Go on, have another. You’ll be hailing the cab anyway as you’re a bit over the limit now. As for tomorrow, you survived work with a hangover last Tuesday, didn’t you? Besides, it’s your boss offering the next round! Make it a pint. Oh, and mental note: don’t forget to pick up some beer tomorrow for Sunday’s game.
Whether it’s a workplace social at the pub, a crate of beer for the game, or a night of drinking your buddies under the table, alcohol has a prominent position in the culture of the young working man. In fact, it seems to be as much a part of socializing as body language.
But is there a point when “frequently drunk” becomes “infrequently sober?” Are you really sure that your drinking poses no threat to your social, work or physical health? Considering that an estimated 12 to 14 million Americans (about 1 in 12 adults) have a drinking problem, but only eight million of these are alcoholics, you may not be pouring whisky on your cornflakes just yet, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't ask yourself if you drink too much.
At What Level?
Experts split drinking habits into four groups, relating the risk they pose to psychological and physical health. These are social, heavy, problematic, and dependent. So at what level are you drinking?
Social, or “moderate,” drinking in the United States would be defined as no more than two drinks a day. So if you’re gulping down a couple of pints a day from Monday to Friday with work colleagues, having a couple of glasses of red at a dinner party on Saturday and taking two cold ones from the fridge for Sunday’s game, you’re pushing the boundaries, but wouldn’t be rushed for a stomach pumping session any time soon. This is where you want to be as the guy climbing the career ladder or mixing with friends; you’re sociable, can enjoy a drink but know when to stop.
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A heavy drinker is someone who regularly drinks above the safe limits defined in “social drinking.” Consuming 21 or more units a week (one unit being about half a pint of beer), or more than four units in one session is potentially harmful to health and, if done regularly, can lead to serious problems. Cirrhosis of the liver, damaged pancreas, sexual or heart problems are all linked to heavy alcohol consumption. But don’t just consider physical signs. When you find yourself deserted by your colleagues — again — as you dance the cha-cha-cha on the pool table, things may have reached a new level. If relationships, work productivity or home life show some signs of suffering due to drinking habits, you should cut down your consumption.
A “problem” drinker will be clunking a six-pack onto the counter on a daily basis — despite alcohol-related health, work or social problems. While not being dependent on alcohol so as to experience withdrawal symptoms, the drinking is a social and daily habit. Do you feel guilty about drinking? Do you often skip work after a night out? These are more subtle signs than cirrhosis of the liver (which is likely to be evident at this point), but are all signs that you drink too much.
This is the muddy puddle at the bottom of the slippery slope. Where you were once the life and soul of the party, the young talent with an eye on the company director’s chair and the example of work/life balance, you now find yourself giving up on social and occupational commitments, drinking more to achieve any effect and experiencing withdrawal symptoms should you find yourself too broke to buy the booze. Despite alcohol being the origin of your current problems, it is the solution to your woes, the solace you seek and the craving that gnaws at your better judgment. Alcoholics will often deny excessive drinking, so counting up your weekly unit intake may not be the best way to become self-aware. But have you experienced some of the above life changes?
Look at Your Drinking in Perspective
It’s true that work relationships often benefit from a pint after office hours. Unfortunately, though, there are many stories of the young professional who became the guy running topless over the taxi, who became the all-too-often empty chair at work, who eventually became the guy telling a bottle all about the great job he once had before the days when he had to munch on eight pills to treat his liver.
The important factor to keep in mind if you're worried that you drink too much is that there are always resources to help you manage your consumption, whatever your drinking level. If you feel you have a problem, you do. Your doctor will be able to direct you to local resources and support and will offer counsel as you cut down your consumption.