Better living through alcohol(ism?)
August 26, 2007 8:38 AM   Subscribe

So I like to drink, drinking makes me happy. I've seriously upped my alcohol intake in the last three months and have been the happiest I've been in years, however I'm worried about problems down the road with addiction and my general health, so at what point do I need to worry?

I have had lots of problems with depression and anxiety all my life. On top of that I'm in law school and incredibly overworked and stressed. I've always been a heavy drinker, mostly when going out, but this summer I started drinking every night, virtually without exception. I average about three drinks a night and more on the weekends. I've developed a bit of a tolerance for the first time ever, so I'm not getting plastered or anything, but I do make a lot more trips to the liquor store.

I should give some background. I'm a 25 year old female, normal weight. I'm also on Wellbutrin for the depression, which helps, but I have to say not like drinking does. I have been hugely happier in the last few months, part of that is for social reasons, but even after starting school again, I feel much less stress and anxiety about everything now that I drink every night. I don't worry about the ridiculous stuff I used to or over analyze everything. I feel more relaxed during the day and have been able to work through a lot of things rationally that would normally have torn me apart. I've had more confidence when interviewing and applying for jobs and I've been able to work things out with a guy I was dating. Normally I would never be able to work something like that out in a straight forward honest manner, but I did and now everything is fine.

However, I realize that I am drinking a lot, especially for a 5'5 girl. I worry about the long term health effects and whether I will one day rapidly accelerate my drinking. Oddly now that I actually have a tolerance (I used to be able to get too tipsy to drive after a glass and a half of wine) I can go out on the weekends without worrying too much about getting totally shit faced and doing something stupid. In fact, except for one night when I came home and broke down sobbing, I haven't had any bad experiences from drinking since I've increased my drinking (and I have plenty from my past, in fact I am a little known for it). Heavy drinking really seems to agree with me and I know alcoholism is a horrible thing, but is it possible I've found a good middle ground that works for me?

Please no politically correct AA type advice. I know a lot of people will say things along the lines of well if you think you might have a problem then you do, but I really want real world practical advice about just how risky what I'm doing is and whether this kind of drinking is sustainable in the long term. Also, throw away email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do you find you're able to limit your drinking on the occasions when you drink? That is, can you just have a couple of drinks then stop, or do you find you have to "drink to get drunk" every time?

Do you find you're able to easily not drink for periods; can you give alcohol a break for a couple of weeks?

If you answered yes to both of the above, then in my non-expert-but-alcohol-appreciating opinion, I'd argue that you're probably doing okay. And, in addition, doing the things in those questions (only having a couple of drinks most of the time, and setting aside periods with no alcohol) are probably healthy things to be doing. I guess that according to my criteria, the 3 drinks a night you mention might be a borderline case, but who's counting, right?

I've worried the same things about myself, but then I realize that while I go through periods of drinking pretty much every day, I'm only drinking 1 or 2 glasses of wine a day during those periods, and I'm only getting drunk very rarely. And at the moment, I haven't touched a drop in well over a week. It wasn't deliberate, I just haven't found myself drinking lately. So that's how I justify it to myself anyway.

A lot of people in a lot of the world do drink every day, they just do it moderately. Try to follow their example.
posted by Jimbob at 9:00 AM on August 26, 2007

I'd start with this:

Avoid drinking alcohol while taking Wellbutrin. Alcohol may increase your risk of a seizure while you are taking Wellbutrin. If you drink alcohol regularly, talk with your doctor before changing the amount you drink. Wellbutrin can cause seizures in people who drink a lot of alcohol and then suddenly quit drinking when they start using the medication.

Carreer drinkers who build up a tolerance can be dangerous. Building up a tolerance does not mean that your BAC will be lower. They may "feel" ok to drive, but are actually DUI.

It seems that you may have already dipped into alcoholism, stating that I've seriously upped my alcohol intake in the last three months and have been the happiest I've been in years and you are using it as a release.

IMO you need to find away to cut your alcohol intake and find other ways to relieve your stress.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2007

Do you have any alcoholism in your family? Something to consider.
posted by la petite marie at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2007

When it stops being fun, stop drinking.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:11 AM on August 26, 2007

Basically reposting an old comment: Wikipedia has a useful page on recommended maximum alcohol intakes. They vary somewhat from country to country, so just pick one like. The Australian guidelines look pretty good.

I would say, set yourself a reasonable limit and try to stick to it. If you can't stick to that limit, then you have a problem.

Otherwise, alcoholism is matter of degree: there's no absolute hard-and-fast line that you just need to stay on one side of.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:14 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my admittedly unqualified opinion, you're putting yourself at risk of a nimiety of health complications, cancer being one of the most serious.

