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Developing and Maintaining a Healthy Drinking Lifestyle

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HomeBrewTalk is one of the most important resources available to homebrewers. Topics in the forums range from mash temps to food pairings, from bar builds to equipment for sale. One area that is often void of discussion is how to develop and maintain a healthy drinking lifestyle. Many homebrewers fall hard for this hobby. If you couple that with a love of craft beer, an amazing hobby and passion can quickly lead down the wrong road. I don't want this article to be a "Debbie Downer," nor do I want to seem preachy. This article will mostly relate the facts on what constitutes healthy drinking and "problematic" drink, as well as a few useful websites if anyone is interested. Hopefully, the majority of our community has no need to consider if they have a drinking problem. But the reality is that anywhere from 14-33% of the US population qualifies as "problem drinkers." If you take into consideration a subset of the population like homebrewers and craft beer drinkers, I would imagine that statistically, we homebrewers could fall on the high side of that number. Or as Jimmy Fallon once said:

So....Beer Drinking Is A Hobby?
What is a "Problem Drinker?"
The term "alcoholic" is quickly going by the wayside in the medical world. It's a term with a social stigma and negative connotations. Alcohol abuse is now medically classified as Alcohol use disorder (AUD.) This involves drinking more than the recommended healthy levels, often along with other health or social factors: drinking against doctor's orders, drinking when you know it will damage your relationships or finances, etc.
A quick note: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism categorizes low-risk drinking as 4 or less alcoholic units (1 pint of 5% beer) per night and healthy drinking 2 or less for a male. Exceeding these limits in a session or day is considered unhealthy or "binge" drinking. In both cases, a male should not exceed 14 drinks per week. Several studies show that drinking more than 1 drink a day can lead to long-term health issues, especially in older individuals.
A "problem drinker" falls into a gray area. These individuals often exceed the acceptable amount of healthy consumption but are suffering no major consequences...other than unforeseen health problems down the road. They may abstain for weeks or even months followed by a big "bender." Or they may drink 3-5 pints a night, every night, all year. They often teeter on two-sides, one that is relatively healthy and one that could become a serious problem. Hopefully, you are already considered a healthy drinker. If not, you need to figure out if your level of drinking is simply on the heavy side, problematic, or becoming an addiction.
What is a healthy drinker?
A healthy drinker can be defined through three areas: intent, amount, and lifestyle. First, what is the reason or intent of your drinking? Are you celebrating an important moment in your life, or simply planning on getting drunk for drunk's sake? Two hours into a party, are you the only one that looks like this?
A healthy drinker's intent is to enjoy a beverage that just happens to be one of the greatest nectars on Earth: Beer. The next qualification is the amount an individual consumes. A healthy drinker AT MOST consumes 3-4 drinks (based on a 5% beer or equivalent beverage) per day and no more than 12-14 per week. Again, this is the high end of what is considered a healthy level of consumption. For women this means a maximum of 3 drinks per day and 9 a week. Again, this is the high end of healthy drinking. Finally, a drinker needs to consider their lifestyle. Do you eat healthy, or at least not that unhealthy? Take medication that interacts with alcohol? Do you have hobbies that don't involve alcohol? Do you work out? A healthy drinker lives a healthy lifestyle, or at least works to avoid a lifestyle that only adds to the negative effects of drinking.
Developing and Maintaining a Healthy Drinking Lifestyle:
This article is only here to make you think...to make you consider where stand are in terms of your health. If you are in your twenties and living it up, so be it. I know I did. But, there comes a point where you begin to think about your future and your health. For some people that turning point comes with age, sometimes it happens after you have kids, or sometimes it's an event (traumatic or otherwise) that gets you to think about your future and your health. If you are at that point of contemplation, here are some starting tips:
1. If you don't work out...start! Barring health issues, you need to include some type of exercise if you drink regularly, even if it's considered a healthy level of consumption. I started by creating a simple routine: If I wanted a drink...I had to work for it. This meant 15 sit-ups and 15 pushup to start. I kept a sit-up bar by my beer fridge. Fast forward nearly two years...I've dropped 50 pounds. I've now climbed to 240 sit-ups and 75-100 pushups per beer, and I am in the best shape of my life.
2. Don't go cold turkey. Alcoholics Anonymous has an astronomically high failure rate because it requires an all-or-nothing mentality. Either you don't drink or you're a failure. If you really are passionate about craft beer or brewing, this approach simply won't work. Instead, consider a 3-4 drink day followed by a day off. You'll probably find that it is mentally easier to prepare and succeed at one day off than a lifetime. Your real challenge, if you are a heavy drinker, will be falling asleep. Prepare for your night to go something like this:

