Do you reckon I drink too much?
September 26, 2016 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I've had a boozy summer and I'm wondering whether I'm over doing it?

For the last few months I've probably downed about, on average, 2 pints of beer a night down the pub. Sometimes 3 but never more then that and this is mainly because I can't physically drink more then this without feeling sick and woozy. I never have been able to. I suppose this is a safety valve of sorts as stops me drinking more. Still, I feel this is probably too much and can't really be good for me. I'm early fifties and regularly keep fit by running, cycling and playing football. I don't drink at home and always only after work in evening in the pub.
I'm thinking of giving up for October. I've done a month off a few times over the years and don't find it a problem to achieve.
Am I drinking too much ?
posted by blokefromipanema to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you feel you might be over indulging. There is no magic number really for "too much" although the American NIH characterizes heavy drinking as more than 14 drinks a week for men and 7 for women. Being a heavy drinker is associated with myriad health risks, long and short. But these are just guidelines. If you feel you've overdone it you can always back off!
posted by pazazygeek at 6:57 AM on September 26, 2016

As a general rule, if you think you're drinking too much, you're drinking too much.
posted by Caviar at 6:57 AM on September 26, 2016 [33 favorites]

What people think of as "too much" seems to have drifted ever-downward in the last several years. If you tell your doctor you have 14 drinks a week, he might look askance, but if you describe it as "two beers after work" it sounds much less troublesome.

I'm not a doctor, but it certainly doesn't sound like a problematic level of consumption to me.
posted by uberchet at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Is drinking getting in the way of you doing other things in your life?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:05 AM on September 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

The current recommended maximum (in the UK, anyway) is around 6 pints a week (that's 14 units, not 14 drinks), and it sounds like you're at more than double that. FYI, a drink is only a unit if it's a very mild beer or a single measure of spirits.

A month off is not really a fix for anything, and there aren't going to be any long-term health benefits. If you want to cut down on your drinking generally, I think you'd do better to set yourself a weekly goal - start with two dry days a week (pick the days when you're least likely to want to go out), then gradually up that to three or four over a few months.
posted by pipeski at 7:06 AM on September 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you're asking the question, you are probably drinking too much, if not for health reasons at least for your own personal comfort level.

As an outsider to your life, I feel you are drinking too much. Also, how much money are you spending on booze a week? Maybe calculate that and then think about what else that couple hundred a month you could be spending that money on. Perhaps something that you don't just consume and then pee away.

NOTE: My take on what is an okay/normal amount to be drinking is likely less than normal.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

People are going to vehemently argue this on both sides, but what it comes down to is: Are you comfortable with the amount you drink? It sounds like you are not. So it's okay to cut back to a level you are more comfortable with.
posted by something something at 7:15 AM on September 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was talking to a friend with similar worries at the weekend and he's started using the drinkaware app to track his consumption. He's found that being aware of how many units he's consuming is useful even if he hasn't made any immediate changes, and it's also shown him that while he does regularly consume over the recommended amount of units in a week, he's also not consuming anywhere near the 50+ units that the app considers serious overconsumption.
posted by terretu at 7:16 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you feel like you're drinking too much and you're inclined to take October off, you should do it. It's not 'too much' from a social or medical standpoint from my point of view, but it seems like 'too much' for you. You can take a break for any reason (lose weight, better sleep, greater mindfulness, variety, because it's an even-numbered month) it doesn't have to be because it's problematic.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:18 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

The extra calories might be more of a concern than the booze, because a beer belly in your fifties is no joke to reduce.
posted by zadcat at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

If all your drinking takes place at the pub, then that might be the sticky point in your question. Do you enjoy being at the pub? Are you socializing there, do you enjoy the atmosphere, are there sports, etc. that keep you going back? If that's the thing, you could switch to a soda or a lower ABV beer while you're there. Being at a pub doesn't require overindulging.

Or if you just enjoy the beer itself and the pub is incidental, you could schedule other places to be a few nights a week. Move your workouts to the evening, for example, so you won't be tempted to go near the pub.
posted by witchen at 7:40 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't really tell you if you're drinking too much. It sounds like you're telling yourself that you might be, so if it feels like a good idea to take October off then yes, listen to that. If that voice is in fact some friend of yours nagging you and you don't feel guilty/unhealthy at all, and were just hoping to have some internet fuel to tell your friend to lay off, then I'll have to stand by my earlier statement and say you know yourself best.
posted by aimedwander at 7:50 AM on September 26, 2016

You ought to ask yourself why you think it might be a problem. If it's purely health concerns, I don't think you have much to worry about. It sounds like you have a habit, not an addiction.

