Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drinking 101: A word of wisdom

This post is directed at Mormons, gay and straight, who drink or are open to giving it a try. The problem with being raised LDS is that we have parents who don't drink and who therefore have taught us nothing about how it's done. We don't know how to do it! It turns out that, like almost everything, there are sensible, even stylish ways to go about this as well as ways which range from the merely boorish to the downright self-destructive.

This brief guide is intended, dear reader, to spare you much heartache. Trust me, you don't want to learn how to drink in a gay bar. :- )

So, without further introduction, here are MoHoHawaii's guidelines for successful drinking. Prost!

  • Know what a drink is. A drink is a fairly standard measure of alcohol. It's equal to 12 oz. of beer, 6 oz. of wine and 1.5 fl. oz. of 80 proof spirits such as gin, tequila, whiskey or vodka. When we talk about how many drinks a person has had, we're talking about these measures, regardless of the number of glasses that have been used.

  • Drink socially. Drinking is an extraordinarily useful social lubricant. It's been around for millenia. When you start to drink, do it with friends. It's many times more pleasurable than drinking alone.

  • Drink slowly. There's no need to rush. Pace yourself. Drinking too fast is a classic newbie mistake.

  • Don't forget food. Alcoholic beverages are best enjoyed with food. If you have friends over and offer them drinks, serve snacks as well. Wine or beer is naturally paired with dinner. Mixed drinks are a good aperitif, or pre-dinner drink to get the conversation flowing.

    It's generally a bad idea to drink on an empty stomach. An empty stomach will cause you to absorb the alcohol very quickly. You can feel drunk on a single drink if your stomach is empty. This is not a good idea.

  • Measure. If you mix drinks for yourself or friends, you should always measure the booze you use. There are several reasons for this. The first is that cocktails (mixed drinks) that are too strong don't taste good. The second is that if your drinks are too big, they are likely to lead to overdrinking. This is bad. You can always have, or offer a guest, another drink later. Leave the supersizing to Slurpees and Big Gulps. Serve, or consume, a single drink at a time.

    Note: Some bars (outside of Utah) serve large drinks, drinks that really count as doubles (i.e., two drinks in a single serving). If this happens, realize that you are drinking two drinks and adjust accordingly.

  • Try drinks that are slightly sweet if you're new to drinking. People who are just starting to drink generally like flavors that are slightly sweeter than people who have been drinking for many years. For example, you may want to try wine, such as Riesling, that is not fully dry ("dry" means "no sugar"). Similarly, some mixed drinks are sweeter than others.

  • Drink in moderation. It turns out that drinking is good for you. No kidding. People who drink in moderation, which for a medium-sized man is defined as one to four drinks per day, have lower mortality than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. The effect isn't subtle. Daily moderate drinking adds 3.5 years to average life expectancy. To put this in perspective, access to everything modern medicine has to offer adds seven years to life expectancy, compared to no health care whatsoever. HOWEVER, the health outcomes of heavy drinkers (for example, men who consume more than 5 drinks per day) get worse and worse as the amount of alcohol increases.

  • Know your limit. It turns out that people metabolize alcohol at different rates. Men who are between 150 lbs and 200 lbs can metabolize about one drink per hour. Most women are somewhat lighter than this, and should adjust accordingly. If you take SSRIs (anti-depressants), be aware that these drugs tend to affect your ability to metabolize alcohol. If you're on anti-depressants, you probably should drink to drink less than your peers who are not on these medications. Also, if you are completely new to drinking, you should take it easy and start slow. To get started, I recommend one drink per hour, with a maximum of four to five drinks in any 12 hour period. If you feel sick the next day (i.e., have a hangover or can't remember the previous evening), it's a sign that you've drunk too much. Don't do this. Being drunk is impolite. You will annoy your friends, and possibly endanger yourself.

    Since everyone metabolizes alcohol at different rates, I recommend just being aware of your body. If your speech is slurred, and you feel that your motor coordination is impaired, slow down.

  • Drink lots of water. Alcohol tends to dehydrate you. You should drink one 8 oz. glass of water for each drink you consume. You'll be glad you did the next day.

  • If you're old enough to drink, you're old enough to drink decent stuff. Please, don't buy rotgut (the cheapest brands). You don't necessarily have to drink top-shelf hooch, but in general, quality makes a difference. If you like beer, try beer from local breweries. In Utah, Squatter's and Wasatch make decent beer.