Psychologically, you're displaying the telltale characteristics of an alcoholic already. Far be it for me to rain on your happiness, but it's important for you to realise that everything has its price and if you're attaining happiness through a process as easy as putting a bottle to your lips, it won't last. Believe me. I'm not anti-alcohol, by any means; it's helped me through some tough times, but respect it. By that, I mean only reach for the bottle when the shit really hits the fan because, as it stands, you've not got much else to fall back on.
posted by Zé Pequeno at 9:22 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you can get through law school drinking like that, go ahead, knock yourself out (figuratively). but how much is it going to suck if you get a nice job after graduation and then people at work smell alcohol on your breath, and God, somebody always smells it when you drink a lot

it's kind of lame to throw away all that work for the sauce, but it makes you happy, and you self-medicate with it, go ahead and have fun
posted by matteo at 9:31 AM on August 26, 2007

One of the unique things about alcohol as an intoxicant is that it is a relatively simple molecule, unlike most other intoxicants that are very complex molecules and have a lock-and-key effect at specific receptors. Alcohol de-tunes a whole bunch of biological processes that act together to produce the high. The effect of alcohol varies tremendously from person to person. For some it's a woozy feeling and a flushed face. For a lucky few it's an ecstatic high comparable to heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy combined.

People in the latter category have to be really careful.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:31 AM on August 26, 2007

i posted this link a while back in a similar thread. i found that it helped me work through similar issues - down your drink. it's a kind of interactive counselling thing that lets you assess your drinking habits and gives related information. i decided that i was happy with the way i was drinking, but ended up drinking a little less anyway (although i must say that my head hurts a bit at the moment - but it was my partner's 40th birthday party last night... ;o). it is perhaps slightly slanted anti-drink, but i thought it was pretty neutral - it was certainly a lot better than i expected.

i also searched on google for information on safe drinking guidelines. there's a lot of crap out there (it doesn't help that measures seem to vary a lot), but i found a report done for the uk government that seemed very reasonable.

[self link, here are my notes]
posted by andrew cooke at 9:39 AM on August 26, 2007

23-year-old, 5'6" female here. The one thing that I've noticed—and I only realized the connection last night, when a friend pointed out how many calories were in a glass of wine—is that as I've drank increased amounts of wine over the last six months, my stomach has steadily gained a little extra fat. I've only gained about five pounds, but it's all on my stomach and sides. That plus eating out more are doing me in, I think, figure-wise.

The wine seems to help relieve the stress and tension of working 9-5, but really, for me, it's just refocused that stress on my abdominal area...
posted by limeonaire at 9:39 AM on August 26, 2007

This sentence set off various alarm bells for me:

In fact, except for one night when I came home and broke down sobbing, I haven't had any bad experiences from drinking since I've increased my drinking (and I have plenty from my past, in fact I am a little known for it).

To answer your question succinctly...I think you need to worry now.
posted by dontoine at 9:39 AM on August 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

Most likely it is not sustainable over the long run--really depends on your genetics, general health, and brain chemistry. As you may know women are particularly susceptible to the health hazards associated with alcohol consumption--particularly liver problems. The odds are you will not die in your 40's or 50's. But the odds also are that you will die prematurely, exacerbate your anxiety/depression, have associated health problems and more accidents vis a vis the general population. I am quite confident that any rational calculation would be that you are engaging in risky behavior.
The thing I find most concerning in your post is your statement " Please no politically correct AA type advice. I know a lot of people will say things along the lines of well if you think you might have a problem then you do". Factually that statement ( and ones like it) are red flags for person with a drinking problem. I think a reasonable test for problems with alcohol is one that has been suggested. Have two drinks every day--absolutely no more and no less and no stocking up and no excuses. No Exception. If you can not make that commitment or keep that commitment you have to seriously ask who/what is running you life. Remember, it is important to have the two drinks. Not drinking for a day establishes nothing.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2007

Psychologically, you're displaying the telltale characteristics of an alcoholic already.

Anecdotally, I'm tempted to agree. Many people who've had a drinking "problem" at one point or another will inevitably try to reason their way out of an addiction - in your case, "well I'm in law school", or "well there are upsides to drinking, in terms of dealing with my depression and being somewhat more relaxed and popular" or "i've developed a tolerance, it's not like i'm getting plastered like that girl over there..." And then all of a sudden you throw in the "well I only went home and broke down sobbing once", which doesn't even operate as a justification at all.

To that extent, I think that it sounds like you are developing some behavioral precursors that well, maybe one day could force you to "sober up" or start drinking more heavily. You're at an age where quitting is fairly easy from a biological point of view. From a social point of view? Well, depending on who you hang out with, what your stresses in life are - bottom line, you probably have many influences, but it's still your choice to drink or not.

