How do you drink? Judging healthy drinking.
May 28, 2010 1:34 AM   Subscribe

How do you drink alcohol? How do you judge healthy drinking?

I was thinking about my alcohol consumption and wanting to see what everyone regards as healthy.

I really enjoy alcohol. Whether that be a good bottle of red over a meal, a few beers after work to wind down or a proper session of getting drunk.

Like a lot of people in the UK I am completely used to binge drinking. So a Saturday night out with mates may well be 7-8 pints which is coming up for 20 units of alcohol. When I drink that amount it generally involves short spells of blackout where I can't remember stuff from the night and a hangover the next day.

Used to have more big nights out when I was younger but now I am in my thirties less so. For instance, this month I have had three big nights out where I have drank around 8 pints of beer over the night and been drunk.

One area where a problem creeps up is, on nights out, I tend to want to drink quicker and more than my friends. So often a drinking buddy will stop at 5-6 pints and I will fire on for a couple more myself. I realise this is a an issue.

I absolutely love having a good session like this. I have no desire to do it all the time but it really enhances my life. It feels like you are jogging along in life and sometimes you get to let it all out and have a sprint.

I've never got in to any trouble when drunk. The only things are being a bit less dignified than I ideally would be and the occasional bickering with girlfriends.

Apart from that I like a bottle of wine (the whole bottle to myself - and a good one which I savour) now and then. I'll probably sit and drink a bottle to myself maybe 3 or 4 nights a month.

Also like some beers. So, on average, I'd say there are 2 or 3 nights a week where I have a couple of beers or ciders. No more than six units in an evening.

For example. Last week

Monday - nothing
Tuesday - nothing
Wednesday - nothing
Thursday - 3 cans of 4% beer (1.6 units per can = 4.8 units)
Friday - 2 bottles of cider (6.6 units)
Saturday - 8 cans of beer and a bottle of cider (this was spread over the day at a festival but ended up reasonably drunk at the end of the night. Total around 18 units.
Sunday - Nothing

Other weeks I might drink one or two extra nights a week or not have a big night out at the weekend or have a bottle of wine one night, etc...

One thing to note is that my Dad is a recovering alcoholic. He's been sober for about 20 years now but when I was young it was a big problem. He got sacked from work due to being drunk on the job, my Mum divorced him. We used to go for custody visits in the school holidays and it would be fine for the first few days and then he would get blasted drunk in the middle of the day (he used to drink carlsberg special brew which is a 9% beer popular among tramps). He would sway about the house not able to stand up. Never hurt us or anything but clearly wasn't fit to look after children. The police used to come round.

So the beast is in me... but I could never imagine getting anywhere near that. I may drink heavily at times but it has never affected my responsibilities and I could never imagine getting that low.... but I guess nobody does.

So question for the community. How much do you drink in a normal week/month? Do you think my drinking seems normal?
posted by aTrumpetandaDream to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My drinking started out less than yours, after a few years was about at your level, then went waaaay past that level over the next few, not always linearly, but ever increasing over the long run. Then I quit drinking. One factor was seeing the same progression happening to a couple of friends of mine, who happened to be further along the curve than me. They seemed to have progressively more trouble and unhappiness in their lives because of their drinking, exactly as I was experiencing. I tried quitting for short periods and found that I actually enjoyed life more without the juice. So now I'm a month into abstaining completely from alcohol, no idea how long I'll continue, but I can't say I miss it much. Maybe I just reached the point where I'd had enough.

I'd say your dinking is "normal" for the alcoholic culture that permeates the English speaking world but the fact that you abstain four nights a week is a bit unusual. Most drinkers I've been around will drink at least "one or two" every day.

However you slice it, that's a lot of alcoholic units for your liver to be dealing with. Not to mention how much time drinking (and hangovers) soak up (several nights and mornings a week by your tally). Just because your drinking level is "normal" for your culture doesn't mean it's optimal for you or your life.
posted by telstar at 2:00 AM on May 28, 2010

"Normal" is somewhat irrelevant, isn't it? I mean, just because something is the norm, it isn't necessarily healthy or even reasonable.

So I don't know whether your drinking is "normal." But there are a couple things that make me pause to consider that you may have a problem. These are:

1) You use some weird reasoning to rationalize your drinking:

"Like a lot of people in the UK I am completely used to binge drinking."

I can hear the nasty business of an awkward justification in that. I also hear it when you discuss not getting too out-of-control. (Though you also blackout, so who's to say?) Some heavy alcoholics are just lovely, lovely drunks. You may be on that side of things, which I suppose is better than the alternative. But it's not a saving grace by any means.

