Last night I worked an event at a venue downtown. I’m getting my business off the ground so I pick up catering and other serving gigs when I can for a little extra cash. For one, it’s the skill I have that can help me earn money right now, and even though I’d prefer to stay away from the alcohol industry as much as possible, I fall into a weird category due to necessity and I admit that. I have a hard time writing this knowing I was contributing to people binge drinking, and I just want to acknowledge that before I go on.
Austin’s downtown is a shit show. Not to be judgemental, but that’s just the truth. I don’t know if it has gotten worse since I moved here 7 years ago (likely, since it has grown so much), or if my beer goggles are just gone. I parked a few blocks from the venue and even at 5PM, I saw a man doing heroin behind a dumpster, another man being helped by a paramedic who was in AGONY saying his heart felt like it was going to explode and the paramedic kept repeating as he tried to get him up, “you have to walk, man, that’s the only way I am going to help you”, and countless drunk girls staggering down 6th street.
Anyway, the event I worked was only 26 people, a work party, and everyone was genuinely nice and having a good time. I’m sure I’m uber sensitive and aware of alcohol consumption due to my circumstances (you’ll notice I remember exactly how much each person drank, ahem, I wonder why), but even back when I drank a lot, these events would always be eye-opening for me. Being sober in a room full of drunk people, and being able to keep track of their drinks, is wild. People drink so f-ing much.
One woman wouldn’t stop calling me her favorite when I came by with the red wine and told me about 5 times “I could never pull off your hairstyle! I can’t believe it, how cute is your little ponytail!” (I literally put it up during work to get it out of my face, it was nothing special, I assure you — possibly even the opposite), another woman said “the answer is always yes when it comes to wine!” every time I offered her more. A man said to me when he walked in, “I’m hurting pretty bad from last night, what do you have that’s strong to fix my hangover?” Another guy said, “I made a promise to myself today that I wouldn’t say no when it comes to wine!”…and after one lady tried to order her third double vodka soda from us in an hour, as she slurred her words, the bartender made her a drink with barely any booze in it. She didn’t notice. You get the idea.
**I do want to mention that none of these people were driving, the host made sure to tell us that before the event, that they would all be walking or taking Uber and were staying at a hotel a few blocks away**
And I get it, they were having fun. I can’t speak on their “normal” drinking habits or if this was normal to them, and that’s not really the point. There were actually 3-4 people not drinking at all. And 6-8 people who drank very responsibly (1-2 drinks). And of the other 12-13 people, 3-4 got hammered. So that’s about half the party who drank more than a “normal” amount, and a small number of people who drank to excess. And actually, according to research, that’s a surprisingly accurate representation of Americans. Apparently, as much as 50% don’t drink much if any at all (umm…hi friends, where the hell are all of you?!). Of the people who do drink, only 10% are very heavy drinkers, and it’s those 10% the alcohol industry targets (you can read a very quick, very informative article about this on Psychology Today’s website here). 10% of 26 is 2.6, so 3-4 people drinking too much is just about right on target.
Anyway, at this particular party, I’d say the “heavy drinkers” had anywhere from 6-10 drink pours in 3 hours. I wasn’t the only person serving drinks, so I can’t be completely sure. And, mind you, this is also because a “standard” pour of wine is 5 ounces; this venue pours 6. A standard pour of liquor is 1.5 ounces; this venue pours 2. And a standard pour of beer is 12 ounces, which was served from a can or bottle, so that stayed the same. That means that for every “drink” someone had, they actually had a drink and a quarter. So for those drinking wine and liquor (most of the people drinking) by the fourth drink they actually had consumed five. That is pretty significant, [and frankly, makes sense to me why I used to get so hammered when I went out and say “but I only had 3 drinks!”] especially when driving or other safety concerns are taken into effect, but also something to consider at home; does anyone actually pour themselves 5 ounces of wine at home? Simply from a health standpoint, which suggests women have no more than one STANDARD drink a day, and men imbibe no more than 2, that would be 7 drinks a week for women, 14 for men. Hmmm…OK. Even my [female] friends who drink “responsibly” have 3-5 drinks every time they drink out (typically on the weekend plus a happy hour, so 2-3 times a week), and that doesn’t account for what they drink at home, alone, in their own privacy. Their public drinking alone puts them way over the recommended limit. Just think about that for a second.
A common belief I’ve noticed is that the only issue or concern people have is developing alcoholism, and most people still believe it’s genetic or you’re predisposed, or whatever, so they write it off as something they don’t need to worry about. “As long as I only drink this many times a week, and I have a job, and I have money, and I don’t have a DUI, and blah blah then I’m not addicted (or have a problem)“…this is a huge issue in itself. Obviously, becoming addicted to alcohol is a major problem, but frankly, I believe alcohol abuse is so deeply rooted in our culture that it’s going to take a lot more than convincing everyone they are already on a spectrum of addiction and need to be careful to stop a looming (or already existing) public health crisis. It’s going to have to become an educated health concern, like cigarettes or processed food or sugar.
Alcohol is probably the most toxic legal substance humans consume on a regular basis (and on purpose), next to cigarettes. It’s so common in our culture that most people don’t even realize it is a real drug (I sure didn’t). And technically speaking, it is actually a poison. In fact, it has started to be common practice for people to cite research that says it is GOOD for you. Here is a very well balanced article to explain the pros and cons of alcohol consumption. I like this article because it lets you decide for yourself, and it’s not funded by the alcohol industry as so many studies are these days.
Anyway, I digress, all this information blows my mind, as you can tell. But the point of this post wasn’t to lay a smack down on moderate drinking.
As I walked to my car after the event, 6th street was poppin’ off…hundreds of people partying and stumbling around in a zombie-like-apocalyptic chaos is how I always feel when I face drinking culture now. Yet, even with all my knowledge, even with all the positive outcomes I have experienced in my life, all the successes, all the peace I have found: in those moments, I still have to fight the tiny monster inside of me. I still have a teeny-tiny demon yelling from my depths that it would be FUN to get drunk.
Last night, I didn’t feed the monster. I simply kept walking and got to my car, locking the doors as soon as I shut them, sighing with relief. I went straight home, ate the leftover food I brought home from the event, and realigned myself.
My point is, I have learned so much in these past two years of on-and-off-again sobriety, and one of the most important things is to always be honest with myself about how serious the risks are for me, how my most vulnerable moments are when I am most confident, that arrogance creeps in. Last night was a great reminder that I have to stay informed, keep my guard up, and continue fighting. Helping others is an important part of this equation, and I hope this blog helps someone see how possible it is to face that tiny monster and continue to let it starve.