I'm tempted to suggest that you limit the number of times you go out a week, and in case you don't do this already, drink outside your house, not in. And don't look at it from the perspective of opportunities lost... drinking really is a bit more fun if you don't go out every single night.

If there are parts of your personality that you admire that come out as a result of drinking alcohol, I think you should take a night off and really think about what those qualities are, and see if you can separate them and develop them to an even greater extent when you're sober, than when you're drinking. Because the drinking part will inevitably fail you, and what a shame it would be for you to cling on to that habit thinking that is the only way you can become a better person.
posted by phaedon at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2007

"whether this kind of drinking is sustainable in the long term."

It's not, because of the tolerance thing. You are drinking to achieve a specific effect: sedating yourself instead of cultivating healthy coping mechanisms to deal with life's difficulties. The thing is, as you continue to self-medicate, greater and greater doses will be required to achieve this effect.

You say that you were already a heavy drinker, and you are happiest you've been in years now that you drink daily. Are you attuned enough with your personality to recognize withdrawal? Consider that much of your mental issues might be exacerbated by the aftereffects of your heavy drinking, and you are now simply avoiding withdrawal effects. I highly recommend abstaining for a time, and find out what the real you, unaltered is like.

I also recommend you open your mind a little in regards to AA. Your story is pretty much identical to that of every alcoholic I've known. At least their beginning, which starts by being enamoured with their newly discovered ability to "control" reality. Yeah, there is a lot around these movements I don't agree with (which should be predictable, considering these are a bunch of addicts), but, in large part the movement exists for exactly the purpose of answering your question.
posted by Manjusri at 10:06 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

BTW--while the Australian limit may be generous you are already over three times the recommended level and that is not counting additional drinks on weekends, special occasions, just that half a glass, etc. ( My calculation may be wrong as I did not know that a g is .001 of a kilogram (definition makes sense now). As I look through these responses I think most of us tried to responsive to your question and not judge or lecture. As an outsider reading your question--you are by either a wide or narrow definition most likely an alcoholic. That is not a judgment--it is a long distance diagnosis of a medical problem that is treatable.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:12 AM on August 26, 2007

Please no politically correct AA type advice.

I have this weird feeling that very few people actually got this far down in your question.

There's a ton of stuff floating around that indicates the average person gets a net health benefit out of 2-4 drinks a day. Most of this research and publication comes out of Europe, where people are less hung up about reality most of the time.

This same literature does mention that the average woman generally gets peak benefit at a slightly lower level than the average man, but if you're feeling alright with 3, then you're probably alright with 3.

Just remember that alcohol does dehydrate, so keep your non-alcohol liquid intake up the rest of the time, and keep your wits about you – the fact that you're thinking about it is good, and is probably a pretty strong indication that you're not going to overdo it.

I don't know if you were trying to be flippant about the coming home and crying because it wasn't a big deal, or it wasn't really related to the drinking, and my instinct is that is what you were trying to do, and everyone's jumping on it because oh no alcohol is bad.

Wellbutrin and alcohol don't react negatively, which is good for you, and I'm sure you already knew that.

You'll be fine. Keep an eye on yourself, but it's not like having some drinks really is the horrible all-destroying social ill and hideous mental disorder that (it seems to me) American "common sense" suggests.

Everyone in this thread should relax and have a drink.
posted by blacklite at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

The wellbutrin isn't working as well as you might want/like/need. You're self medicating to get to a functioning level.

I'm assuming that you're in therapy, and not getting the drug from a physician- discuss this in therapy; your therapist needs to tweak what s/he's giving you. It may be a higher dosage of wellbutrin. It may be a different drug all together.

You have two immediate side effects that are going to cause you a problem today:
a) What happens when your tolerance precludes driving, but you haven't realized it? You're probably there. You may feel fine driving, but if you get pulled over=drunk driving.
b) What happens when you have something stressful at work? Would you be tempted to have a shot or two before you go to the office.
posted by filmgeek at 10:15 AM on August 26, 2007

Based on your drinking habits Cirrhosis is a candidate at your pace if carried on for a decade or so- or maybe less. It's not a pretty form of liver disease. I'd link a wikipedia link, but a simple Google search of cirrhosis yields a lot better medical results.
posted by jmd82 at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2007

Everyone in this thread should relax and have a drink.

blacklite, save it for metatalk.

Clearly people have differing opinions about how much alcohol is too much. What you seem to be concerned about is what the health effects of regular drinking are. I think people have given you some good feedback

- possible weight gain
- tolerance building up that impairs judgment for other activities (driving, working)
- liver issues with overuse
- possible higher risk of cancers

and there are also the emotional health aspects

- inability to deal with emotional stressors without it
- using it to lessen anxiety/depression often means you're not dealing with whatever is at the root of your anxiety to begin with
- addiction means you wind up more partnered with your addiction than with any partner, child, job, hobby or anything else in your life. It can be messy.