2) When I drink that amount it generally involves short spells of blackout where I can't remember stuff from the night and a hangover the next day.

Frankly, any time this happens - sort of a learning incident or two - it's a problem. You shouldn't drink so much as to blackout. It's a serious bad sign to say the least. You're not 15, you're in your thirties. This should be basic reflexive knowledge by now.

3) Alcoholism in your family. Need I say more? Your father may be sober, but drink clearly had a deleterious effect on his life.

4) Your "need" - be it to wind down after work or that you can't control your drinking more than those around you. You also - several times - mention how much drinking means to you. Not socializing. Not hanging out with mates. Not having a good laugh. But drinking. Think about it - that's real addict talk.

5) Your concerns and doubts are obvious from what you've written (and that you've written.) I can see that you've tried to be honest and sincere, but your post reads a bit like you haven't been able to tell yourself the truth yet. You sound like you're very dependent on alcohol, and that's a major problem.

Consequently, I think you've crossed the line from normal alcohol consumption to something you're unable to control for long. I applaud you for asking this question and being upfront. But I sense that you know the answer to your question already.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:02 AM on May 28, 2010 [14 favorites]

This week I think I drunk half a bottle of wine on two days, then a glass or so on two others. The other days I drunk nothing.

When I lived in a hot country I found myself drinking every day, especially when I didn't have any work on.

It varies. What is "normal" also varies according to culture I think. You might find you get plenty of answers saying you drink too much from Americans - they don't seem as accepting as some of big drinkers. Especially the binge-style drinking on a Saturday night thing - I find this a bit masochistic also to be honest.

I think the amount you drink seems fine, because you're not causing any trouble. It's once you start causing trouble(to yourself and others) that you've got to worry.
posted by dydecker at 2:04 AM on May 28, 2010

I've seen quite a few people drink a lot on a regular basis, know some raging alcoholics, and when I used to drink (don't like the taste anymore, prefer other things) it was mostly to get drunk. Also I live in a culture where "alcoholism" isn't a prevalent discourse - there isn't any bar culture and people aren't considered alcoholics unless they're smashed all day or run themselves into the ground trying to support the habit. Which is to say: normal is relative.

The way I judge it - in the absence of larger or nuanced cultural conversations about alcohol - is that if you're drinking for the wrong reasons, that is, to escape your emotions, drown out your mood or lose appropriate social inhibitions, that's not right, even if it's just two drinks every night after work. That kind of drinking, where you want to give in to it, is hard to stop and often tends to escalate, especially in adults because we tend to get stuck in ruts. From what you wrote I don't think that applies to you, but I'd say watch out for it anyway.

Something about your drinking is bothering you (hence your question) and even if it's just a notion that you might be crossing some line of normalcy, it's probably worth cutting back for a bit just so you know you can.
posted by mondaygreens at 2:32 AM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

To answer the question: I pour beer into my mouth.

The other faff is a lot more complicated. I tend to have a couple of pints on a monday evening. (We call it beery monday and everyone is home by 8) I sometimes drink wine with tea during the week, but only a glass or two. I could easily drink a full bottle, but I just dont bother. Friday I head to the pub after work and again have a couple of pints, usually 3-4. Some special evenings when people are staying out for a long time, I would drink more, most recently when A friend passed their viva, so I had 5 pints of beer 5 pints of cider and 3 rum and cokes.

I do not consider myself a problem drinker, but I also recognize that I can and do lose control sometimes. To me the definition of a problem drinker is someone who needs a drink rather than someone who wants a drink. As long as you are honest with yourself about this line between need and want and not deluding yourself you are fine.

I likewise drink faster than my friends and tend to drink a pint or two more than them over the course of the night. I am a large guy with a high tolerance so it doesn't really cause me to get that much more drunk. I also don't have blackout bits either, so in reality your high unit night are probably more than my high unit nights.
posted by koolkat at 2:40 AM on May 28, 2010

I used to drink like you, but eventually it tailed off. Sounds like it is with you to some extent.

There's some evidence that alcohol is healthy for you. Obviously you're going over the healthy level, but it's not all one sided that it's bad, and if it's enhancing your life, I'm sure you don't want to cut the heavy sessions completely.

However, I would say try enjoying yourself without it so you've got 2 choices. I'm English and I always used to drink and go I don't really give a shit. I'm not saying you're not confident, but I think in a subtle way it can be an excuse to do what you want, act more freely 'sprint' as you put it...but you can do a lot of that without the alcohol it just takes a bit of looking at yourself.

