In college, I remember not being completely truthful to my doctor about how much I drank. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. This behavior continued through my 20s until I was straight up lying to avoid judgement. Doesn’t everyone lie to the doctor about their alcohol consumption? I guess that should have been a red flag, but somehow I justified my lying. My rationale was that when the doctor would ask, I wasn’t being completely dishonest. I was just moving things around like a good tax accountant. It was all accounted for, but formatted in a way to work to my advantage. I would take the number of drinks I would drink on any given Friday and Saturday night and divide by seven for the days in the week. Instead of saying I was drinking 20 drinks in two days, I thought saying three drinks per day sounded much better. Make sense? It can get confusing, I know, but bear with me.
The CDC says a standard drink is 12 ounces of beer (five percent alcohol content), eight ounces of malt liquor (seven percent alcohol content), five ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40 percent alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor. Now, these standards are not what I have ever considered one drink. A typical wine glass holds 12 to 14 ounces. Therefore, that’s a glass of wine. Right? Wrong. That’s actually more like three glasses of wine according to the CDC. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that low-risk drinking for women is no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. Well, let’s just skip over this category because I’ve never been a low risk drinker. If I was drinking, I was drinking to get drunk which was always more than three drinks for me. Being honest—it was always more than seven drinks for me.
The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to .08 grams of alcohol per liter of blood. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in about two hours. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. I have been a binge drinker since the day I took my first drink. According to the NIAAA, the binge-drinking rate among college students has hovered above 40 percent for two decades.
So, somewhere between low-risk drinking and binge drinking we have moderate drinking and heavy drinking. SAMHSA defines heavy drinking as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more days in the past 30 days. This is also considered high-risk drinking. According to the current edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days. I used to think that all these categories were just something the medical community came up with like that food pyramid that no one really follows either.
So, what’s normal drinking? Well, I don’t have that answer. NIAAA doesn’t have a definition for “normal drinking’ per say. I’d bet that if you asked 100 people what normal drinking is, you would get 100 different definitions. I know that I’m a person of extremes in everything I do. The ‘go big or go home’ mentality. Always have been, always will be. Which is why, when it comes to drinking, I don’t drink at all anymore. One drink isn’t an option for me. I do very little in moderation. I certainly never drank in moderation. I either drank to get drunk or I chose to not drink at all. Like, what’s the point in having just one beer? Right?
Apparently not everyone thinks this way. Just alcoholics, I assume. I’ve been sober since 2012 and it still baffles me that some people drink one drink on occasion. Don’t even get me started on people who leave a half full wine glass or bottle of beer on the table. Or those who don’t finish a beer before it starts getting warm. I guess they are the elusive “normal drinkers.” I thought I was a normal drinker back in the days of my at-risk, heavy binge-drinking. That’s how I would classify my drinking—a hybrid of the worst categories combined. Everyone I hung out with drank like I did, so yeah…it was normal. In college, everyone was drinking like me. Or at least the friends I hung out with. And I suppose I continued to find people who drank like me, making me think my drinking was normal.
Today, I don’t drink at all. I haven’t picked up a drink 1,530 days. That’s normal to me now. So, I’m not sure if there is a happy medium. Just because you hang out with people who drink like you doesn’t make drinking a six pack every night normal. Likewise, just because your drinking started out at low-risk doesn’t mean you are exempt from becoming a high-risk drinker. There are really no rules to this alcoholism thing, but lying to your doctor (or anyone for that matter) probably isn’t normal.