Some people can sort of turn their relationsip with alcohol on and off. So, say you fell in love with someone who was a non-drinker, would your drinking become a take it or leave it aspect in a relationship? Do you get antsy when you can't drink? All of these choices are yours to make and I'll admit as the child of an alcoholic and someone with a difficult relationship with alcohol, I think that raising a child in an alcoholic household is a really terrible thing to do but that's not where you're at. At 25 you have a lot of options open to you and I think one of the things that might be best thought about is whether bcoming a heavy, regular drinker at this point in your life will close off too many of those options.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2007 [9 favorites]

filmgeek: The wellbutrin isn't working as well as you might want/like/need. You're self medicating to get to a functioning level.

Absolutely. If you feel so confident about the viability of your regimen, you should feel confident enough to discuss it with your psychologist.

On a health note: it's common to feel invincible in your early-to-mid-twenties. As a 35-year-old, trust me when I say that it'll catch up to you quickly in a couple years.

Heavy drinking really seems to agree with me and I know alcoholism is a horrible thing, but is it possible I've found a good middle ground that works for me?

I know you don't want to hear it, but this is pretty much a textbook line for beginning alcoholics.
posted by mkultra at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2007

Your question is troubling because you are clearly crediting alcohol with making you happier over the last three months. This shows you are "self-medicating" with alcohol --- using alcohol to cover up problems that were bothering you before you upped your alcohol intake. But any lifetime happiness plan that hinges upon alcohol consumption is doomed to failure, because alcohol in the long run will create new problems in addition to the ones that it was masking; it won't solve the problems it was masking; it will destroy your health since increased tolerance will require greater alcohol consumption; and you will eventually kill yourself.

I think that a healthy use of alcohol would not involve alcohol being an integral part of your happiness; but rather, just one aspect of a well-lived life (like reading, exercise, career satisfaction, a happy family, etc.). You don't view alcohol as just one aspect of a well-lived life, but you are viewing alcohol as a foundation of your happiness, which is dangerous, not to mention pathetic. Your way of medicating yourself is actually a disease. That's a very mixed up way of solving your problems.
posted by jayder at 10:40 AM on August 26, 2007

You are self-medicating anxiety with alcohol. The Wellbutrin is treating your depression, but not your anxiety. They're two different things. You can get the same anti-anxiety effect with a prescription benzodiazepine like Klonopin, but WITHOUT the calories, liver problems, and other issues that go along with alcohol overuse. Buspar is another anti-anxiety alternative. Seriously, see your doctor and talk about getting something for anxiety. You might need to see a doctor that specializes in mood disorders - do it! The throwaway email address you chose - almostanacli - tells me that you already know this level of alcohol use is not good for you.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just began law school and its been repeated several times not to turn to heavy drinking as a means to cope with the stress or strain of the workload. The reasoning is that what you do now will become the habit of a lifetime as you pursue a legal career.

Its better to find a definitely healthier form of relieving stress and relaxing now, than to wait until later in your life, where it will be more difficult to overcome the habit you're beginning now.
posted by Atreides at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2007

What you are doing is very risky and not sustainable for the long term. Depending on heavy drinking to get you though basic, day-to-day life and stress isn't a happy middle-ground, is the path to alcoholism.

They ways in which you are benefiting from your increased alcohol intake, combined with the fact that you didn't simply say "I like the way I feel when I am drunk," leads me to believe that you need a cocktail of a different variety.

Many people don't have just simple depression, they have depression and general anxiety disorder, or depression and OCD, or depression + all sorts of other issues. Some medications are better designed to treat specific depression+ disorders, and often people need a cocktail of medicines to manage their depression.

I would advise you to speak to your doctor (it is my opinion that depression and mental disorders are best treated by psychiatrists, as GPs rarely know the specific nuances of each medicine or the combinations in which they are most effective, so if you are going to a GP, maybe you should try to seek out a psychiatrist) and find out if there are better drugs or combinations of drugs out there that will provide the same benefits you've described experiencing with increased alcohol.

If you can get on a good effective program for managing your depression (and what sounds like some anxiety issues), then explore your alcohol issues and see if the heavy drinking is still necessary to maintain anxiety or work through relationship problems.

If you are unable to stop drinking heavily long enough to let the meds work their magic, then alcohol has become a significant problem and you'll need to address that.

There is no such thing as better living through alcohol(ism).
posted by birdlady at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Because the last poster mentioned Klonopin, I just want to chime in here and say that while it is a VERY effective drug for anxiety, DO NOT mix it with alcohol. You'll lose 12-hour blocks of your life.

