By Richie Burke Contributor Published Jan 12, 2021 at 5:01 PM

Like many of you reading this, I have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. 

Toward the end of my sophomore year in high school, my best friend and I went to his brother’s house at UW-Madison. He and his roommates lined up shots for us and, not knowing what to do, I started tentatively sipping whiskey out of a shot glass. I instantly spat it out, shocked by how bad this “magical” substance called alcohol tasted. They had a field day with this and couldn’t stop laughing (rightfully so).

After hanging out at his house for a bit, we went to a party in one of our friend’s parents' basement. I switched to Malibu, something that tasted decent at the time, and I started drinking and kept drinking. Suddenly, my social anxiety dissipated; I was confident and had a great time. "Fun Richie” came out for the first time, and I even made out with two girls. For a high schooler who was shy, timid and very nervous around girls, trying to make friends and fit in, I felt like this was the best thing to ever happen to me. Not to mention, there was no hangover the next morning at that age. That was my introduction to alcohol. It was amazing.  

In college, alcohol was everywhere. It was common for people to go out five nights a week using alcohol as a social lubricant. It was a gateway to making friends, being social, throwing parties and meeting girls. I lived in a house with five other guys my junior year called “Club Kazaam,” named after Shaq’s movie. Sometimes we threw parties with well over 100 people attending. It was fun, and I’m still friends with all of those guys and some of the people who came to those parties. 

When I started GoGeddit and was trying to build a network and make business connections in Milwaukee, alcohol was everywhere. Alcohol was involved in almost every networking event, ball game, golf outing, meeting after 4 p.m. and sometimes even after fitness classes. I made a lot of connections drinking several nights a week and started growing my business. 

In my mid-20s, I was single for a year, and before every Tinder/Hinge/Bumble date, I would “pre-game” with one vodka soda and one vodka Red Bull at my place, walk over to Balzac and find a spot at the back bar before my date arrived. Most of those were fun and went well. 

When I qualified for the WSGA State Am in 2019, I got up and down from off the green to save par on the last three holes to get into a playoff. The playoff was five guys for the final two spots in the tournament. By the time I walked off the 18th hole, I was six shots of Tito’s vodka deep and went to the concession stand to grab a White Claw before getting carted out to the 16th hole at Oakwood Park Golf Course in Franklin for the playoff. It’s a short par four that was playing dead into the wind, and everyone hit an iron off the tee or a hybrid. I stepped up with a driver and pounded one down the fairway, hit a punch 9-iron on the green and two-putted for par. Three of the four other players bogeyed the hole. I was six shots and one Whiteclaw deep and off to my first State Am after failing to qualify my previous five tries. 

I’ve had many great memories and have made countless meaningful relationships that I may have never made if it wasn’t for alcohol.

That said, I failed to mention in any of these stories the time I got so drunk at a party that I thought I was going to die. I was making dying animal noises and telling my friends to take me to the hospital. They didn’t. Instead, thankfully, they fed me water and called my dad to pick me up. He drove across Madison to get me, and I threw up in the front seat of his BMW when we were only a few blocks away from his house. He handled it well and was thankful I called for a ride instead of doing something stupid. 

Or the time when I had a full blown panic attack when I was hooked up to an IV at Froedert after being sick for several days due to going on a multiple day bender in college. This led to several lingering anxiety issues and therapy sessions. 

Or the countless full-day hangovers I had in my mid to late 20s after nights out with friends on weekends. 

Or the golf tournaments I drank in and put up a big number. 

Alcohol is a complicated drug. As long as you are ascending on the BAC curve, most people, like myself, have a positive response. We’re more confident, happier, the social anxiety goes away and the “fun you” comes out. The problem is you’re putting poison into your body. It is a band-aid solution where coming down is not fun, and it gets worse the older you get. The more you drink, the more dependent you become on the substance. 

It makes me wonder if I really needed to use alcohol as a crutch or a social lubricant to be fun, confident and outgoing, or if it was just a false belief that my insecure high school self bought into that bled into my 20s and early 30s. 

I cut out alcohol significantly in 2020; I still enjoy drinking, but don't drink at all Sunday-Thursday and have cut back on the weekends. At this point in my life, I realize that alcohol is counterproductive to all of my goals, and I feel better than ever. My dad has been alcohol free for eight years now; he said it is the best decision he has ever made. 

On this week's “Dry(ish) January” podcast episode, we have Erik Kennedy (five years sober) and Sarah Hoffman (three years sober). Also joining them is Mark Pallazarri (12 years sober), formerly known as “The King of Milwaukee Happy Hour” and currently the Substance Use Disorder Liaison at the Dewey Center/Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. We dive deep into alcohol, its effects, how to go sober up or cut back in a city that loves to drink, and share stories involving alcohol. If you are looking to cut back, or are just interested in alcohol, make sure to click the link below and tune in.