Maybe it would help to get the best 'bang for your buck' by thinking what drinking do I enjoy the could you just have one glass of wine with a meal if you were going out at the weekend with friends.

My dad's an alcoholic and I don't think I'll ever have a problem fwiw but someone will probably post the opposite so who knows.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:47 AM on May 28, 2010

Like you, I do enjoy drinking, and I enjoy the feeling of being drunk. I live in a very alcohol friendly culture as well (Japan). I imagine I drink less than you do on a regular basis, and I would consider you a heavier drinker.

One thing: Blackouts are bad, and they're a college student thing. You're a bit old to be doing that. If you're drinking that much, drink less. That's the only judgement you'll get from me.

I have, myself, taken time outs for drinking, for health (gout, of course, is also diet related, hence my current joyless culinary lifestyle...) as well as experimentation, or just to see if I could. I stopped drinking for roughly 4 months, still went out with friends, usually to bars, and still had a good time. You might see if you can do that as sort of a baseline. Set a limit for yourself, but a serious one. A week is too short. At least a month. If you can't make it a month, then yeah, maybe you should think about it a bit more.

As for drinking as much as you do on a night out, when I was younger, and I'd just discovered the all-you-can-drink specials here (usually a two hour limit), I would drink too much, too fast, get plastered, occasionally black out, and more often than not, get sick. What I realized was that I was drinking cocktails (gin and tonic, among other things) that went down amazingly easily. It's easy to drain a cocktail and order another. So I switched to beer, which doesn't drink as well. Perhaps, since you're already at beer, switch to a beer that isn't as 'downable,' like stouts and the like. Drink something that takes some work to drink. You'll drink for the same length of time, still get the same buzz, but overall, drink less, and perhaps have fewer problems with blackouts.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:51 AM on May 28, 2010

I live in America and I have a lot of friends who enjoy alcohol and other fun.

I drink only very occasionally. Almost never with a meal, more if I want to get drunk, perhaps once every couple of months, which I do with abandon, taking down a couple long islands to get me there.

With food, I'd just rather enjoy something sweet, almost always. I've taken to a local restaurant's special drink with their "staff meal" on occasion, but that's about it. I've never been a huge fan of wine or beer, so I find myself simply not drinking them. It makes dinner out cheaper, and dinner in, for that matter. I'm also already overweight, and I guess I feel like I don't particularly need to tack on another vice to that.

This is by way of saying that everyone is different. I don't have any objection to drinking and I don't particularly care what anyone else does so long as they don't hurt anyone else or infringe upon anyone else's rights. I'd prefer people not slip into wanton alcoholism for its negative effects, but to that point, I don't much care.

For me, I found that a single drink for $8 at a restaurant really did nothing for me. In that case, if I wasn't going to "go out drinking" as an event, it just didn't make sense. I've just been doing that "going out" thing a whole lot less frequently. Even when the girl enjoys some wine or a beer, I'll stick with my tea or Crystal Lite. Though an occasional white russian is delightful.
posted by disillusioned at 3:04 AM on May 28, 2010

Seconding Ghidorah, if you're worried about it, why not stop for a month? Don't stop going out, just don't drink alcohol when you're out. Tell your friends it's an experiment, you're giving your liver a chance to dry out for a month - it's not that unusual these days (they will, however, hate the fact that you're not drinking and keep asking you how/why you're doing it, and keep trying to persuade you to drink. Ignore them - they're just paranoid that they'll make fools of themselves when they're drunk and you're a sober witness).

It's a great way to learn about your relationship with alcohol, which is what you're really asking about (rather than other people's relationship with alcohol, which is how you've framed the question). If the very idea seems unbearable, you've learned something about your relationship with drink. Ditto if you try it but give up after a day. Or if you feel sad and lonely without it. Or if you wake up with a million times more energy. Or if it makes no difference at all, and you just feel a bit bored when all your friends start going loopy and you're not up there with them.
posted by penguin pie at 4:02 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

aTrumpetandaDream: I absolutely love having a good session like this. I have no desire to do it all the time but it really enhances my life. It feels like you are jogging along in life and sometimes you get to let it all out and have a sprint.

That would be the bit that bothered me - and indeed, it was the part of my drinking psyche that bothered me. My Da was an alcoholic too, and I come from a drinking culture (Australia) and all of my friends and most of my family drink. But I cannot do it responsibly because I always want to go for the 'sprint'. Eventually it all came to a head and was awful for all of us, but there had been minor issues over the few years preceding it. Not major things (and not even drinking til blackout), just minor issues where my drunkeness was not fun for anyone. If I'd pulled up back then, I wouldn't have hit the wall that I did. So when something similar happened with my partner, he stopped drinking earlier. It still took a reasonably major incident for us to realise how much of an issue it was, but it wasn't as major as mine.