  • Use the right glass. There are different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks. Use the right one; glassware is not expensive (try Ikea). And no plastic cups!!!

  • If you live in Utah, buy your beer at the State Liquor Store The beer sold in Utah grocery stores is watered down, 3.2% beer, which is generally nasty. Skip this and go for the good stuff.

  • Don't drink and drive. This is a big subject, but the best advice I have is to have a designated non-drinking driver or to take public transportation if you're going to be drinking.

  • Don't drink much before sex. This is also a big subject. The synopsis is this: alcohol reduces inhibition, which is one of the reasons it's so valuable socially. Parties go a lot better, and people will be less shy if there's something to drink. However, if you're in a situation where you expect sexual activity, you should exercise caution with alcohol. One of the biggest cofactors with HIV infection is intoxication-- you are more likely to forgo precaution against infection (or sleep with the wrong person) if you are drunk.

  • A lot of people who start drinking wonder if they might be prone to alcoholism. There's an easy test. If drinking a little compels you to drink until you get very drunk, and you have a history of not being able to drink moderately, you're probably a person who should be drinking at all. There's no shame in this; if that's you, just don't drink.

    I have a personal testimony of drinking. It's a wonderful way to connect with other people socially. It's a great addition to delicious food and congenial conversation. It's a well-established part of social camaraderie, going back at least 18,000 years of human history. I love to think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors sitting around sharing a brewski and telling stories around the campfire.

    Finally, here are a few tips for things to drink.

    Beers: try microbrews, or beers from Belgium or Germany. Mass-market American beer really isn't fit to drink.

    Wine: start with sweeter wines and work your way to drier wines. Wine can be expensive. If you're budget conscious, beer or mixed drinks are probably a better deal. Wine generally means "red wine." White wine is inexplicably popular in the U.S. It's perfectly fine to pair red wine with seafood dishes.

    Mixed drinks: There are a lot of choices. Here are a handful classic cocktails that get served to guests in the MoHoHawaii household. Be sure to make these with good quality spirits.

    2/3 oz. Rose's Lime juice
    2 oz. gin (Beefeaters or Plymouth)

    Shake with ice until very, very cold; strain into a cocktail glass.

    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, etc.)
    1 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    Dash Angostura bitters

    Stir with ice (don't shake, or you get unappetizing foam on top); strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry.

    Manhattan (variation)
    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, etc.)
    1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (Kahlua)

    Stir with ice until very cold; strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry. This is amazingly delicious and doesn't taste like coffee.


    J G-W said...

    After leaving the church, I incorporated drinking into my life for almost 20 years -- tried my first beer in August 1986, started living the Word of Wisdom again in March 2006.

    I think I was mostly able to drink responsibly, though there were a few occasions where I drank, let's just say, not responsibly. I never drank alone (that was a personal rule of mine). I imbibed on average maybe 2 or three times a month(?). Only once did I get so drunk I couldn't stand up on my own. On more occasions than I care to admit, though, I got drunk enough to do stuff I regretted later. I have a fair number of bad hangover memories too.

    I guess the only drinking that I really miss is the occasional beer or wine with a nice meal. I have to admit that really good food can taste so much better with an appropriately chosen alcoholic beverage on the side.

    The whole thing about inhibitions... Well, yes. There's this woman I have to strategically avoid at Göran's annual Christmas party, because she gets sloshed and then she gets all touchy feely and wants to rub her breasts against me. When I drank, I myself generally liked to drink to the point where my inhibitions were somewhere far away, and I would get touchy feely with other guys. Göran complains bitterly that I don't drink with him any more; but he forgets the numerous next mornings where he was pretty upset with me for letting my hands wander where they weren't supposed to wander the night before.

    I think I've come to a place where I understand that we control our inhibitions. We can choose to be as expressive and open as we want... The only price we have to pay is accepting responsibility for our actions. It seems too easy to me to let alcohol be our un-inhibitor. We can blame it on the booze if we go places we weren't supposed to go in the first place.

    Yesterday, I helped a newly baptized ward member move, with a bunch of other ward members. No liquor, just hard work in 90 degree weather. Sweat was the main lubricant! And there was this marvelous kind of camaraderie, laughter, good times!

    Nothing like a party where people have a good time, just because they know how to have a good time. And nothing more dull and terrible than a party where the only good time people know how to have is getting drunk...