I also wanted to say that my guess is that most of your hard-partying buddies will grow out of the heavy drinking in a few years, and they won't want to associate with you if you're still getting smashed every night. 25 is approaching the upper acceptable age limit of this behavior. Most people will look askance at you if you're still doing this at 30.
posted by desjardins at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know this doesn't answer your question, but I just want to follow up on the wellbutrin + alcohol comment someone made earlier. In addition to the low, low possibility of seizure, Wellbutrin is hard on your liver. Alcohol is also hard on your liver. Wellbutrin + alcohol are really hard on your liver. If you haven't had a physical with blood drawn this year, I'd recommend getting that done and having your liver enzymes checked. I mention this only b/c the combination were quite hard on my liver to the point of affecting blood test results. And I don't drink nearly as much as you do.
posted by echo0720 at 11:15 AM on August 26, 2007

Wellbutrin and alcohol don't react negatively

posted by C17H19NO3 at 11:22 AM on August 26, 2007

I'm unclear about what aside from anecdotal evidence to the contrary you're seeking by framing your question as you have. You're obviously a grown woman and an intelligent one, as well. You're in law school so presumably you know how to conduct research. You're capable of looking up the facts about protracted alcohol intake and its effects on your liver, your heart and your brain over time. You can read all the websites about recovery from alcohol addiction, the physical and emotional and practical toll it exacts on a person and those whom they care about and who care about them. You're smart - look it up. You don't need me or anyone else to tell you the facts that are readily available to you and us. But, in the spirit of charity, here's a good jumping off point from the National Institutes of Health.

Please honor your own intelligence, I say. You're too smart not to understand that every person who's ended up in recovery would love to be what you say you are - someone who really and truly has figured out how to stave off the most insidious and harmful long-term physical, mental and practical side effects of long-term alcohol use while using it to soothe anxieties and enjoy it's lubricating effects in a social setting. That's how I read the premise of your question - "I know everybody says this sort of behavior is addictive, but I'm different. Right?" I ask you to read your question again carefully and note how you've inexorably linked "happiness" with "alcohol" - that right there says alot. In my experience, people who are truly happy and content with their lives and themselves don't attribute it to consuming alcohol every night.

You're poised to figure this out for yourself because you've come here and asked this question. You sound as if you're scared because you LOVE drinking, not because it makes you feel like crap. Well, addicts aren't addicts because they hate the effects of their drug of choice; they're addicts because they love how their drug of choice temporarily makes them feel, but hate what it does to every other aspect of their lives. You're stumbling on that reality. Talk to your doctor about alcohol consumption in conjunction with Wellbutrin use. If you're courageous enough to do that, you might be courageous enough to listen to your doctor tell you the facts about potential liver damage. You might then be brave enough to ask for a referral to a qualified counselor who might be able to help you develop a healthy relationship with yourself and, by extension, a healthier view of alcohol as an occasional indulgence rather than a necessary salve to whatever is really causing you to sob uncontrollably on occasion.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:36 AM on August 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

From what I've been able to peice together, it sounds like you are a lot like my father was at your age. Same issues, same coping mechanisms, same belief that there was something exceptional about your circumstance.

I'd be more certain, but he was jaundiced and dead by the time I was old enough to try to understand him as an adult. It was truly awful for everyone who saw the progression. I'm sure you are special though, right?

Just like all the rest.
posted by Good Brain at 11:44 AM on August 26, 2007

anonymous, I would say that you should keep on enjoying yourself by having your 3 drinks/day. However, to make sure that you are not getting an addiction, build in a few days occasionally where you don't have any drinks. That way you'll feel confident about not having an alcohol dependency problem. So after drinking as usually do for a week and a half, take a break for 3 days or 4.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2007

Man, all sorts of moralizing and bullshit in this thread.

First off, yes, "every" alcoholic says things like "I like the way I feel when I drink." But to go from that to you being an alcoholic is a fallacious syllogism, the equivalent to the famous "Socrates was a cat." (All cats are mortal; Socrates was mortal— Socrates was a cat).

The problem with alcoholism is that there's no way to know if you've got an ongoing problem with alcohol until you have ongoing problems with alcohol. There are things that increase your risk of having ongoing problems, but not everyone who smokes dies of smoking-related illnesses, and the correlation with alcohol is much lower.

Alcohol is fun and tasty, and two to three drinks a day is relatively safe. If you experience blackouts, if you start feeling like your depression is getting worse, if you start feeling like you "need" an alcoholic drink whenever you're thirsty, give yourself a time-out. If you can't manage the time-out on your own, seek help from an agency like AA.

But keep a couple things in mind— first, the problem isn't with alcohol, it's with how some people react with alcohol, and that there is such a thing as a functional alcoholic. Alcoholism is in degrees, not in absolutes, and it's up to everyone to decide when their hobby becomes a habit, and when that habit becomes something that they don't want to deal with. You might try talking to people in school with you who have given up drinking, both because they can be good folks for realigning social priorities and because they can give you some perspective.

