Rules. Discipline. The ever-popular, yet mystically elusive mythology known as human willpower. I just needed to try harder. I just needed to establish a realistic drinking strategy and follow it. Drinking alcohol was far too important a component of my happy and successful life for me to give it up. I just needed to unlock the secret to controlling my drinking.
Here is my top-ten list of drinking rules I adopted at various times in the last decade of my drinking career. As you read through them, see how many you have tried. Are there rules on this list that the drinker you love has used to try to control his drinking? Keep track of the number of rules you recognize, and I’ll give you my take on what it means at the end.
Rule #10: Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach
My wife noticed the correlation between my intoxication level and the lack of food I consumed. So, for some period in my drinking career, I agreed to eat with or before drinking alcohol. Now that I have a good understanding of the importance of blood sugar regulation, this advice has some practicality to it.
Result: Never underestimate the dedication of a serious drinker to put enough booze back to get where we are going – no matter how much of our dinner we eat. With a little extra effort, I was still quite often quite drunk.
Rule #9: No Sugary Mixers
When I bartended in college, we were told about recent scientific findings about how sugar got alcohol into people’s blood streams faster. It was a caution about over-serving people who were drinking mixed drinks with soda or fruit juice as a sugary mixer. At some point in my troubled drinking, I took the advice to heart. I started drinking whiskey and vodka on the rocks – no mixer.
Result: Somehow, even without Coke or OJ to rush the alcohol to my bloodstream, the booze found its way into my vessels all by itself. Drinking straight alcohol meant drunkenness ensued.
Rule #8: Never Drink in the Morning
Only alcoholics drink in the morning, so I thought this would be an easy rule to follow. Until the end of my progression into alcoholism, I didn’t really do any medicinal morning drinking. But I did drink Mimosas on Christmas morning. And there were those football game tailgates. Every four-year-old’s birthday party I escorted my kids to at 10am on a Saturday morning had a cooler of beers for the dads. What would be the point of brunch without the Bloody Mary? I’m not a heathen.
Result: I drank when it was socially acceptable to drink, regardless of my rules. I don’t know what this myth about five-o’clock is all about…Americans find plenty of excuses to drink in the morning.
Rule #7: Sip Scotch
I joined a scotch and cigar club that met weekly. The idea was to get enjoyment from slowly sipping and discussing a very expensive single-malt on the rock. Slow down. Savor. Treat drinking like a delicate privilege.
Result: I did OK with the scotch, but the nine beers I had with the guys while we finished our cigars after the scotch was a problem.
Rule #6: Water Between Drinks
I read the suggestion somewhere that if I drank a glass of water each time between alcoholic beverages, the water would dilute the alcohol and reduce my level of intoxication. Brilliant! And scientific.
Result: I got just as drunk, I just spent an incredible amount of time swaying drunk in front of a toilet. Science failed me!
Rule #5: Social Drinking Only
I was very comfortable drinking alone. Growing up, I never received any social cues that indicated solo consumption was a problem. But, I was drinking too much, so I tried only drinking in social situations.
Result: This one got expensive fast. In order to drink socially in a way that was comfortable, I had to substantially increase my socializing. And drinks in a bar are much more expensive than drinking at home. I also pestered my wife to drink with me when she had no interest. This was an added relationship-crushing bonus.
Rule #4: Light Beer Only
I got so anxious about counting and regulating my consumption that I decided I could drink as much as I wanted, as long as I only drank low ABV light beer. I live in Colorado, and I am loyal to the local economy, so for me, that meant unlimited Coors Light.
Result: I transformed into a burping hillbilly surrounded by empty beer cans. It was a lot of effort to get as drunk as I wanted. Luckily, I was an alcoholic overachiever. This was one of my wife’s favorite rules for the enhanced disgusto-factor as my right hand was perpetually holding a can of suds.
Rule #3: Counting Drinks
I made rules about the number of drinks I was allowed in different situations. During the work week, I allowed myself two cocktails after work. On the “regular” weekend days when we did not have plans, I allowed myself six high ABV IPAs. On the “big” weekend days when we had plans for socializing, I “limited” myself to a twelve-pack of IPAs. Now, looking back, I find sad humor in the limits I set. If you think of half a case as a limit, do you really need this top-ten list to help you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
Result: The stress for the drinker associated with counting and limiting drinks is excruciating. I often drank past my limit. When I did stop as planned, I wanted to chew my own arm off as punishment for not continuing to hoist alcohol to my mouth.
Rule #2: Drinking Only on the Weekends
For most of the last decade of my drinking career, I played soccer in an over 30-years-old men’s league on Thursday nights. After the games, my teammates and I headed to the bar. So, logically, my weekends started on Thursday nights and ran through bedtime on Sundays. Taking those three days off between my drinking-defined weekend was a great idea, but three days of sobriety is no match for an alcoholic brain.
Result: Mostly, I didn’t drink on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. But that just made me hate Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Hating 43% of my life was a very alcoholic thing to do. Oh, and sometimes the stress and pressure was too much, and I drank during the week.
Rule #1: Beer and Wine Only
I thought I was an inventive genius when I decided to swear-off hard alcohol and only drink beer (or occasionally, wine). Little did I know at the time that almost every single alcoholic has tried this one. The theory is sound. I drank whatever was in my hand at the same rapid pace. If I only allowed myself 6% ABV beer, my chance of keeping it under control was far better than if I drank 80 proof whiskey.
Result: I quit drinking after two or three beers occasionally, but I drank a lot of beers a lot of times, and this rule didn’t solve my alcoholism.
I don’t know who coined the phrase, “Rules are made to be broken,” but I bet he was an alcoholic. Look, here is the fact: Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It cannot be controlled. If you have questions about your drinking or the consumption of someone around you, it can only get worse. That rule is accurate 100% of the time.
If you think you are the exception, if you think you can control it, you are in good company. All of us alcoholics thought that at one time or another.
I asked you to keep score on the number of my top ten drinking rules that you or someone you love has tried. Here is the answer key. If you resonate with any one of my rules, you should stop drinking alcohol. You don’t invent rules to limit the amount of broccoli you eat or the number of hugs you give to your kids. If you have to make rules in a vain attempt to control your drinking, you’ve crossed the invisible line.
If you question my assertion, please consider these two big questions about your alcoholic status.
- Do you think about alcohol (regret from your last drink or anticipation of your next) when you are not drinking?
- Is alcohol causing problems (minor or major) in your life?
If you answer those two questions in the affirmative, either about yourself or on behalf of someone you love, your direction is indisputably clear. That’s the good news. There is no gray area. There is no indecision related to my advice.
You or the drinker you love need to quit drinking alcohol.
If that news is disappointing, and the steps you should take to leave the misery of high-functioning alcoholism behind seem daunting and unclear, please read my Guide to Early Sobriety. It is a free ebook you can get through easily in one evening during the time you or your loved one usually dedicates to drinking.
It is free. It is private. It requires no commitment and you can delete it if you don’t like what it has to say.
You can delete it, but you can never forget your concern about alcohol. Once rules are involved, we can’t unknow what we know.
Read the Guide to Early Sobriety, and let your future bring you the freedom those rules could never deliver. You’ve got this, and we’ve got you. Consider the soberevolution.