This post by the Angry Jogger about substituting his drinking problem with a running problem reminded me of something that I recently wrote on the subject of drinking. I wouldn’t say that I have a drinking problem but I certainly understand his sentiments in the following quotes
I’ve never came back from a night out drinking with the thought ‘Shit I wish I’d drank more last night!’.
I’ve never came back from a day out running with the thought ‘Shit I wish I hadn’t run as far.’
My drinking history
The first time I got drunk was on Canadian Club whiskey. After gulping a few shots in rapid succession, I ended up face down in a stainless steel bowl of nacho cheese flavored Doritos. Unfortunately, a handful of the chips that were sticking to my face had just returned from a round trip tour of the upper end of my digestive system. Neither of us were happy they were back. To this day I avoid Doritos.
Beyond the fuzzy details of how I ended up, the event didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It did however, provide me with the first data points for this examination of the effects of alcohol on my likability. Further years of experience have helped refine the graph that I will present shortly.
But before I get to the graph, it makes sense to list the observed effects of alcohol on me. Here is a list grouped into positive and negative effects.
1. Increased joviality
2. Increased relaxation
3. Increased adventurousness
4. Decreased anxiety
1. Memory loss
3. Increased irritating behavior – (e.g. loud talking, cockiness, obstinateness)
4. Meanness – Saying hurtful things I don’t mean
5. Thoughtlessness – Saying things without considering consequences
6. Embarrassing behavior
7. Next day hangovers
8. Weight gain
Alcohol / Likability analysis
Here is a graph of likability ratings versus the level of alcohol in my system. Basically, it shows that there is a low level of drinking that can lead to an improvement in likability ratings, but then there is a rapid decline.
The initial zone is the “Fun Zone” which is the ideal target for any drinking activity. It is at this level when all the positive effects of drinking may be experienced. There is smiling, laughter, and engaging conversations. It’s fun! You haven’t a care in the world. However, this zone is not completely devoid of negatives. In this zone, productivity plummets. I can’t get much of anything accomplished after having a drink. The ability to juggle is reduced but I can still do a pretty good 5-ball cascade. Also, some of the psychological barriers normally in place become malleable. The chances of saying something you didn’t want to say are significantly increased.
In the Decline Zone, things begin to change. Things that aren’t actually funny begin to seem funny. Taking whacky pictures and posting them on the Internet seems hilarious. Randomly texting people you haven’t talked to in months or years is a hoot. Doing parkour moves you’ve never attempted is just grand. Every idea seems like a good one. Juggling gets a lot harder but if you can finish the night in this zone, you’ll feel alright the next morning (except for maybe some physical injury). Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to know when the next zone might start.
The Jerk Zone is next and here is when the negative effects of alcohol really ramp up. There is a significant increase in irritating behavior and thoughtlessness. You say things you don’t mean. You do things you wouldn’t do. And you get irritated by anyone who tries to rein you in. You become a different person. You also become very easy to manipulate by nefarious individuals (usually sober). Memory loss kicks in and it becomes easy to lose things and forget conversations. If you’re lucky, you’ll skip the next zone and just pass out. You’ll still wake up feeling a bit embarrassed and regretful and may even swear off drinking for a while, but it’s nothing compared to the way you’ll feel if you slip into the next zone.
The A@$hole Zone. It is much like the Jerk Zone but it can have a much greater impact on your life. This is when you might get into a fight or drive drunk or puke all over someone’s kitchen table. You might lash out at people close to you or punch a guy in the head and bust his ear drum. It’s things you do during this zone that can permanently reshape the way people view you. And the worst thing is that you’ll wake up the next morning unable to remember exactly what happened, but feeling this overwhelming burden of guilt and anxiety. You may have multiple apologies to make. This is a zone you want to avoid at all costs.
Of course, the graph is a generalization and has some significant limitations. For example, the likability ratings are guesses since I haven’t done a formal poll before and after alcohol. However, I can surmise what they might be based on factors such as next day feelings of guilt, sober reflection, and whether anyone is pissed off at me. Additionally, I do not have detailed alcohol blood % levels, so the scale is only approximate. I also don’t know how many drinks it takes to move from one zone to the next. And the size of the zones are variable, affected by things like my initial emotional state, the amount of food in my system, my level of activity, the people I’m with and the environment. The ‘fun zone’ could be much smaller and the ‘jerk zone’ much wider. It’s difficult to know.
Since the Jerk Zone and A@#hole Zone are distinct possibilities any time you drink, you might think that it would be a good strategy to just not drink at all. I’ve gone through extended periods of non-drinking and it is fine, but there are some significant drawbacks to being a teetotaler.
First, I’m suspicious of people who don’t drink. I don’t know why but whenever I find out someone doesn’t drink it automatically makes me like them less. It’s as if they are judging everyone else. Trying to be superior. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way as other people have said it to me.
Second, much of my social life involves going out to restaurants and bars. I have no problem getting soda and water but when everyone else is drinking it feels uncomfortable. It really does suck to be the only sober one in a room full of drunks. If I were to completely give up drinking I would have to make significant changes to the rest of my life and the people I hang out with. I don’t want to do this.
Finally, drinking can be lots of fun and it does feel good. The fact that I rarely slip into the negative zones is not a good enough reason for me to deny the positive aspects of alcohol. Maybe some day this will change but for the moment the positive aspects outweigh the negative.
So, if I’m not going to give up drinking, I need to come up with some method of preventing me from inadvertently slipping into one of the negative zones. Things I’ve tried…
1. Limiting the number of drinks in a year.
2. Tying a string around my finger.
3. Will power
4. Avoiding events featuring excessive drinking
They all work to some extent but nothing is fool-proof. I wonder if anyone else has some suggestions?
Perhaps the reality is that if I choose to continue to drink, I’ll just have to accept the consequences of those rare instances when I slip into the negative zones and become a jerk or a@#hole.
Incidentally, right now I’m off drinking for the month of January. Not just alcohol but anything with calories. It’s a challenge I’ve given myself.