However, if you take your primary advice from a bunch of strangers on the internet, keep in mind that a) we don't know you, and b) alcoholism is a BIG DEAL in a lot of people's lives and causes a lot of personal and collateral damage, so you're going to get a lot of reactions based on someone's high school friend drowning in their own vomit or a mother who never loved them or other catastrophes, which don't necessarily map to your experience.

As it sounds, being aware of the potential for a problem might be enough for you, though (were I you), I'd talk to my doctor about more effective anxiety medicine.
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm a 25 year old...starting school again

If you plan on sobering up when being a lush is far from cute -- in 30s, have job, etc -- don't worry about the long-term health effects. IANAD, just somebody who drank here and there throughout their 20s and knew an awful lot of people who also did. Nobody's the damaged alky some of these answers would suggest is the only end to youthful boozing.

Re. "25 is approaching the upper acceptable age limit of this behavior. Most people will look askance at you if you're still doing this at 30" -- that's about right, though the upper limit is extended when you stay in or return to school.

2nd BitterOldPunk, too.
posted by kmennie at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2007

One thing to think about, as well, is that the stress level of law school is often far less than the stress of law practice. A lot of people, after having thought law school was bad, realize when they start law practice, "Wow, if I had only known how easy we had it in law school..." I know a lot of lawyers, and I can't think of a single one (with whom I have discussed it) who thinks law school was as stressful as law practice.

So if you're needing alcohol to get through the stress law school, your dependency on alcohol may deepen when you become a lawyer.
posted by jayder at 12:55 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is this kind of drinking sustainable in the long term? It is to the extent that you could keep this up for a long time. Years or decades, perhaps; long past the point where you will become completely dependent on alcohol for your happiness. That point is alcoholism. Once you've passed it, true and unadulterated happiness will become much, much, much harder to find. If, as you say, you find happiness, the company of friends, and low stress desirable, then you should change your habits now while its relatively easy to do so.

Ideally, you would quit alcohol altogether. There is nothing, nothing that alcohol can give that you cannot find elsewhere in a safer form, whether in exercise or meditation or fine food or passionate sex. But finding the same satisfaction in those activities that drinking is already bringing you will take some time and effort; it would probably best to deny yourself alcohol within that time so that you can avoid falling back on it as an easier and more direct alternative.

Of course, you're 25. All your friends are drinking. All your social activities revolve around drinking. It may be, if not literally impossible to avoid it, at least socially impossible to do so. So drink, if you really and truly desire - but please keep things in perspective and in moderation. And try to observe a few ground rules: Don't drink before noon. Don't drink while alone. And don't drink when unhappy.

The principle behind those rules is that alcohol is best used to inject a little extra pleasure into social events. That should be its only use. Remember that it's not an all-powerful panacea. And it's definitely not your only chance at happiness and self-fulfillment! If you don't drink as if that were the case, you should be fine.
posted by Iridic at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2007

Not only has the 3-5 drink a day habit that I started in graduate school caused me to pack on 25 lbs in the last two years, but I am finding the prospect of cutting back my drinking to be a little harder than I anticipated.

A cautionary tale, for what it is worth.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:27 PM on August 26, 2007

As a long time non politically correct member of AA, I would say that the single defining characteristic of alcohol addiction (alcoholism) is an inability to stop when you want to or need to.

If you want to see if you are over that line, try to go without drinking for a month and see how it goes.
posted by Xurando at 3:20 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you're worried about gaining weight from drinking, switch to vodka. Finlandia is good stuff.

Anonymous - have you considered replacing alcohol with marijuana? Personally, I drink much less when there's marijuana around.
posted by porpoise at 4:55 PM on August 26, 2007

Wellbutrin is a complicating factor that you need to research or talk to a doctor or several doctors about. The other slightly worrying factor is how happy this makes you, combined with your history of depression. However, aside from this there is nothing wrong with 3 drinks a night. Lots of people who work and have stress drink something every night. You can call it a dependency if you want, but it can be a useful response to real stress and can help you live a little despite the daily grind. I used to worry about the same thing, since there is alcoholism in my family and in my early 20s I drank a lot. Nowadays I drink something almost every day in the evening to settle down without getting drunk -- and occasionally on the week-end I do get drunk -- and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If 2 drinks a day is healthy, then 3 drinks is just a little too much for your body-weight; so you have a slightly unhealthy habit, that's it. But you like it and it helps you psychologically. Just make sure you don't keep escalating.
posted by creasy boy at 4:55 PM on August 26, 2007

Well, I would certainly worry on the effects on your body.

