- Jan 27, 2010
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My friend called me today asking advice on whether or not he should seek AA. What is the definition of an alcoholic?
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I don't usually read my alumni magazine but flipped through it waiting for something and found this: http://checkyourdrinking.net Apparently with 21 units/week, I'm at "doing serious harm to myself" but short of I need to see a doctor right away.
Many, many, many of the great men of history have been alcoholics by the standards put forward by MADD. Having alcohol with 2-3 meals a day didn't seem to stop them from rewriting history, building empires, and being brilliant thinkers.The more I think about the question, the harder it is to answer. In part, because I feel the definition in our society is in flux (or rather, wrong). By current definitions, I'm an alcoholic. That is, I'm a male that sometimes exceeds the "14 drinks per week, more than 3 per sitting, and sometimes drinks alone." In fact, the guidelines are half for women (7 drinks per week), therefore a man of smaller stature should only drink 7 or so per week by those popularly accepted guidelinse.
By current definitions, the vast majority of all our Founding Fathers were alcoholics. Many of them drank more than 14 drinks per week, sometimes more than 3 per sitting, and all of them sometimes drank alone. So, by modern popularly accepted definitions, I am an alcoholic (along with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (America's first famous wine enthusiast, who bought nearly 300 bottles in two weeks when he arrived in France), John Adams (who had 'a large tankard of hard cider every morning before breakfast), and most signers of the Constitution).
And of course there was Samuel Adams, who lead the Boston Tea Party (but is best remembered because 200 years later a microbrewery revolution was launched with his name). There remains a bill/receipt from the party thrown when the Constitution was signed. It had enough alcohol on it for two bottles of wine, a few shots of liquor, and lots of alcoholic punch and beer for every single delegate. When General George Washington resigned from our fledgling Continental Army, a large party was thrown and there were 13 toasts to him.
Nearly every 'great man' of the Revolutionary and Federalist era would be alcoholics by today's standards. It wasn't until the Temperance Movement, and ultimately Prohibition, that American alcohol consumption varied much compared to England and greater Europe. Because of the linger effects of Temperance and Prohibition (aimed at social ills), Americans continue to drink less than Europeans, and less than our Revolutionary generation (who seemed to have set up a pretty decent system of government, be fairly well read, were articulate, were curious thinkers, etc).
I suppose they were merely 'functioning alcoholics.'
In fact, apparently pre-gaming (drinking before you go out) is a sign of alcoholism. However it doesn't effect my work, there's no physical manifestations, I routinely go long strings of time without drinking any with no problem (from one week to one month at a time), it doesn't cause any financial concerns, I've never beat my wife, etc. And I don't think any of the people I mentioned have any of those problems either, even if we are all alcoholics by the guidelines.
Doing the math, there are 8760 hours in a year. I was under the influence of ETOH 22% of the time.In the last year you spent about 1,907 hours under the influence of alcohol (based on your typical drinking during one week).
In the last year you spent about 1,767 hours under the influence of alcohol (based on your typical drinking during one week).