I'm Brian, and I'm a Binge Drinker

But I don't mean that in a confessional way, as though I'm sorry for being a binge drinker. In fact, I'm a bit surprised to find out that I'm a binge drinker, as I've never really considered myself one.

When I began thinking out this blog post (and I do that only occasionally), I was planning to talk more about teen binge drinking and the way we present alcohol to teens in general. The article I linked to shows that teens tend to drink more hard liquor and adults drink more beer, and in both cases, the reason seems to be access. Teens are able to steal liquor from their parents liquor cabinets (as I and my friends did 20+ years ago) and many young adults can really only afford beer in enough quantity to get properly shit-hammered. And for the age group we're talking about here, that's the major goal.

But after reading the article, I wonder if we're creating a problem that doesn't really exist. Here's their definition of binge drinking.

The study of adult binge drinkers found that nearly 75 percent mainly or exclusively drank beer, 17 percent focused on liquor and 9 percent were wine drinkers. A binge drinker was defined as someone who had five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion in the last 30 days.

About 15 percent of U.S. adults fit that profile, and most are men, according to federal statistics.
If that's the definition of binge drinking, then I'm amazed that the number is so low. When I worked at the brewery, five glasses of beer after work (8 oz. glasses) was a good start to the afternoon. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's certainly not unusual for Amy and I to kill two bottles of wine in an evening, both with and after dinner. So I think it's fair to say that I find their definition of binge drinking to be a bit on the wimpy side.

But I'm an experienced drinker, with a body to match--5'10" and somewhere north of 255 (beefy!), so five drinks in a night for me is certainly not the same as five drinks for a skinny 15 year old who's ripped off his dad's bottle of Evan Williams. But that's the problem with these definitions, and with our treatment of alcohol in this country generally. We want hard and fast rules, bright lines that cut off access to everyone below a particular age group, and that just doesn't make sense.

The way I see it, the key is (no shock) education. Making an action taboo always makes it more enticing, and our advertising for alcohol in this country is no help. But if you let teens drink in controlled circumstances (and that's really the key--control), they discover that it's really not that big a deal. It's the mystery that draws them, along with the sense that they're rebelling against the rules--take that away, and you'll see a change in behavior and attitude.

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