted to let them in or not, or whether I just did it because I had been drinking.”

Hitha realized that alcohol had become her default in a way that no longer served her:

“I used to be the person who was like, I need this glass of liquid courage before being at a networking event or at a party with a lot of new people…I only can notice that when I stopped or cut back in a big way. And so I think, especially as we’re getting… as I’m almost 40, a lot of my friends just don’t drink. Either they just never have over the course of our friendship, or they’ve slowly cut down. What I recognize is it really doesn’t affect the friendship.”

Shaking Up Social Plans

As Hitha shifted her drinking habits, she and her friends found new ways to spend time together that didn’t revolve around alcohol:

“My solid group of like friends in this city, we all kind of stumbled into doing dry January together. So I think that’s a really nice start of the year where we know we’re not drinking. And when we get together, it’s at a place that has really good mocktails, or we’re doing something that isn’t centered around food and bev….especially for my friends and the people I know who work remotely or have a flexible schedule, so I’d be like to want to go for a walk in the park and grab a coffee?”

Alex shares how her own friend groups have made conscious shifts to equalize alcoholic and non-alcoholic options at gatherings, from offering a range of drink choices to hosting non-alcoholic tastings. The key is being proactive in finding activities that strengthen the friendship without alcohol at the center.

Advice for Re-evaluating Your Relationship with Alcohol

For anyone navigating changes in their alcohol consumption, Hitha offers this wisdom:

“It’s really important for anyone who is questioning their consumption habits to be around really supportive, non-judgmental people. I think that provides a safe space for you to navigate this period of questioning and reevaluating your relationship with alcohol…No one is going to judge you more than you’re judging yourself.”

She also emphasizes getting clear on your “why” for making a change, and setting personal boundaries that work for you, whether that’s avoiding alcohol at certain types of events or establishing “rules” for moderation.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol is often glamorized in our culture, but regular drinking takes a toll

  • Many use alcohol as a social crutch, but it can create barriers in friendships

  • Finding new activities to connect with friends without alcohol is key

  • Surround yourself with non-judgmental support when re-evaluating alcohol use

    Get clear on your “why” and set boundaries that work for you

Hear more of Hitha’s insights and experiences shifting the role of alcohol in her friendships in Episode 66 of Friendship IRL.

About Hitha Palepu

Hitha Palepu is a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, author, and speaker. She is the CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals and the author of How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip and We’re Speaking: The Life Lessons of Kamala Harris. Hitha also curates the popular “Five Smart Reads” newsletter, a daily roundup of interesting articles across a range of topics. Follow her at @hithapalepu on Instagram.

For Further Reading

Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, which explores the science behind health advice, including insights on alcohol consumption.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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