Our Take

The Drinking Problem You Have But Apparently Don’t Know About

Dylan Jesse
Written by Dylan Jesse

Tonight I’m feeling a bit punchy and more than a little angered about some recent(ish) news that has come out from from US News’ Health section about how you might have a drinking problem without realizing it. As in “You’re doing just fine and your life is in order, but maybe you have a horrible, horrible problem! Read this article and be very afraid!” News sites without our credibility often resort to this kind of scare tactic, so normally I would let this kind of thing slide, but they are a fairly respectable source and that means that they must be challenged.

If we just accept anything that comes from an established news source, then we are open to some seriously misguided and flat-out-bullshit reporting that relies on the inherent paranoia that the–gasp! the media themselves!–have inculcated in us to keep us reading and keep us buying into their nonsense. However, sites like the Brutal Hammer (and quality rags like MDM–seriously, just subscribe, already) exist to stem the tide of nonsense and stand up for your right to get falling down drunk. Because in the end, this isn’t about drinking–this is about being free and emancipated adults standing up to pundits who think that they can tell us how we ought to live and when we ought to be afraid. Little do they know, we fear nothing after a few straight whiskeys, and we are the self-appointed guardians of personal liberty. Hell, I once shouted down a damn black bear thanks to a flask of Black Velvet (and some OG rap lyrics that seemed like the thing to say as some final words), so they can’t hope to phase me. Unless they are actually just a shady group of bears in people suits using computers. That’s much more frightening. Let’s hope it’s not that.

On this particular matter, US News makes far too many trespasses, and so they have invoked my ire. Too often do we cower before the articles from prestigious organizations that take a neo-prohibitionist stance backed by shoddy science and false claims of righteousness, and that kind of liberty-infringing-journalism will not stand. At least not as long as we’re here to poke holes in it and take the moral high ground.

Let’s get into their article (linked above), shall we?

Suspect Claim the First:

Ask your friends if they think you have a drinking problem, and they’ll most likely say no – even if you did have a few too many at the last party.

The use of “too many” on one occasion is loaded with assumptions, as in “if you got drunk that one time at a party (of all places), then you have a problem!”

Why That’s Full of It:

Let’s agree that alcoholism is a thing. It’s a very specific kind of thing that entails a specific array of clinically recognizable symptoms, like physiological addiction: the kind of state where your body absolutely needs alcohol to function without going through horrific withdrawal symptoms. So let’s take that as a starting point.

Would you rely on your friends to diagnose you with any other kind of medical condition if you asked them? Try this at your next gathering:

You: “Hey, friends of mine! You all look great today! What a wonderful world we live in, isn’t it?”

Them: (Confused looks. Someone reaches for pepper spray.)

You: “Well I’m doing just fine. I have a job, a place to live, and I feel like things are going just…just swell. But, and I need you to answer this for me…”

Them: (Casually looking for the nearest exit, scanning for any available help from trust-worthy-looking strangers.)

You: “…do you think I have lupus? I don’t feel like I have lupus, but maybe I do, and I need you to diagnose me. Right now.

How long do you think it will take before you no longer have friends?

If your getting drunk at a party is a “problem,” then what is it a problem of, exactly? Could it be that the party was about as fun as an unexpected and non-consentual genital piercing? Or that everyone there was an insufferable dullard who couldn’t keep up with even the most basic of conversations without diving for their smartphone to look at pictures of other people’s food? We know that sometimes an evening can only be salvaged by going full Jacques Cousteau on a bottle of Ouzo before the host goes into more details about how they “don’t really need to have a baby because my cat is already my little snookiekins!”

Suspect Claim the Second:

But deep down, you suspect you might be drinking too much – even if your relationship with alcohol seems, on the surface, “normal.” And you know what? You might be right.

Why They’re Full of It:

Or you could be wrong, because it’s natural to worry about some things, and that means that you’re the thinking sort. That also means that you should be able to make the determination about whether you’re “drinking too much” for yourself.

Deep down, I suspect that I might have been a Viking at some point. That doesn’t mean that reincarnation is true, or that I actually did, at some point, stand bare-chested on a Nordic coast whilst enjoying the lamentations of my enemy’s women after a particularly vigorous raid. My relationship with Viking reincarnation possibilities seems, on the surface, “normal.” And you know what? It still fucking is.

Suspect Claim the Third:

Now, [Dr. Joseph Nowinski] says, he evaluates individuals’ relationship with alcohol on a sliding scale – low risk to mild; moderate to severe. “People sort of move along the spectrum,” Nowinski adds. “There’s no sharp dividing line.” For example, someone can be a low-risk drinker, yet gradually find that as time goes on, he or she has begun to veer into heavy-drinking territory.