So nowadays I don't drink (was pregnant, now breastfeeding and could drink but choose not to) and my partner drinks at a low level. He may have a bourbon once or twice a week and get actually drunk once every couple of months. If I weren't breastfeeding I'd probably have a G&T once every few weeks, or a frangelico and milk. We deliberately choose non-downable drinks and once we savour for the taste. Needing the crutch of alcohol to 'sprint' was really fucking up our lives and we manage everything a lot better now we have a bit more control over things and aren't bottling everything up until the alcohol releases it.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:06 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like to alternate between soft drinks and alcoholic drinks when I'm out. It ends up cheaper and a lot of the time I find I'm taking sips during a conversation just because I'm awkward and the drink is there.

It sounds like you drink more than is probably healthy for you and maybe you should cut back a bit for the sake of your liver/weight/whatever. Everyone's got a vice for which that's true.

If it's not something you need to do no matter what the consequences, then it's not an addiction. Don't worry that you're inevitably going to turn into your father if you continue to enjoy alcohol. Keep an eye on your life to make sure it's not affecting it adversely. If a girlfriend breaks up with you because you drink too much, you need to cut back. If you turn up to work still drunk, you need to cut back. If everything's okay, think about cutting back a bit as a kind thing to do for yourself.
posted by teraspawn at 4:15 AM on May 28, 2010

There's some evidence that alcohol is healthy for you.

This is absolute fucking nonsense and anybody justifying their drinking levels by thinking anywhere approaching this line is not only ignoring a plethora of long-term, well-referenced epidemiology and public health research, but also engaging in a dangerous fantasy.

Avoiding the psychological angle, physiologically speaking you are drinking _way_ too much. Way too much.

From the Australian Department of Health (fyi the UK has the same recommendations):

* For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.

* Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

It's quite trendy, here in heavy-drinking Australia to pay out on these recommendations. Well I am here to tell you - as someone who has worked for the drug and alcohol peak body, in the sector, read the research, seen the results etc. these recommendations are based on fact, results, and solid research. Any more than this and you start incurring risks.

I'm not going to say whether you have a problem (though I think you probably do), but I will state - unequivocally - your current drinking levels are a problem. It is affecting your health and putting you at risk of harm when drunk. You should reduce your consumption dramatically.

(FYI, questions you may like to ask to ascertain how much of a problem alcohol may be for you:
* Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
* Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
* Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
* Have you ever had a drink in the morning to get rid of a hangover?

If you answered yes to any of these - especially if the "yes" has applied more than once - you should be taking your consumption very seriously.
posted by smoke at 5:00 AM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

i typically have 4-6 drinks a day (which would be your 'units'). sometimes it goes up to 6-10. my drinking while going out is often restricted due to the fact that i have to drive afterwards.

at the 6-10 mark, i begin to get pretty drunk. wouldn't drive at all. however i have never blacked out from drinking ... and i always stop long before i feel like i might barf it back up. it's probably been 10-15 years since i threw up from drinking too much.

that said, i agree with a lot of what dee said. blacking out is a problem.

as for healthy drinking: i judge it by how much alcohol affects daily life. getting fired for being drunk at work? problem. dui? problem. rude at social gatherings after drinking too much? problem. and most of all: can you not drink when others are drinking around you? try it for a night--it may change your perception of drinking when you, being stone cold sober, watch others do it.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:02 AM on May 28, 2010

I drink pretty often, but do not go to blackout levels. All it takes is one good hangover to put me off drinking for awhile. I hate hangovers with a passion. On weekends where there's some event that might lead to heavier drinking (party, wedding, etc), I make sure I eat well and drink plenty of water.

In my 20s, I'd have set rules in place about how much and when I could drink. I've found that as I've grown older, I've naturally curtailed my drinking such that many of the rules no longer apply ("Personal last call is at 10? But I'm asleep by 9:30 now!").

As long as you can take the impact of drinking (work, money, life, etc), you're fine. If you find you're out of cash because of too many nights out, mucking up the job due to hangovers, or picking fights with friends while drunk, you probably need to reassess your intake.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:09 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not reading the thread, but binge drinking, which you seem to be doing, is worse on the liver than drinking moderately daily. Not sure what to tell you. If you get to the equivalent of 2-3 bottles of wine a day, it's time to seek help mate. Welcome to the club.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:10 AM on May 28, 2010

There's some evidence that alcohol is healthy for you.