Is it the amount of money you spend? The amount of time you spend at the pub? The feeling that you could be doing other things that would be more fun, more productive, or more meaningful? The atmosphere of the pub? The feeling that the habit itself is disreputable? Do you sometimes say or do things you regret? Are other people in your life bothered by your habit? Is your relationship with alcohol obsessive?

Plenty of people make drinking a few beers a day a part of their lives without real issue, but if you feel bad about your consumption that in itself is an issue regardless of whether the drinking is. Concerns about health are often displaced anxieties about other things in situations like this.
posted by vathek at 7:52 AM on September 26, 2016

2 pints of what? A 4% ABV pale ale/ pils/ mild/ wheat beer or a 9% ABV IIPA/ Belgian strong ale/ Imperial stout/ mocne? I really don't understand why you wouldn't factor that into your question.

But if you're drinking up to the point where you physically can't drink any more, yeah, that's too much.
posted by hawthorne at 7:58 AM on September 26, 2016

I'm 45 and I wouldn't drink this much. The weekly limit is, as someone mentioned, 14 units, so you're way over that.

I personally just limit my alcohol consumption to the weekend—a couple of beers on Friday night, a couple of beers and a glass of wine on Saturday night, and a couple of glasses of win on Sunday night.

This probably puts me over the threshold but it seems to be manageable.

While I should probably be worried about cancer, I'm more worried about caloric intake and how much money I am spending (booze is super expensive in Canada).
posted by My Dad at 8:05 AM on September 26, 2016

A lot of this is cultural; correspondents from the US and Canada are not addressing this from the viewpoint of the local. 2 pints a night down the pub is well within the range of normal; you are likely drinking 4.3% lager, right?

It's the "every night" that's possibly the issue; a pint is 1 UK unit and the guideline is 14.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:31 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm early fifties and regularly keep fit by running, cycling and playing football. I don't drink at home and always only after work in evening in the pub.

These two things are not consistent, at least in my experience.

I'd be either cycling/running regularly (and by regularly I mean 3-5x per week) or be at the pub every night. Two beers a night would keep me from jumping energetically out of bed in the morning for a good ride or run. And of course, you're not doing it after work if you're at the pub.

This is one reason I don't drink more -- I'm more motivated by things I want to get out and do, and it's not logistically possible to be out doing things and be at the pub at the same time.

So if you're counting on exercise to compensate, maybe take another look at whether that's happening as regularly as you think or want. But if you're managing to run 40k a week and drinking two beers every night? More power to you!

I'm borderline on your actual question, of whether it's too much. It might just be a boozy summer, it might be a problem. One way to find out is to take October off.
posted by Dashy at 8:43 AM on September 26, 2016

2 pints a day?

The only thing I would worry about is the empty calories. If you're active no worries at all. In fact the stress relief of the pub trip would probably be better for your health than the minor alcohol intake.
posted by koolkat at 8:44 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think if this is causing consequences in your life that you're not happy with (for example, I find that drinking this amount makes mornings much harder than they need to be, causes me to gain weight, and is a drain on my finances), you should cut back.

I don't think you necessarily have a drinking problem. But I don't think you need to have a drinking problem to decide that you're drinking more than you're entirely comfortable with. It's perfectly fine to frame this as deciding to drink less for various reasons and not "I'm an alcoholic." If you were eating too much junk food you wouldn't necessarily frame yourself as an overeater, just "maybe less cake?"
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

> a pint is 1 UK unit and the guideline is 14.

A pint is 2 to 3 units (2 units in a 3.5% ale, 2.3 units in 4% beer, 2.8 for the standard UK 5% lagers).

Two pints in a single night is not a lot at all, but two pints every night of the week does really add up.
posted by iivix at 9:13 AM on September 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

A lot of this is cultural; correspondents from the US and Canada are not addressing this from the viewpoint of the local.

Actually you're incorrect in that the "14 units" figure is from the association of UK Chief Medical Officers.