However, another important thing to consider is this: if you have the crutch alcohol provides in your life, will you be motivated enough--or even able--to confront the problems that alcohol (temporarily) fixes? In other words, alcohol may soothe your anxieties, but good, long-term therapy might actually cure your anxiety. However, with the alcohol "quick-fix" there, where is the motivation to work on this going to come from?
posted by mintchip at 5:14 PM on August 26, 2007

I want to throw in my agreement with the practical advice to go for a time without it, then with if you like, and so on, but while you're not drinking find some other activity you can put your time towards that can lead to long-term satisfaction, like reading for enjoyment rather than school, learning to play a musical instrument, doing something artistic. A combination of short-term stimulation (drinking and socializing being a perfectly normal, within reason, example) and longer-term delayed gratification through learning and growing is really the best prescription for a happy life.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:38 PM on August 26, 2007

I worry about the long term health effects...

Very sensible of you, since you are unambiguously exceeding a safe level of consumption. If you don't believe me ask your doctor. What's that, you don't want to talk about your drinking with your doctor? What a surprise.

...and whether I will one day rapidly accelerate my drinking.

Probably, when you run into some significant stress or setback in your life. it possible I've found a good middle ground that works for me?

Yeah, right. You don't sound like you're likely to take any sensible advice in the middle of your booze honeymoon. That's okay, it probably won't last long. Plenty of good advice around here after that.
posted by nanojath at 7:30 PM on August 26, 2007

I would like to repeat those who said that it will only get more stressful after law school. I say this so you aren't thinking in the back of your mind that a couple months of hard drinking is bad. It probably isn't bad long-term, but that's a rarity.

I know plenty of lawyers, old lawyers, who have managed to stay functional alcoholics. They rarely got drunk, but they would always have a beer in their hand. I would wager to guess that most had 3-4 a day, spread over as many hours. I doubt it is the healthiest way to live, but it should prove to you that 3-4 a day does not necessarily lead to increased usage or other problems.

Just keep in mind the more you use it to lift you problems the harder it will be to quit if and when you decide to.

It would probably be better to see a doctor about medicating yourself with something with less side effects.

You won't be the first or the last lawyer to do this. I think from the responses in this thread you should realize that if you continue to do it there are better ways to deal with your stress (and I mean with medication, not finding a hobby) from a physical standpoint and that there is a large social stigma against this in the US. I've been to too many "two beer lunches" with Europeans to believe that it is a social stigma there. My best advice is to take away the morality and the stigma and ask yourself if the health consequences are worth whatever you're gaining. Treat it like any other drug.

Anecdotally, I must say that society looks down upon women drinking much more than men. People will perceive a man who drinks that as a man's man. He's the guy with great beer in the fridge for the football game. The guy after a tough disposition everyone rallies around to go out the bar. The kind of guy that makes a great partner. A woman is seen as power hungry and unable to handle the stress. Sexual promiscuity comes hand in hand with stress and drinking, which as we all know favors men over women.

This is not an issue now, but it is one of those unfair things you must consider when make the decision whether this is the best way to proceed.
posted by geoff. at 12:21 AM on August 27, 2007

I think klangklangston ought to look up the word "moralizing". I don't see anyone in this thread saying that anonymous might have a problem because alcohol is evil. I don't see morality entering into it at all.

In general, I think that the American knee-jerk mistrust of all mood-altering drugs and the related idea that all life/personality problems can only be dealt with by actively becoming "well-adjusted" is simpleminded. The whole spectrum of drugs from alcohol to heroin to welbutrin all can be healthy tools in one's toolkit for being happy in life. That's more than a bit heretical these days, but I think it's true.

The thing is, though, that my experience/observation and theoretical reflections on the matter all seem to indicate that what I wrote above is true only when it's just one of many tools in the toolkit and the drug use is moderate. If it's the only tool in the kit and the drug use is heavy, then the happiness one is feeling is very brittle, it falls apart easily and is very hard to maintain. And when it falls apart, you've only got one coping mechanism to rely upon and you just futilely increase your drug use.

My experience is that I've been romantically involved with someone and friends with others who I've (casually) counseled not to be too worried about abusing alcohol or drugs who've gone on to later discover (and demonstrate to me) that they were abusing drugs and alcohol and it was making problems for them. I don't have an addictive personality and have never had any problems with avoiding a drug or alcohol addition—when I've realized my over-consumption was a problem, I've promptly stopped it and never started back up—and so I think I tend to underestimate just how attractive and hard-to-resist drug and alcohol self-medication really can be for other people. As a result of these experiences, these days I'm much less inclined to be blase about it and to counsel you to not worry about this being a problem.