    I don't in principle have anything against other people drinking. I honestly don't honestly believe there's any inherent virtue in tee-totaling. I accept the Mormon prohibition as a special discipline, on a par with being a Nazarite in ancient Jewish culture.

    At the same time, I have to say I've been to a party or two where the drinking made me distinctly uncomfortable because of folks' behavior. I don't honestly miss it that much...

    MoHoHawaii said...

    Hey J G-W,

    Thanks for your comment. Like you, I'm not a fan of the boorish behavior that results from overdrinking, and I'm also not suggesting that no fun can be had in a nondrinking social gathering. The purpose of my post was to let people know that responsible, moderate drinking is possible, and it can add a lot to the basic pleasure of our social existence. (Drinking generally gets a bad rap from Mormons.)

    I guess I should also add that in cases where people choose not to drink I try to be as respectful as possible about that choice. I feel that the role of dietary restrictions in modern Mormonism is to provide a mark of cultural separation from the outside world rather than any health benefit. Moderate drinking improves your life expectancy as do the antioxidants in black and green tea. (Sorry, coffee drinkers, no such good news for you.)

    J G-W said...

    Yes... I have many pleasant memories of times when I have imbibed alcohol in moderation with friends. And like I said, even though I don't drink now, where people drink moderately and behave responsibly, I have absolutely no issues with other people's drinking. My choice not to drink is purely personal, and I don't consider it more or less virtuous than another person's choice to drink moderately.

    I have had some experiences with ex-Mormons who drink not being so gracious about my decision not to imbibe... It's not pleasant, either, feeling pressured to drink with phrases like, "Aw, you're no fun!" etc. I guess the common ground is agreeing to respect each others' decisions around this graciously and hospitably.

    BTW... When I said "Göran's annual Christmas party" I meant his law firm's annual Christmas party..! We couldn't afford to put on a big annual shindig where lots of alcohol is consumed, because alcohol is expensive!!

    I've heard about the health benefits of drinking red wine, though I also read that in order to actually get that benefit, you have to drink at least a glass of red wine daily. That seems like a lot of drinking to me... Even when I was drinking..!

    I'm a fan of the antioxidants in dark chocolate. And, yes, I get teased all the time about the caffeine in chocolate... I agree with you that the main value of the Word of Wisdom for Mormons is more about a "mark of cultural separation." I would add to that, as a mark of covenantal discipline (which is closer to how I feel about it for myself). So bottom line for me is it doesn't have to be completely rational... Whether or not there are health benefits is beside the point.

    Which was the point of my own recent post on the Word of Wisdom. I wasn't reacting to your post, by the way... I didn't see your post until after mine, really! :-) We just obviously were coincidentally thinking about the same general topic...

    J G-W said...

    Your "tips" by the way are not bad!

    I'd add that when I got too drunk before sex... Well, let's just say performance can become an issue when you're too anesthetized. It can make the spirit willing but the flesh weak.

    Chedner said...

    I'm reminded of the following from Shakespeare's Macbeth:

    "Lechery, sir, [drink] provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance; therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him."

    MoHoHawaii said...

    Hi Chedner,

    Yeah, that's a funny quote. Shakespeare is commenting about what I call overdrinking and specifically recommend against. If someone drinks enough to negatively affect sexual function, they've drunk too much.

    Dan said...

    I do behavioral pharmacology research and I'm surprised at how many of your guidelines are applicable to the process which we go through to force alcohol addiction on rats.

    MoHoHawaii said...


    Thanks for commenting. Are you saying my guidelines would to induce addiction or prevent it? Also, could you describe your protocol for addicting rats to alcohol?

    I'm open to evidence to contrary, but my experience is that moderate alcohol consumption in a social setting does not tend to foster chemical dependency. The social experience has checks and balances built in that may not apply to lab rats. :- )

    D-Train said...

    I thought I would just add a recipe for one of our favorite drinks. It is a Disaronno Cosmo and has a distinct and delicious taste.

    3/4 part Disaronno
    1 1/4 part Vodka (we typically use Absolut)
    3/4 part lime juice (squeeze limes, don't try the store bought stuff)
    1 part cranberry juice

    Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Enjoy!

    J G-W said...

    Dan - I wish you would clarify as well... I also wasn't sure if you were saying that MoHoHawaii's suggested guidelines would induce or prevent alcohol addiction. Inquiring minds want to know!!

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