Let’s face it. It’s not only the holidays. It’s 2020 holidays. Lockdown’s kind of over in the UK and until 10pm the world is now your oyster. What do we deserve more than a night out with our friends? The ones we haven’t seen. The ones who haven’t been out of the house properly since March? What are their names again? (Jager, Don Julio, and was it Franzia, that boxy looking bloke?).
Not to mention the excitement of drinking from glassware that you do not own!
So naturally you’re going to do what you’ve waited so long for. And that is a night out. But not just any night. This will be the night that you go out to get smashed. A real boozer. You deserve it. This year has been sh!t. Except maybe, Zoom wine tastings. Houseparty happy hours. Masterclasses in mixology. Lockdown drinking for boredom, drinking for lonely, and drinking for no reason at all. And slowly we had a quiet chat with ourselves about how drinking became A THING. You might have wondered, how do I know if I’m drinking too much?
So, on this momentous occasion, ask yourself how smashed are you gonna get on your big night out? This is a very important question, pay attention. Because, despite all evidence of learning the hard way, we all still believe the idea that more alcohol is better. That is the reason why we stroll up to the bar and order shots, right? To get the party started and get our buzzes rolling.
But have you ever noticed that on those big nights, there is a point when the good fun stops…hard? When the yuck sets in? The wrong that no pizza or kebab can right? The one that a morning bloody Mary won’t fix? Do you really want to go through that? If you do, please, by all means. Stop. Reading. Here.
Ok let’s play. First round. Q&A. I go first. How many drinks (units of alcohol) do you expect to drink for maximum alcohol enjoyment? Write that number down on the back of a playing card and give it to a magician.
Second question. Can you remember a night when you drank that number of drinks, when you were having a great time, what happened next? Did you stop drinking because you secretly knew that your fun was already maxed out? You closed it down and went home? Probably not. You likely kept drinking, hoping the night was magically going to get EVEN MORE AWESOME. And did it? How was that kebab? What happened next? Do tell…
Next round. Trivia. Did you know that alcohol is both a stimulant AND a depressant? When you first start drinking, alcohol is a stimulant. You feel happy, bubbly, and buzzed. And because you believe “the more alcohol the better,” you keep drinking. Drinking and thinking that you will feel even happier and even more buzzed. Or, that you need to keep drinking to “keep your buzz.” If you’re nodding, I’ve caught you red handed AND you need to hear this last bit.
Here’s what you might not know, which brings us to the third round. Dungeons and Dragons. Alcohol is a stimulant ONLY when the blood alcohol is rising to a certain point and at mild doses. After that, the depressant effects set in. The slowing, slurring, slugging, and mood dropping. Dysphoria. The stuff you’d rather not feel. Cue bar fights (you’re the dragon!), spewing in a pizza box, and nursing your hangover in a dark dungeon of a bedroom. Such a lovely little game.
Back to my point. There is a point during every drinking sesh where the good ends. And it is TOTALLY different than what you imagine. The good news is that there exists a magic-ish number of drinks where the yuck starts to build (real science people!). So, what’s the magic number of drinks you ask? It’s about 2 bottles of beer, give or take, depending on gender and body weight (technically it’s a Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) of 0.05, check what it is for you using a BAL estimator using this tool).
Here’s even more. Round four. Snakes and Ladders. Tolerance, or getting used to the effects of alcohol, also plays a role. Just not how you think it does. People tend to think tolerance to alcohol makes them a secret superhero, that it’s a good thing. If you have tolerance, you might think that you can drink more than those 2 drinks because you’re a seasoned drinker, a real pro? If you think you don’t have tolerance, ask the 13-year-old you to come out to party.
Are you ready for the WORST NEWS of 2020? Tolerance not only makes the good things about drinking LESS good, it ALSO makes the bad things about drinking WORSE. It blocks the ‘mild happy buzz’ feeling and exaggerates the ‘downer.’ So, drinking not only feels less buzzy, but also worse the next day. Now all of those sneaky drinks in quarantine are going to steal your club thunder, like a big snaky slide. If you still don’t believe me, ask your hangover how long it plans to stay this time. If you’re nerdy, this is called the biphasic effect of alcohol and you can read more here. The worrying thing, is that tolerance is a marker for serious issues like alcohol dependence. So it’s something to keep in check by having long sober spaces between drinking sessions.
I know you’re keen to field test this. But know that it will take time for your actual drinking experience to catch up with this new way to drink. Please don’t just take my word for it. Test it out. And when you test this out, try to find the sweet spot of drinking. The sweet spot is when you’re getting what you want out of the experience but not the yuck. Try to get there a bit slower than usual and just see how it feels. Maybe your buzz will last even longer? Maybe you won’t drink so many calories? Maybe you’ll have more money in your pocket? And, Sherlock, start to pay attention to when the good feels are going. Remember that’s your cue to exit or switch to booze-free juice (NOT A REDBULL!!) and keep dancing.
Alcohol Change UK has tons of interactive and self assessment tools to help keep you right if you need them. Check them out ..
Clinical Psychologist & Addictive Behaviours Researcher