Why They’re Full of It:

Sliding scales are a good thing. They treat people like people and not cut-and-paste examples in a medical textbook. As for moving along the spectrum, that’s called training. Odds are that you have one friend who is like super into power lifting, bro. Ask that hulking man-ape about what would happen if a scrawny new guy showed up at the gym and tried to start dead-lifting 300 lbs right away. Your friend will grunt a bit before remembering how to talk, and then he’ll tell you “That’s a problem, bro.” Sometimes you have to start small and work your way up. It’s the same with drinking as it is with exercise, careers, and tantric sex. Going for “expert level” on any of it right away is where the problem (and eventual groin sprain–in all of these examples, actually) lies.

Suspect Claim the Fourth:

It could be falling or injuring yourself because of intoxication. It could be dangerous driving. It could be that you’re late for morning meetings because of a hangover, spending less time with family members or getting into fights with friends during booze-filled events. […] Anything that’s affecting your health, your relationships or your goals is fair game.

Why They’re Full of It:

Missing work? Get your shit together and get to work. Odds are you’re replaceable anyways (as we pretty much all are), so your job can’t be that hard. If you can’t rally enough to make it to work, then you’re just not playing the game right. And what makes morning meetings so damn precious? Anyone who has had an office job can back me up on this one: they’re mostly useless. When was the last time that everything that was said or planned in a morning meeting either actually got done or was of any use to you or your job?

Spending less time with family members? Well how much time should you be spending with them? What if they’re all terrible racists? What if that time with them is deeply unsatisfying and you’d rather be doing literally anything else? Seems like we all need to answer that one for ourselves.

Getting into fights with friends? What if you’re just a dick? That’s not a problem with the drinking, that’s a problem with you being a dick. You can stop drinking, sure, but you’ll still just be a dick underneath it all. Don’t blame the booze. Work on the real issue. And hey! Once you fix that niggling little bit of dickishness, you can celebrate with a drink!

Suspect Claim the Fifth:

You start getting cranky or anxious without a drink, and pour one to improve your mood. You feel lonely or stressed and drink to feel better. “This is when you know you’re starting to get into deep trouble,” [Dr. George Koob] says.

Why They’re Full of It:

If you only drink because you’re lonely or stressed, you’re missing the point. Drinking is wonderful. It’s like if you only went to a museum when you were lonely or stressed. Or if that was the only reason you went to a gym or volunteered at a nursing home or got into amateur rodeo. No one would call those other activities a “problem” just because of the motivation–and yet drinking seems to always get singled out for it. And yes, exercise addiction is a thing. Funny how the idea of a sliding scale comes back into the conversation.

If you only drink because you’re stressed, then isn’t the stress the problem? Why not focus on that first. And hey! Once that’s taken care of you can celebrate with a drink! Huzzah!

Suspect Claim the Sixth:

As for a more day-to-day strategy, habit substitution can go a long way, Doyle and Nowinski advise. For example, try local foods – cheeses, produce and other farm-to-table offerings – while traveling instead of sampling the local craft brewery. Invite your friends over to play basketball with your son instead of drinking beer in front of the football game. Try substituting a “nightcap” with an evening walk

Why They’re Full of It:

So you’ve been fear-mongered into drinking less, but how to do it? Don’t ask me. But don’t listen to them either. If you think local cheeses are a good idea, consider the fact that cheese may very well increase the risk of breast cancer. And if you think the booze is a problem for your weight, BAMthink about the cheese, you gullible bastard. Maybe local, organic vegetables are more your speed. Well, you’ll want a stiff drink when you realize that it makes you about 8 times more likely to get some nasty E. Coli bacteria all up in you. As a scientific aside: bacteria can’t survive in alcohol. So, there’s that.

Maybe you have a friend that will play some sober basketball with your kid. Your kid is probably terrible at it, and no one will have any fun that afternoon. Not even your kid. Not deep down in that intuitive place where kids just know when you’re trying to appease them while secretly wishing you had actually run off to Cabo to be a bartender in your twenties instead of majoring in accounting and settling for a spouse who had no real charm or passion but who had a good credit score and only the most modest of personal aspirations. That’s what life is. And your kid knows it. He can smell that repressed resentment on you. But hey! A good way to mask that scent is with a good drink.

Goddamn are we good at this whole problem-solving thing.

Finally, the “evening walk” suggestion. One of the biggest risk groups you can put yourself into is “nighttime pedestrian.” There are law firms that specialize in these kinds of claims. There are forums about how this kind of shit can get you killed. Even the CDC keeps statistics on how many pedestrians are injured or killed by motorists. US News is honestly suggesting some options that are terrible for your health, boring as shit, and potentially lethal just because you might have a problem that you don’t think you have.

Taking that into consideration, doesn’t a drink sound just safe and lovely?

About the author

Dylan Jesse

Dylan Jesse

Dylan is a freelance writer and general itinerant who now lives in what may very well be a some kind of hippie commune, but which has an official beer sponsor (thanks, Montucky Cold Snacks!). He has many thoughts on what you can do with your flavored vodkas, and none of them include drinking. He occasionally accosts ducks in public places, so please do not be alarmed if you see him doing this. They know what they did.

They know.

If you know of any breaking news or troubling rumors that should be brought to the unfocused attention of the drinking masses, write him a letter and include a SASE to [email protected]

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