This is absolute fucking nonsense

I said there's some evidence it's healthy, but he's drinking more than a healthy amount. So maybe it's good in some ways but bad in others. What's the point mate?
posted by Not Supplied at 5:15 AM on May 28, 2010

The point is that you shouldn't tell an alcoholic that drinking is good for them. I apologise, I didn't mean to come on so strong, but this person is drinking an order of magnitude more than a healthy amount. In no ways is it good. And no one should be justifying their or someone else's drinking with this reasoning. It's deeply flawed.

Fyi, the research you mentioned is very ambiguous (despite the eager championing of it by the alcohol lobby), and it's been very persuasively argued that despite the minor benefits (take a baby aspirin instead, you'll get a very similar blood-thinning affect. The stuff about antioxidants in red wine is basically bunk that can be ignored) are outweighed by the cons of drinking. In short, it's value neutral at best, and very up in the air.
posted by smoke at 5:25 AM on May 28, 2010

If you need some encouragement to seriously reevaluate your drinking before you get to the stage of addiction, one consideration: once you're an alcoholic you can never again have "just one". If you keep this in check now, you can enjoy alcohol in moderation for the rest of your life, instead of having to be teetotal.
posted by teraspawn at 5:57 AM on May 28, 2010

The point is that you shouldn't tell an alcoholic that drinking is good for them.

This isn't very helpful. You can drink a lot, you can drink more than is healthy for you, without being an alcoholic.

To the poster, the very fact you are asking this question means that you are worried you are drinking too much. There is no such thing as normal so don't try and measure yourself against anybody else, just act on your worry. In my mid-Twenties I became similarly concerned about my level of drinking (I also have a similar history to you). Try going dry for a month just to experience it.
posted by ninebelow at 6:15 AM on May 28, 2010

Look, I suspect there's going to be a cultural divide here between Americans - who have a slightly lower bar for "problem drinking" and British posters. Yes, you sound normal-ish for a British person of a certain age. If you went to university, then you're basically a low alcohol version of almost every student that ever lived.

Technically, you classify as binge drinking on your Saturday night. It seems like a tad too much and, dependent on the strength of the beer, could be a lot too much. Blackouts are not a great sign. Also, only tramps and students drink bottles of cider and beer. If you're not either of those then cut back.

A few things slipped here and there over the course of an evening of merriment: normal; large blanks in your evening: time to cut back. Typically social pressure does it.

It tends to become less socially acceptable to be stumbling about once you get to the stage when your definition of a good pub is one where you can always get a seat.

Are you an alcy, or approaching one? I'm not a doctor, but I don't think so. For starters, your drinking pattern doesn't indicate that you depend on alcohol in any meaningful way.

You may well grow out of it; my friends and I did once everyone got paired off and sit-down meals started featuring in the Saturday night plans. You probably should grow out of it because if for nothing else chugging beer like you do on a Saturday night will not do great things for your waistline.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:31 AM on May 28, 2010

Just one, very last thing: "normal" or "typical" is not a good judgment for assessing any behaviour or health risk, but especially alcohol, especially when you live in a country where average alcohol consumption has nearly doubled in 50 years and a significant proportion of the population are problem drinkers.
posted by smoke at 6:52 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I drink that amount it generally involves short spells of blackout where I can't remember stuff from the night and a hangover the next day.

To me, that indicates your drinking has moved into the realm of problematic. You should not be having blackouts. The fact that your friends are stopping at 5 or 6 pints and you barrel on is also, as you pointed out, an issue. To me that shows that you are not in control of your drinking.

Your ability to recover, to not lash on weight, and to function normally will decline as you continue ageing. Your body (which you have to live in for a good long while yet) will thank you if you can be a bit nicer to it.

One other thing I would point out is that the binge drinking, coupled with your family history, puts you at an increased risk of becoming an alcoholic. Between pattern indicators and genetic predisposition, adult children of alcoholics need to maintain a level of vigilance regarding behaviour and risk factors, and I think you may be letting the side down there.

I would agree with everyone suggesting you dry out for a month and re-evaluate.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 AM on May 28, 2010

There's no "normal" with alcohol. It's different things for different people, y'know?