Because, frankly, like others here, your sentence about coming home and sobbing really does seem to me to be a warning sign. It's not that all of us don't have normal sadness or that it's not likely that being uninhibited from being intoxicated doesn't make it more likely the the normal sadness would come out now and then. But all the things you've described indicate that you in general have some deep sadness you have trouble dealing with and that you now, in law school, have big anxiety and other problems, all of which you are attempting to eradicate with your high alcohol consumption. But—you've got to know this—you're not really making these things go away. You're avoiding them. You're distracting yourself with the good feelings that alcohol is, right now, facilitating. That's not really changing anything, though.

And it's a cliche, but I think it's true that this avoidance of all these unpleasant feelings is only making them sort of pile-up inside you. I'd be willing to bet money that there will be more and more "unexplained" sessions of late-night sobbing in your future.

Taken all together, it just doesn't seem to me that you sound like a good candidate for someone who can drink heavily and self-medicate with alcohol in any healthy, sustainable fashion. Rather, it sounds like you're a prime candidate for a serious alcohol problem that very well may destroy your entire life, both physically and emotionally. It's not about morality, it's just pragmatism. Is this working for you? It may seem so right now, but there's lots of indications that it's actually creating big, long-term problems for you.

You need to stop drinking to excess. That is, you need to stop getting drunk or even buzzed. If you can feel anything beyond a very slight mood change, then it's far too much alcohol you're drinking, especially if it's almost on a nightly basis. You're asking specifically about health consequences—well, these are health consequences. Your emotional health doesn't actually sound that good, even though you've felt happy. Your bad emotional health will also take a big toll on the rest of your body. Take the advice people are offering you here: stop drinking so much. It's the best advice anyone may ever give you.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:34 AM on August 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

2-3, heck, even 3-4 drinks a day probably isn't *that* bad for you. You may die of cancer a little sooner, but, well, hell - its probably worse to eat at McDonald's every day than it is to drink that much. We're all going to die sooner or later, and as I like to tell my mother, "I drive way to fast to care about cholesterol." (Substitute XYZ for cholesterol, unfortunately this one doesn't work so well with booze).

I think, by the nature of your question and disclaimer on politically correct AA advice etc., you are avoiding a key problem here, however.

It was the drinking 2-3 a night that led you to 3-4, and if you are honest with yourself, you can probably figure out where 3-4 is going to lead you. Its at *that* point, maybe 2 years, maybe 10, what have you, that you will have much more serious problems, and will be much less likely to ask a question like this.

Instead, you'll be asking one like this one.

posted by allkindsoftime at 6:18 AM on August 27, 2007

If you found a satisfactory remedy for anxiety and depression you would likely no longer feel the need to drink. At least that's what the evidence shows. Most addictions are like that. I suppose at the risk of "moralizing" I'd say the predictive cost/benefit analysis over the next 5-20 years would favor devoting your time and resources to fixing the former. Then again, maybe you're the first anxious/depressed person able to pull off a steady diet of ethanol and high stress without killing yourself and possibly others in the process. I'd also add that Wellbutrin often intensifies anxiety - was your doctor aware of the intense anxiety component to your depression as well as your drinking when he/she prescribed it?
posted by docpops at 2:22 PM on August 27, 2007

Very important! You say you have 2-3 drinks. Do you really?

"One drink" = a certain number of fluid ounces, see here.

There are 8 fluid ounces in a cup. Let's say your drink of choice is wine, at 5 fluid ounces per drink. 3 drinks X 5 oz = 15 oz. That's about 2 cups. So, pour some wine into a 2-cup measure in the kitchen, dole it out into 3 glasses and look at it. That's your entire alcohol consumption for the night. Does the amount look pathetically small? If so, you've caught yourself in the classic alcoholic lie. Remember, alcoholics are famous for their ability to lie to themselves. If you've been fooling yourself about the quantity you are consuming, that's a bad sign. Definitely try the experiment!
posted by selfmedicating at 6:24 PM on August 28, 2007

Oh god, you need to be careful. You sound like a budding textbook alcoholic. I was the same way, and you're going down the progressive spiral into a dangerous addiction. That's just from what I read.

This is just a thought: if you need something to make you feel happier, what else could be going on? If your brain chemistry needs a spike, fine, but the thing about alcohol will be that eventually it will diminish enough of your seritonin and melatonin that you won't be able to sleep, and should be subject to random mood swings, or a bad general mood. Especially since you're using it on such a regular basis. I hate to say it, and yep you knew this already, but you can't safely mix Wellbutrin and booze either. I'm sure your psychiatrist would flip if he knew about your habits. I'd be apt to agree with their reaction, since I've done the mixture myself in the distant past.
But if it works for you, more power to ya. I think nobody has a right to impose on others when they have a system that works for them. You'll eventually discover your own truth...till then, I recommend being careful and keeping your ear to the groud with yourself.
posted by gmodelo at 4:54 PM on October 11, 2007

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