Wednesday 20 January 2010

How Much Do You Drink?: Learning to Get Drunk, Temperance and Neo-Prohibition

How much do you drink? And, how often do you drink? These are questions I get asked a lot (usually by my mum). In light of the Neo-Prohibition series by Pete Brown (I’ve learnt a lot reading these in the last week) I wondered how much everyone actually drinks, when they drink and the way they drink.

My drinking habits are fairly routine. Friday and Saturday I’m on it and these are my dedicated beer days. Sunday is sometimes a few pints or bottles, sometimes dry. Monday to Wednesday I try to keep beer out and usually manage it. Thursday can go either way.

I try to have dry days as a way of balance; it’d probably be more sensible to spread the week’s worth of drinking out over the full week, but I feel more righteous not imbibing for a couple of days. On the drinking days, it’s usually a few pints or a few bottles if I’m at home. Sometimes it’s a lot more, but that’s quite rare – who actually enjoys the feeling of having too many? Not me.

I don’t think my drinking habits are unusual. I also don’t think they are unsafe because I know what I’m doing and I know my physical limits. When I was at university things were different. Every Friday night, without fail, we played monstrous drinking games. It was usually a crazy version of higher or lower where we ended up drinking ridiculous amounts of the cheapest gin and vodka. It was an organised, focussed attempt to get as drunk as possible. Then we went out and drank more in the student union. And we drank cheap rubbish - alcopops, spirits and mixers. That’s proper binge drinking. I’ve said it before, but it’s a mentality thing: drinking six shots of vodka to get drunk is different from drinking a bottle of wine at home to relax; one is a means to an end, the other is social and relaxing.

And we are, like most others, a nation of social drinkers. Social drinkers aren’t the problem here. It’s the ones who are anti-social with their drinking. Cheap deals on supermarket lager and three-for-one on shots mean that getting alcohol (getting drunk) is easy and very affordable but it’s no cheaper than a box of KFC and that’s equally ‘damaging’. As for anti-social drinking... that happens when your drinking directly affects someone else, physically or mentally (alcoholism, aggressive ‘social’ drinking).

Technically, whenever I choose to drink I binge, yet the thought never crosses my mind that I might be doing wrong. I think the unit scale is only relevant if people are driving, and even then it’s not an exact science. You see, I personally don’t care whether I consume 2 units or 20 units. It’s like worrying about 100 calories or 1000 calories. It’s not about the ‘label’ of units, it’s about the thought process behind the consumption and the mentality of it (plus, have you ever heard someone sitting in the pub saying, ‘no more for me, I’ve reached my four units for the day’?).

What do the government want to do? Is a temperance movement gaining pace? Will a pint soon cost £7? The trouble is, it’s not about the product but it’s how it’s used: use a car sensibly and everything is ok, use it stupidly and people get hurt. Before we can drive we have to take lessons and tests to prove that we are capable of driving. Drinking should be an education too, learning respect, how to act responsibly and the serious consequences (because, there’s no ignoring it, the consequences are serious). Scare-mongering is telling a one-sided point of view; education is about forming balanced opinions. Mark at Real Ale Reviews talks about the PR spin on things and that’s what it is: a quick cosmetic procedure that looks effective to a lot of people in a short amount of time. But it’s cosmetic and doesn’t fix the real, underlying problems.

Neo-prohibition is an easy and quick tick in a big government box; educating the nation is a difficult tick. Some people are terrible and unsafe drivers; some people are unsafe drinkers. Some people does not mean all people.

So out of interest, how much do you drink and when do you drink? Do you think you are unsafe and do you try and balance things out with good diet and exercise? Everything in moderation, so they say.

I found the picture by googling ‘drunk’. Most of the others, oddly, were of Paris Hilton.


  1. I drink every day. If I'm in town, a pint with lunch, two if I'm having lunch with a friend. If I'm having lunch at home, usually I don't drink, but, with dinner we always share a bottle wife. Often, when I'm cooking I drink a bottle (I share some of it with the missus).

    Weekends, I don't go out. Small baby, you know. But I do drink a beer or two during the day.

    Sometimes, in town, when I get thirsty, or have a bit of time to kill, I stop of a pint somewhere. It's more effective than water and I can enjoy it longer (and it can also be cheaper) than a cup of coffee.