Smoke is right about the drinking-is-healthy thing. The evidence is that some drinking correlates with longer life expectancy. "Some" meaning about one tasty pint per day. It's impossible to say why it correlates with longer lives. Blood thinning seems possible, but then the whole baby-aspirin-a-day thing has been pretty well debunked. Seems most likely, to me at least, that moderate drinkers are able to moderate in other areas, including diet, sleep, stress and exercise. So, it's not necessarily the booze that helps, but the personality of the sort of people who do stuff in moderation. You are totally not that sort of person.

I consume the equivalent of 1-2 pints of 4% beer per day. It tastes good and it feels good and I miss it if I'm somewhere without booze. By late afternoon, I'm looking forward to the nice ritual of the end-of-the-day drink. It would be hard for me to give it up. So, sure, I'm dependent on it the same way I'm dependent on exercise, coffee, good food and sex. Merely having it be an important part of your life does not make it a problem.

It's a problem when your sense of self-preservation is weak and you start doing stupid, unhealthy stuff. You are doing totally stupid, unhealthy stuff. Just because nothing bad has happened to you, does not mean that nothing bad will happen to you. Just because you can't feel your liver being damaged, does not mean it's not being damaged. Getting to a blackout/greyout stage regularly is a huge red flag. I can count on two or three fingers the number of what-did-i-do-last-night mornings I've had in the last decade. They were all a result of not paying attention to my consumption, as opposed to deliberately crossing that line.

Do not drink more than your drinking buddies. Limit your nights out to about half what you're drinking now. If you can't hold yourself back, stop entirely. If you can't do that, get help unless you want to wind up sick or, at the very least, a real loser.
posted by pjaust at 7:15 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

So often a drinking buddy will stop at 5-6 pints and I will fire on for a couple more myself. I realise this is a an issue.

I only consider drinking to be unhealthy if it's impeding your ability to carry on what you need to do to have a good life: work with adequate competence, have meaningful relationships, yadda, yadda, yadda. It doesn't sound like you're there, but if you feel that something is an issue then maybe it is in ways you don't lay out here?

Anyway, in the "drinking with friends" scenario (or worse yet, "drinking with colleagues"), my favourite hack is to alternate alcoholic drinks with pints of water or pop. This keeps you hydrated, gives you something to drink that's not alcoholic (because if you're like me, the rate at which you sip is just naturally faster than your friends), and slows down your alcohol consumption.
posted by Kurichina at 7:44 AM on May 28, 2010

I ask myself three questions. Is my drinking affecting:
      my health
      my job
      my relationships
And more recently I'd add my finances.
posted by jmmpangaea at 7:46 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The issue of alcohol consumption is a subjective one. There are so many factors that can sway an argument one way or the other. In response to this question, you will get many different responses, which are all over the map. People will filter their responses to you through their own perception of what is problem drinking or what is just "having a good time". Cultural differences are also a factor - as evidenced in the responses.

I gave up drinking almost a year ago, as I was very unhappy about other areas in my life and realized I was self-medicating. Friends and family were very surprised that I took such drastic measures (rehab and then daily AA meetings), as they didn't see that I had a problem. I have since realized that my problem was not alcohol, but extreme unhappiness with my life, my relationships, and my job. There is a lyric from a song, "...thought her life was empty and filled it up with alcohol", which pretty much sums up how I was feeling at the time.

I guess my point is this: there are so many things that one can do to express their happiness or unhappiness. Everyone is different, and there are so many reasons why one person can be fine with 1 drink all night, and someone else consumes many in the same night. I cannot tell you if you have a problem, no one can. But the one thing that I can tell you is that blackouts are alarming and, for me, that was a scary red flag when I realized I was having them.
posted by mnb64 at 8:05 AM on May 28, 2010

As far as "healthy" applies to actual physical health: More than one or two drinks in a single night is a negative for your health.

What is socially and lifestyle-appropriate, however, is another matter. I've heard a number of scientific studies and pseudoscientific accounts that put it this way: you have a natural tolerance for alcohol. It's set by genetic and physical health standards, along with some input on background and mental health. Experience also weighs in, especially with upbringing. You have a second tolerance for alcohol based on history of consumption. When your regular tolerance based on consumption surpasses your in-born or "natural" tolerance, you have a problem. At that point you're going to be regularly drinking more than your body can comfortably handle, and you're going to start seeing negative health and social consequences.

So, what are your tolerances? You're used to being a session drinker because of your culture, and you're at risk because you have an alcoholic father. The major warning signs of alcoholism include blackouts and being unable to stop when you feel you should, both of which you've mentioned.