It's not cultural, it's science-based.
posted by My Dad at 9:24 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Be honest with yourself about what kinds of consequences are coming from your drinking, and if you are minimizing them or accepting them as normal. Hangovers, loss of interest in non-drinking activities, talking yourself into thinking you are OK to drive, that kind of thing. Your drinking is a problem if it is causing problems. There isn't a given level below which is always OK.

That said, it may also be useful to ask "is this a safe level of drinking?", safe in the medical sense, given you are middle aged especially, rather than ask "Am I a problem drinker?". First of all, that question is about your behavior, not your character, and it may be easier to be objective with that focus.
posted by thelonius at 9:28 AM on September 26, 2016

That specific amount doesn't worry me-- my only concern is that it concerns you. Why not take October off? Or two nights a week? Or trade one pint for a seltzer or a lemonade? See how you feel. You can always change your mind later.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2016

If you want a concrete answer, head to your GP and ask for a blood test. They measure liver function and damage. Then they can tell you whether you're okay or on your way to cirrhosis and need to cut back.
posted by Polychrome at 10:45 AM on September 26, 2016

Medical guidelines about drinking are *stupid*. Much like dietary science, there are hundreds of contradictory studies -- no one really knows a whole lot outside of isolation. Certainly there are health risks to drinking, and certainly there are health benefits to drinking. There's even evidence that shows drinking quite excessively has health benefits. Does that mean it's on balance good? Probably not, but who knows.

More importantly, if you ask yourself or others the question "am I drinking too much?" you probably are, for you. The opposite is of course not necessarily true.
posted by so fucking future at 10:46 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

As noted, if you have to ask, you are
posted by Postroad at 10:59 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

It might helpful to think about this in terms of: you can be drinking an amount that isn't necessarily harming you physically, but is creating an emotional/social/etc. dependency that you aren't comfortable with. What is drinking doing for you? Do you have another way to accomplish that?

For example, in the past I have gone through times when I've been drinking a totally "acceptable" amount (maybe one glass of wine a night) but, because I was using it to do something I didn't have any other way of doing (relax/disconnect from work), I found it unhealthy for me emotionally. It isn't the amount, but the fact that I was depending on it to do something for me that I should probably learn how to do sans alcohol, for a number of reasons, such as: 1) Should I be rethinking my work rather than just numbing myself to it when I get home? 2) Is there another way to achieve this state that is more in line with my goals/values (such as meditation, exercise)? 3) What if at some point I can't, or would rather not, use alcohol to achieve this state? It's a good idea to have other coping mechanisms in the bank.

Just something to consider.
posted by Owl of Athena at 11:08 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if there is something about metabolism as you age because at times I find myself (53) drinking a couple pints or a few glasses of wine every night whereas earlier in life not really. I am a little concerned about how much I drink, (which is probably a little less than a pint a night, 3 pints on 75% of sundays, some weeks no alcohol, pretty much never alcohol by itself without food,) but it is a concern that would be similar to concern about too much TV watching. Like a rut or something, the fear would be waking up an alcoholic out of shear lazyness. So, I would say if you feel like you are in a rut you are in a rut and despite it being probably a nice cozy rut you are well within the wised up ball park to want to break out of it, to make sure it is you and not the goddess Ninkasi calling the shots. I like how owl of Athena put it.
posted by Pembquist at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2016

Only you can answer that question, but a way to get a better handle on it might be to stop drinking for a month or two. Continue to hang out with your friends. Tip your bartender (I buy soda or seltzer water). At the end of a couple of weeks look at what's changed, and you'll have a better perspective from which to make decisions.

I did that (at the request of my sweety over a decade ago), and went from a couple of drinks in an evening a night or three a week to a couple of drinks a year, and I think the quality of my conversations has gone up.
posted by straw at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2016

Just because I've seen this answer crop up quite a lot on metafilter - liver function tests (LFTs) do NOT show cirrhosis - you can have end-stage liver disease and perfectly normal LFTs. They show acute hepatocyte damage and/or biliary tree obstruction. Please do not be reassured by normal LFTs.

A liver biopsy or fibroscan will show your current level of cirrhosis, but again not future risk of cirrhosis if you carry on drinking at that level.