    But I don't have that as a rule. When I'm at Zlý Časy and haven't got any appointments in the afternoon, I sometimes extend my lunch a couple more pints if there's someone interesting to talk to, or the owner is in the sharing mood. There are times that I get a bit pissed (yeah in the afternoon), but It's never an end, it's a bit of a side effect of having a good, relaxed time.

    Interesting is that I can't remember ever having got drunk when being stressed. Yes, I usually have A glass of something when stressed, it helps me wind down and get "fresh air". But I don't feel the need of having another one. And when I'm upset, I simply don't feel like drinking, I have educated myself not to drink when I'm going through bad times. I want alcohol to be a pleasure not a false emergency exit door.

    As for dieting, don't do it. My only exercise is walking a lot and drinking a lot of other liquids.

  2. My routine is fairly similar to yours, I drink most on a Friday and Saturday night, the amount varies depending if I'm going out or staying in or the mood I'm in. I'd think I'll usually have the equivalent of 5 pints of session beer on both these days weekly. Sunday can go either way but usually a couple of pints before Sunday lunch and maybe a bottle or two in the evening. I never drink Mondays. Tuesdays I ride my bike in the evening and this always starts from a pub meaning we can have a pint on our return, but I always feel like I've earned it after the excercise. Never drink on Wednesdays. Thursdays I sometimes have a few bottles or if I've got something important to do on Friday I don't. I agree that self imposed abstinence does make you feel righteous and definitely makes me appreciate the nights when I do drink more. I would like to drink a bit less if I'm honest but I'm hoping this will come with age. On a new temperance movement: Can't see any legs in that, the last one was so tied up in the methodist movement and religious ferver, and that would never be repeated now. The government is just trying to find new ways to tax us and it knows there's a lot of potential in taxing alcohol because people in this country's love of alcohol is such that they'll begrudgingly pay pretty much what ever they're asked to pay for it.

  3. I'm technically a binge drinker. I'm out once a week, and will usually have a few hours at The Rake on whatever takes my fancy, and I don't count units. Yesterday I had 3 pints around 4.7%, whereas last week I went further for longer.

    I'll also dip into the 'cellar' chez Boggle occasionally, but I tend to prefer drinking in company. Beer is a social drink, after all. I don't touch wine or spirits.

  4. An interesting post. I'd never consider myself a dangerous drinker, or an unhealthy drinker. Infact, I use that NHS drinks tracker thing on my iPhone and I'm JUST about the recommend limit. Although the Twissup on Saturday will probably send it rocketing.

    The problem is that drinking is a very subjective thing. Everyone has different limits, reacts to drink differently and drinks for different reasons.

    There's no easy answer to the drinking problems in the UK (we do have problems here, they're just not as bad as the HSC would have us think), but I think the more its debated and talked about openly, the great degree of understanding we may have.

    God, I sound like a hippy.

  5. Much as I like the taste of beer I also like getting pissed. Come on, admit it, it is one of the great joys of beer.

    So definitely a session on Friday and Saturday and I may well have a few beers of an evening in the week. Not generally every day though.

  6. I personally think the Government is trying to correct a social order problem by health scaremongering - trying to frighten people into behaving properly. But that's just my opinion.

  7. As much as the squeeze lets me. When she tells me to stop being a pisshead I give it a rest. Otherwise as much as I can.

  8. I have a beer with my dinner every day. Once in a while I'll be in the mood to have a few more and I think "why not?", but then the thirst wears off towards the end of the second glass. Makes me feel depressingly old and sensible. It'll be pipe and slippers soon.

    Weekends don't tend to be any different, unless I have something special on. If I go out for a meal with the wife we split a bottle of wine and I tend to round the night off with a beer at home. A night out with friends could be four pints or more, depending on who I'm with and how the night progresses.

    One Thursday a month we have a tasting session where a bunch of us bring our own creations to The Bull and Castle and share them out, giving feedback, etc. Once the sampling is over I'll get a few pints from the bar and once or twice it has been enough to make for a very long day in work on Friday.

    According to the Irish government guidelines (strikingly similar to the UK ones), the meal with my wife and the night out with 4 pints is a binge. I don't think they are and I don't think telling people they are is helpful.

    It think telling people that drinking to get drunk is binge drinking would be more useful than trying to scare them off drinking more than two pints in a sitting. If you tell people that a few quite pints is the same as a night of shots and puking they are just going to ignore you and then the message just doesn't get across at all.

