Talking to Your Doctor: “I only had a few”

One thing about being a chronic substance user is that you’re often ill. Aspirin, ibuprofen, visine, cough & cold over the counter meds become fixtures at your party. It was always the absolute last resort where being nearly immobile and bedridden would take me to the doctor. I despised this. He would often have a series of questions that would make me cringe just thinking about them.

Doctor: “Do you drink alcohol?”

Me: “Yes doctor, I do.”

Doctor: “How much do you drink?”

ME: “Oh, I only have a few glasses of wine with dinner and maybe a digestive after.”

Sounds civilized, right? I remember giving him a urine sample that was a walnutty shade of dark brown, after having my last Jager shots at 5 am, just a few hours earlier in the day. To top it off, no matter how showered I was, I still smelled like a bar. That’s when he hit me: “Anymore past two, it’s all downhill from there,” said the doctor with a “you’re not shittin’ me” grin.

“TWO DRINKS!?!? That wasn’t even getting my lips wet!” I thought.

I was a social drinker for a long, long time. Everyone else was doing it, so that normalized it for me, as it does so for you. If everyone is “partying” and you’re not, then YOU are the odd one. If ya can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? That’s all fine and good, IF you can enjoy a drink or two.

I would like to share the national standards for safe or “responsible” (as the billboards say) alcohol use:

1 12oz beer @ 5% alcohol = 1 drink

1 5oz glass of wine @11% alcohol = 1 drink

1 1 ½ oz shot of liquor @ 40% alcohol = 1 drink

Now, I don’t like to complicate things anymore than I already do. These are all rounded off to give us a basic idea. The identified “standard” American beer generally has less alcohol content than an imported variety. A “40 oz” is closer to 4 drinks than 1. A martini has about 3 ½oz of booze, not counting the ones at that bar down the street where the bartender fills up your glass a second time with the “leftover” in their shaker. If you start becoming a mathematician and analyzing it; because this booze has less alcohol, I can drink more; this wine is imported and I’m having it with a nice meal; I have my drink over ice; I water it down with juice; and so on and so on, then you might be a little closer to recognizing a pattern that might equal an issue. If you’re so inclined to see for yourself, here is a booze calculator.

The doc was right, 2 drinks per day for men, no more than 3 in one sitting or 14 in one week time period. For women, it’s 1 drink per day, no more than 2 per day or 7 in one week time period. This is what I consider “safe” drinking. The National Institute of Health gives you the leeway of 1 additional drink, which would be 4 drinks in one sitting for men and 3 for women.

These guidelines are valid if you are a person who is healthy, not taking any medications, were able to eat proper meals and get proper rest last night. These are just a few factors that might adversely interact with the alcohol you’re drinking. The two drinks you had under a set of conditions last week will affect you differently then the same two drinks you had today under alternative circumstances.

Most drinkers will not agree with this. I know I didn’t. Think about it, if you are male and have 4 drinks, or a woman at 3 drinks, you most likely have a nice buzz on, or you may be intoxicated. If not, then that presents a whole new ball game: Tolerance. Tolerance is when it takes more alcohol to obtain the same effect that you desired before. ie: When a woman first started drinking wine, she might have felt “nice” at half a glass. After some time, it may now take her two glasses to get that same effect. Give it some more time and that might mean that you’re almost drinking the whole bottle.

The body adapts to the alcohol, just as it does when you cut yourself. The issue is that it now has to work harder to do what it normally does. It might not even be able to effectively do everything it needs to since it is dealing with the alcohol. Your brain tells you that you’re ok, since you “just had a few” and you don’t even feel them, but the reality is that you are impaired the moment you feel the slightest buzz. If you feel a slight buzz at beer #3 and then you have a few shots and another beer on top of that, imagine what’s going on in your system.

The average blood alcohol level for people who get arrested for driving while intoxicated is .15. The average person with a low tolerance would be taking a nice little nap at this blood alcohol level. People generally drive about one hundred times under the influence before they are caught driving while intoxicated.

You may only get that little buzz once a week, or get drunk once a year at the 4th of July party, but this multiplies the possibilities of injury or even death in the short term as well as developing health problems in the long run.

No matter how “safe” you might feel, if you have ingested ANY alcohol or drug that was not prescribed specifically for you by an appropriate MD,  I would not operate any kind of machinery where you or anyone else can get hurt.

When it comes to illicit drugs, there is no “safe” standard as you do not know what it’s composition is or how it may affect you. This includes marijuana as well as that “pain pill” Uncle Joey gave you when you threw your back out. We’ll talk more about these topics in future posts.

There is a great publication from The Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism called Rethinking Drinking. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. Be safe.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

    • pAUL

      Thanx Susan! The risk is always there unless there is no substance use. Bad enough we’re at risk of other’s behaviors in society. Be safe!