And yep you're definitely drinking over recommended levels. Have three or four dry days each week - you can drink cola in the pub if you still want to be sociable.
posted by tinkletown at 11:34 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

IANAD but my understanding is that medically speaking, the optimal number of standard drinks for an adult male is one per day. Males who average one drink a day (and who don't binge drink) tend to live a little bit longer than those who don't drink, and considerably longer than those who drink more than that. So from a medical perspective, yes, if you're averaging 2-3 drinks per day you're drinking more than is good for you. Will a few months of that kind of drinking have a discernible effect on your long-term health? No, probably not. Would it be a good idea to scale it back rather than to keep drinking at this rate for the rest of your life? Yes, it probably would.

The rest of the equation is more of a case-by-case thing. Do you feel like your drinking is interfering with other parts of your life? Is your overall performance negatively impacted? Does it create social problems for you? Does it prevent you from doing other things that you normally enjoy, or things that are not necessarily enjoyable but which are nevertheless important? Has alcohol been involved in any dangerous behavior, such as driving while intoxicated? Do you sometimes wish you would drink less but you find yourself drinking anyway? Has your intake been climbing, or is it holding steady?

A "yes" answer to any of these questions indicates that drinking may be causing problems for you, and should push you toward a commitment to reduce your alcohol intake. If you can honestly answer "no" to all of them, then it's probably not having a big impact on your life and the medical aspect is likely the main concern.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:09 PM on September 26, 2016

Am I drinking too much ?

Beyond tautologies ("if you're asking the question..."), or recommended guidelines that don't take your actual physiology into account, the best way to answer that question is to look at how drinking is actually affecting you in terms of:

1.) Your health: how's your weight? body fat %tage? Are you able to keep up with your peers when you're running/cycling/playing football? Are you happy with your performance in those veins (and others)? What does your doctor say about your current liver function? Cholesterol?
2.) Finances: Can you afford to be buying 14 pints a week? Are you buying food at the pub as well? Is your pub spending keeping you from meeting financial goals?
3.) Social: Have you alienated people from your life with your drinking? Are you going to the pub instead of those writing workshops that you've always meant to sign up for?
4.) Professional: Does your drinking affect your work the next day? If you take a couple of nights off, are you more alert/focused?

I'm thinking of giving up for October. I've done a month off a few times over the years and don't find it a problem to achieve.

A better test might be to go for a month without drinking above the guidelines (which seems like 7 pints a week in the UK). My reasoning for this is that cold-turkey for a month is a stunt, you're making a choice to do things very differently than you used to and you only have to endure it for a little while. Maybe you'll even skip the pub all-together for the month so you won't even be tempted.

Continuing to drink, but with a limit is a better test because you most likely won't be changing your routine much. You'll be at the pub, enjoying the first round, having a good time with your friends, etc., and your brain will tell you that it's time for the second but you'll need to make the choice to do something different.

For problem drinkers, drinking in moderation is harder than abstinence. That's why most alcoholics have to give up drinking completely: they can't control themselves after the first drink. If you can limit yourself to 7 pints a week, that's a good sign that you probably aren't a problem drinker AND you've proven that your lifestyle is still sustainable at the lower level of alcohol consumption.

You should also bank the extra cash for the month and do something nice for yourself (or others) with it.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:33 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think sparklemotion's on the money, but my other question is, apart from drinking, are you having fun at the pub? If the drinking's incidental to hanging out and chatting, then that's all good. If you're nursing a couple of pints on your own, I'm guessing you should be replacing that with a more fulfilling activity. But I get the sense that it's the former.
posted by ambrosen at 3:06 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

You know, you could cut down to just the one pint. No need to have two.
posted by tel3path at 3:56 PM on September 26, 2016

Best answer: If it's purely health concerns, I don't think you have much to worry about.

If I was you mate, I'd listen less to randoms on metafilter and folksy wisdom, and more to the medical establishment which created the guidelines based on evidence and despite pressure from the alcohol industry to bump up the numbers.

According to the medical establishment, the amount you're drinking is having a negative impact on your health, and increasing your risk for cancer (people I find generally don't realise how carcinogenic alcohol is).

Other considerations, financial, psychological, etc are something you will have to weigh up. But if you need validation that you're drinking too much, you have it. Just because a lot of people in the UK are also exceeding guidelines does not make them less valid.

Best of luck
posted by smoke at 8:16 PM on September 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

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