Everything Looks Better In The Morning
3. If you can make it one day without drinking, reward yourself with a healthy drink day or even continue to take another day off. If you do have a healthy drinking day after a day off, consider making it a two-day off stretch your next try, then a three, etc. Once you are sure that you are drinking because you like beer and not to get drunk, you can figure out a schedule that works for a 12-14 drink week, or play it by ear.
Just a note: Several moderation programs recommend a 30-day off trial before developing a healthy drinking schedule if you feel like you may be a current problem drinker.
4. Realize that this approach can be very hard for home brewers and craft beer drinkers to stick to indefinitely. What about a beer festival? A bottle share? A bomber of a special 12% imperial stout or Belgian Strong, even over the course of a few hours, is still considered detrimental drinking in terms of the alcoholic units consumed. And I say...so what? If you intend to maintain a healthy lifestyle, yes...you can take a few days here and there and enjoy the amazing wonder of tasty beer. The birth of a child or some major life goal should be rewarded with whatever you please. Be realistic, a few days off from a routine should be just that...a few day off. If you feel like you continually waiver from a set schedule or program, many experts recommend it is time to consider speaking with a substance abuse expert and/or program.
5. Keep in mind one tangible realistic benefit from cutting back...more money!! Seriously, you can spend it on a sporting event, a movie, your significant other, new brewing equipment, or simply save it! Instead of buy several craft 6-packs a week that can cost you $30 or more, buy that anniversary release bomber you wanted to try for $10-15. You get a special treat AND save money. Whether it's buying less or brewing less...the money saved will quickly add up.
In conclusion:
This article presents nothing more than a recommended guideline to healthy and moderate drinking. It's a source of information on what actually qualifies as healthy drinking, with minimal long-term health effects, and what is not. Use this information as you will. This is a topic that hardly reaches sites like these and in general gets very little attention. If nothing else, be mindful of how you live your life and interact with alcohol. Personally, I think beer is the greatest liquid on Earth. But I am not going to ignore the fact that unhealthy consumption leads to major health issues, and in many instances, can be fatal. Here are some links if you want to find out any more about this topic:
Alcohol and medications:
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publicatio...e/medicine.htm
Moderation Management:
http://www.moderation.org/
Chances of becoming a healthy drinker if you are currently a problematic drinker:
http://www.moderatedrinking.com/
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse:
http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
 

Comments

One of the better write up's on this topic I have seen.
While in Graduate school, learning about care for severe alcoholics was one to the hardest subjects, for me, to learn. A lot of the guidelines for drinking, what constitutes a drink, and how many to have a night are based on industry standards, and expert opinion. It was the absolute lack of research or completely biased research against drinking that made me stop and reconsider that the actual impact is different than what we are presented. There is definitely a publication bias in this country towards abstinence of alcohol, yes it can increase your risk of certain conditions, but so does everything else!
That being said, a good healthy evaluation of how we drink, why we drink, and how much should we drink, is a necessary internal dialogue that we all need to ask ourselves.
 
I think as soon as you're chasing the feeling of being drunk, that it's a struggle with yourself to stop after 1 beer... you're somewhere you need to re-evaluate yourself.
I for one hate being drunk or even tipsy. It's a huge conflict I've had with craft brew. Im a huge control freak and being in control of myself is #1 priority. I've always said, if I could have the flavour of craft beer without the alcohol, i'd still be drinking it. That being said, since i've been brewing I drink 1-2 beers a night, if I want more, I stretch it out.
 
I have a two or three drink max and usually only drink on my days off. I'd I need "refreshing" I drink water. I don't need lawnmower beers. I want to think about and taste what I'm drinking. It's very intentional and I stay far, far away from intoxication.
Great article!
 
I never drink alone. Period. It's a rule I started following when I was in grad school a long way from home (and my fiancee). I have a family history of alcoholi-- AUD, and I didn't want to get into trouble. I can still generally count on someone in my family or friends to hold me accountable. In general, I'm at a rate of about 7 per week that way.
This is a great write-up. And doubleplusgood with that last bit about money. Lord have mercy, if I was drinking more than 4 craft beers a night, I wouldn't have money for anything else.
 
Point of curiosity, but is there any distinction made between rates of consumption in a day? As far as the body's ability to absorb and metabolize alcohol without ill effects, I'd imagine there is a significant difference between drinking 3 7% ABV beers in an hour vs. over several hours.
There are weekends where I might have a beer with lunch, one with dinner, and another later in the evening. In a clinical sense, that exceeds the recommended consumption for the day, but with a couple hours between each beer, there is a chance to process each one before having the next.
 
At the NHC in San Diego this last week I was on my way back from the breakfast buffet that I ate too much at and as I was thinking of finding out if they had a gym at the resort, I turned a corner and nearly had a major collision with another large homebrewer simular in my stature. It was John Palmer taking a morning jog. (talk about a SMaSH) I quickly sidestepped and apologized. But that got me thinking of how every other home brewer or craft beer aficionado keeps from being a giant neck bearded stay puff marshmallow. How do you keep in shape?
 