I definitely understand the idea you're alluding to when you say "the beast is in me." It sometimes seems like there's a personality or aspect of our nature that enjoys drinking, thrives on it, and leads you to excess or boorish behavior. The point to remember is simply this: that is you. In drinking cultures, it's taken for granted that people may act untoward or differently when drinking and it's a supposed common social courtesy to sweep under the rug, but the truth of the matter is that the person who goes to a job, has great relationships, and pays the bills is the exact same person who bickers with people and blacks out. It doesn't help anyone to write that off. If you set a limit of, say, four beers when out with friends and you can't help but reach for a fifth, that is you doing it. Know that you can set your limits and you have control. If you don't, then that is a problem.
posted by mikeh at 8:09 AM on May 28, 2010

..once you're an alcoholic you can never again have "just one". Not necessarily true. But apparently it's a foundational belief for some.

I agree with those who say that from a simplistic and practical standpoint that drinking is a problem if drinking is a problem, in any aspect of your life.

Asking the question suggests it might be a problem. I also agree that an attempt to limit, control, adjust, or modify your drinking patterns will tell you if you're in conscious control of your drinking or if there's more at work. It's a great place to begin to assess where you're at.

If you find you do not actually have free will in terms of your overall "big-picture" drinking, there are multiple approaches available, running the gamut from psycho-social-religious to behavioral therapies to chemical suppression to pharmacological extinction. One of them may provide the necessary leverage.
posted by cairnish at 8:21 AM on May 28, 2010

Your drinking seems fairly normal to me, I grew up in the UK and now live in the US. 8 beers and a bottle of cider at an all day festival isn't too much. When I'm at an event like that I'll try to limit myself to one an hour.

I drink quicker than most of my friends as well, now I'm in my mid-thirties I slip in a pint of water instead of another beer, while waiting for the slow buggers to catch up.
posted by IanMorr at 8:26 AM on May 28, 2010

Healthy drinking to me is one or two beers every month or so. But I have also gone more than a year without beer, without even thinking about it. I haven't had any hard liquor in almost a decade. It's not because I was a ever a big drinker. I just want to stay healthy and not put any age on my face. Male drinkers tend to look much older than their years.
posted by L'OM at 9:05 AM on May 28, 2010

I don't know your height or weight, but I stopped reading when blackouts and hangovers are reoccurring. How this is 'normal' for any culture needs to be seriously thought out and now this is affecting your body long-term let alone what you could end up doing while that drunk.

Comparing to your mates or any other logic being dished out here is a distraction.

Good luck.
posted by fluffycreature at 9:29 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing the concern others are having about blackouts. I see nothing wrong with occasionally getting drunk, but if it's causing blackouts, I'd worry about what that's doing to your body, to your liver, etc. I don't know if you're an alcoholic. It's good that you can go days at a time without a drink. But from your post, it appears that you are not able to carry on socially without a drink (I'm guessing those nights you abstained from alcohol you weren't out with your friends, please forgive me if I'm wrong.)

To answer the survey part of the question: I drink one beer a night (sometimes 0, sometimes 2.) If my wife bought diet Pepsi that week, sometimes I'll have that instead. I alternate between horrible beer (Natty light) and microbrews. I have 3 to 5 drinks about once a month, usually when watching sporting events with friends or at a party. My wife doesn't drink, so I tend to hit the brakes sooner if she's around.
posted by Happydaz at 9:40 AM on May 28, 2010

If you're bothered or stressed out about it there's no harm in cutting back and seeing what happens, how your body reacts and so forth, is there? Save a lot of money too!

But as far as your "totals" I'm an Irish woman living in Canada, so from a similar drinky culture to yours, and as I think you know your consumption is pretty normal for most of the twenty/thirty-something expats I work with and our social circle whether married or single. Except probably more on the friday. Personally though I'm a pub person I don't indulge quite so much having been blessed/cursed with the onset of massive hangovers when I turned around 30; but drinks after midweek sports practice, drinks after work on friday, night out on saturday and maybe a couple watching some football game or on a bar patio or something on sunday wouldn't be an unusual weekend for me and my peers.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:58 AM on May 28, 2010

Your amount of drinking would be pretty normal among my friends, and a lot less than friends in the service industry. But, you have got to be more disciplined to avoid the blackouts.