  9. Creature of habit me. When I’m at home, which is most evenings, I normally have one 330ml bottle of beer plus a 500ml bottle, hopefully of something interesting and enjoyable.
    If I'm out, say on a CAMRA social, I would drink a maximum of 4 pints of an evening, sometimes less. The only times I exceed these guidelines is when I'm on an all day outing. Even then I try to pace myself - not particularly for health reasons, but because I don't like not being in control and I certainly don't enjoy feeling rough the following day.
    I was quite surprised at the amount I drank on my recent trip to Prague; a couple of pints lunchtime (with food), a couple late afternoon/early evening, plus a couple later on with my evening meal - 6 pints a day, yet I didn't feel pissed and I was as right as rain the next day! I’m certain it would have had more of an effect on me If I’d have drank this amount back home.

  10. Some big drinkers out there! But all of it is still sensible and restrained.

    PF, "I have educated myself not to drink when I'm going through bad times. I want alcohol to be a pleasure not a false emergency exit door" - I like this thinking.

    Ed, if we didn't get a bit drunk from beer I don't think we'd drink it, it's the getting hammered and feeling like hell that I don't like!

    Mr Lager, get out from under your squeeze's thumb and grow some!

    Sean, well put, the message is being ignored because it's too extreme...

  11. Mark, you're still in your prime drinking years, get 'em down you! Just remember to eat plenty of pork products in for your breakfast.

  12. I'm not sure I have such a set routine to my drinking but I do drink most days and the amount is dependant on what I'm drinking, where I am and who I'm with.

    At home I usually have a couple of bottle beers of an evening, it's when I like to try new stuff. When there's nothing else to concentrate on but what the beer's like.

    If I'm with friends I try less new stuff but drink more, couple of beers to start, then a couple of glasses of wine and a spirit to finish.

    Friday's I like a pint at lunchtime and those extra times when being able to sneak a pint in when I'm not supposed to is brilliant.

  13. I have a feeling I am just like a lot of you. I drink at least one beer a night and Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and a various day of the week I have a few.

    Now what I do depends on how I feel. I tend to drink more on weekends and just get a great feeling going during the week. I am like you, I tend to know where my limits are and if I have something going on the next day I can usually call it quits when I need to so I don't wake up in the morning feeling like a cat took a shit in my mouth.

    What I find interesting though is that there has been two instances where I felt like I drink to much. See everyone I hang out with drinks, so it isn't often I feel out of place. However, I was in Jamaica for a wedding and by the 4th night the people on stage called us up to dance with them and referred to us as "Alcoholic Americans."

    Another time I was hanging out with some friends for a "guys weekend" and someone came up that I didn't know that lives in Chicago. He used to live where I do so he knew what it was like living here. He mentioned that drinking in Chicago is much different. He drinks there and looks like an alcoholic. He comes home and drinks with us, and he is a sissy...LOL

    So, I don't really know what to think.

    Great post thought, thanks!


    Mike's Brew Review

  14. Depending on how I feel, I don't have any problem with having a beer during the week. If I'm going to have more than my limit, it's mostly due to the group I am with! The good thing about that is, I do know my limit...that wasn't the case 4 or 5 years ago.

    I "grew up" so to speak and graduated to mostly micro/craft beers so my consumption is typically a few here and there.

  15. Liked the post. Like most of you I'm over the prescribed limit. Rarely a day goes by when I don't have a beer but often it is just that; a beer.

    Also, as I brew my own, I can often get a half from the keg meaning I can have two halves of different beer rather than one pint.

    Weekends can go one of three ways, mostly I have two or three on a Friday and Saturday. Last weekend I was driving on Friday so had none and, on Saturday I had two family socials so was on it for most of the day.

    I do occasionally have periods of abstinence from beer, usually when I'm trying to lose weight. The longest time I've beer without a drink (since I was about 16) is six weeks.

    I've often wondered if height and weight should make a difference to one's unit limit and often kid myself that, at six feet four and eighteen stones my limit can be a bit more than everyone else's.

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  17. Until very recently I was drinking fix or six times a week, usually in a pub; I think I've realised I couldn't actually keep that up for much longer without losing most of my mental faculties so I've been toning it down for the last couple of months.

    At the moment I'm enjoying beer festivals at the weekend and sticking to ale when I go elsewhere. Probably drinking three or four nights a week, I'd say, normally five or six pints at a time. I'm not one for "just having one" and calling it a night.