Take breaks, drink water, get a breath of fresh air (or smoke), get to feel more comfortable without a drink in your hand, keep the empty in front of you a little longer, or just man up and go home when you know you're almost at that blackout point. You have to make these decisions before you choose your underwear and keep them in the back of your mind. You mentioned sprinting, but you need to treat it more like a marathon, and the goal is to remember everything and not go to jail.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 11:42 AM on May 28, 2010

Normal is a relative concept, as other posters have indicated. I think the real question is what is enough. Here's how much my scale works, but please note I'm teetotaler (and American):

1-2 drinks; no change in behavior = fine
2-6 drinks; behavior changes, inability to communicate/connect to others = unappealing in other people & too much
6-12 drinks; blotto behavior (falling down, blackouts, etc.) = excessive drinking, possible alcoholism
12+ = major problem

Signs you are an alcoholic (from a dear friend who has a severe problem) if you are British:
* If you drink the dredges of other peoples glasses
* Fall down in the gutter
* Impacts on digestion, other health aspects
* Blackouts
* Drink way in excess of your friends (btw, your friends are noticing and though they don't say anything, they think less of you)
posted by zia at 12:15 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're asking two very different questions here: (1) Is this normal in my society? and (2) Is this level of drinking healthy? I think the "healthy" question has been answered resoundingly no.

The question you should probably be also interested in is "Am I dependent on alcohol?"

People think theres some magical threshold where "fun-time heavy drinker" becomes "irresponsible drunk alcoholic". There isn't, (and it isn't measured in the number of drinks). It's easy to say someone who gets divorced, children taken away, fired etc are alcoholics. There are also alcoholics who have jobs with responsibilities, kids, family, etc, and they can manage it all while being a drunk.

I'm not going to say that you're on your way to the poor house, alienating everyone you love, though clearly you know it's possible. It's also possible you'll be fine for many years.

I am going to ask why would you choose to allow something to have as much power over your life as alcohol seems to. Some people are truly powerless to some circumstances life deals them-- their health, family life, education, job choices, etc. It sounds like you've overcome some things, gotten your life established, so why choose to let something have power over you?
posted by fontophilic at 12:16 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I should add frequency for the above scale would be weekly, not daily...
posted by zia at 12:41 PM on May 28, 2010

zia, I assumed that the British version of your chart was the same amounts, only daily.

That said, one drink a day is never going to bother you, and that's seven a week right there.
posted by mikeh at 12:55 PM on May 28, 2010

I drink for health reasons. Yes, it's controversial - I'll cite some research later, but I want to stress, that unless you are absolutely sure you can handle it, you should not start drinking for any reason (including health). If you have a family history of alcoholism, if you have any vulnerability to cancer at all, or liver damage, are a woman - you should be a teetotaler. Any amount of alcohol is oncogenic - and for women, any amount of alcohol increases the odds of getting breast cancer. That said, there may be health benefits for men, mostly cardiovascular, with a certain profile of drinking.

I have two units (I glass of 12.5% of wine, or less if the alcohol content is higher), 5 times a week, with dinner: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. I abstain Tuesdays and Fridays. Very occasionally - 2-3 times a year - I'll drink considerably more on social occasions.

In my opinion (IANAD), your drinking pattern is unhealthy.

Unfortunately, I don't have a link to the study below, but I do have access to the text, which I can cut and paste. Here, I'm providing just the abstract. If the mods are agreeable, I am happy to paste the rest in, but won't do so without their express permission (it's a LOT of text).

"Clinical Crossroads
A 42-Year-Old Man Considering Whether to Drink Alcohol for His Health
Kenneth J. Mukamal
JAMA. 2010;303(20):2065-2073.


Alcohol consumption is widespread and, in excess, a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. At the same time, a consistent body of observational evidence has found that individuals who consume alcohol within recommended limits have a lower risk of coronary heart disease than do abstainers. These observations have led many to consider small amounts of alcohol as a cardioprotective strategy.

Mr Q, a 42-year-old man who has consistently sought ways to preserve his health, is at a crossroads in his discussions with his physicians about the health effects of his regular, limited alcohol intake.

The discussion reviews the epidemiology of drinking in the United States, the established effects of moderate alcohol intake on key pathophysiological biomarkers and pathways, the strengths and limitations of observational evidence linking alcohol intake to lower risk of coronary heart disease, other chronic diseases linked to moderate alcohol intake, and a framework in which Mr Q can discuss the potential risks and benefits of alcohol consumption with his physicians."
posted by VikingSword at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2010

If you have blackouts, you're drinking too much. End of story.
posted by rodgerd at 10:54 PM on May 28, 2010

I think if you're asking the question, then you're pawing at something deeper.

Personally, I'm happier not drinking and have found that over time you can have that "sprint" feeling while sober. However, you need to give yourself a month or two totally sober to get into the habit of it.

Think of it this way, did you not have "sprint" feelings as a child before you started drinking?
posted by fantasticninety at 7:16 AM on May 29, 2010

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