I generally only drink on Friday night with an occasional beer or two (no more than 2)on a Saturday or Sunday during Football season. If we go out to eat I might have a beer with dinner, and my wife and I always designate one or the other as driver and that person doesn't drink while the other is free to have a drink or two. Friday nights are my wife and my relaxation night. I usually have 3 or 4 of my home brewed beers and my wife will have two and occasionally 3 with me. I have purposely avoided kegging beer as this seems like a temptation I personally have decided not to take a chance with. One thing I try to do is focus on bottling beer for gifts to friends and family as well as for myself so I can keep brewing, but not have so much around it becomes a "...oh well might as well crack open a beer I have so many of them..." type of thing.
I was in the Navy for 8 years during the first Gulf war and I saw a lot of people slowly spiral out of control with alcohol and really do a number on their lives. Since then I have tried to keep my love of beer in perspective and erected habits and barriers around my consumption. If you can keep drinking in perspective you can make sure it never gets out of control. I try to keep beer brewing as something I want to share as much as for myself and that has helped a lot. It always seemed to me that you have to be "conscious" of alcohol drinking. As soon as it becomes "unconscious" or a habit, that is when you start to see issues crop up. Besides, I REALLY look forward to Friday nights!
 
I've always had a problem with the pure numbers based system that gets thrown out. Things like weight and metabolism should be taken into account. I'd be curious how beer actually compares to liquor or wine. Concentration of alcohol would seem to matter more so than what is considered one serving.
So if you start drinking less...Smaller batches?
 
Great article. I know I need to exercise with 4 kids and tasting craft beers and home brews at least 5 days a week. I'm going to try the situps/pushups for each beer. See where I get in 2 weeks, give it a test run to see if I can keep it up without making excuses...
 
Personally I think the "problem drinker" rules are a bit ridiculous. I drink once, maybe twice a week, when I do it's usually watching sports (soccer mostly) with friends or maybe going to a beer tasting, but because I typically have somewhere between 4 and 6 beers I'm considered a "problem drinker". According to the "problem drinker" rules pretty much everyone is Europe has a problem.
Definitely try to drink less and don't get sloppy drunk, definitely hit the gym (I usually am in the gym 4-5 days a week) and definitely don't drink just to get drunk, but don't worry too much about arbitrary rules.
 
A couple of points:
A unit of alcohol is 1 12oz beer @5%, this has equivalents to 1 glass of wine or 1 shot which will have different alcohol percentages of course.
So 1 bottle of a 10% beer counts as 2 units. 3-4 units a day is healthy drinking. Other guidelines include no more than 1 unit per half an hour and not exceeding a .05 blood alcohol level.
Don't think of these as rules as much as science-based levels of healthy drinking. Again, you may drink 4-6 a couple days a week and never have any addiction issues. But you are doing damage to your health. Just be aware of that.
 
The feedback so far seems quite disproportionately from non-problem drinkers. In my experience, most homebrewers fall far closer to the gray area... I'd like to hear more from that group.
I, for one, certainly fall more in that area. I try to be very conscious of my temptations and lack of discipline, especially when I have the urge to chase the buzz. Some things that have worked well for me are (1) try to avoid drinking at least one day a week, (2) resist the urge to crack a beer open as soon as I get home, and (3) keep it to 2 (ok, sometimes 3...) beers a night except for special occasions.
There's a lot of alcoholism that runs in my family, and I started drinking irresponsibly from a fairly young age, so it's easy for me to go overboard. I've had a lot of success in overcoming that by being very conscious of it and practicing discipline.
 
@brewcat Yeah, smaller batches works. I did a write-up entitled Increasing Pipeline Diversity which is about brewing two 2.5 gallon batches at once to keep the output of a brew-day up while still getting a variety of beers.
As far as concentration goes, I think it's the total amount of alcohol you consume, so one serving of beer is 12 oz at 5%, while one serving of wine is 4 oz at 15% (or whatever they are exactly. That means a bottle of tripel or quad or barleywine is actually two servings. @horaceunit mentioned the temptation of kegging to drink too much. On the other hand, if you do have enough self-control, you can pour half-servings of bigger beers to stay under your limit for the day, week, etc.
Personally, I drink a beer in the evening almost every day. Maybe I'll have another after dinner. If I've got a session beer around I'll maybe have more. I also have more on vacation or the weekend if I'm home a lot, but usually not more than 3 unless it's a party or something, and then it's spaced out to avoid intoxication.
 
Can't recall the source off hand, but there's been some writeups that the data in this post that comes from the US medical establishment still has holdover from the Prohibition days, and that other, equally valid and peer-reviewed data from other places (Europe) set the bar much higher.
As such, I don't put any stock in the numbers. I am definitelty in the "low risk", heavy side of moderate drinker category according to these brackets, but I feel good, especially now that I've been going to the gym, I rarely get drunk, getting drunk is never (or at least almost never, New Years Eve might be a different story) the goal. And I'm completely and totally comfortable with how much I drink.
Point is, I wouldn't put so much stock in the numbers.
 
There are some rather contradictory studies about "safe" levels of drinking: http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/truth-wont-admit-drinking-healthy-87891
Remember, many of the cited studies come from the same people who brought about the dubious dangers of second hand smoke, and how important BMI is.
I do control my personal drinking, but more for overall health than because of such studies. I just got tired of being obese, and have worked hard to reduce to a healthy weight.
Alcoholism is no joke, some people's limit is zero. Binge drinking is unacceptable in a responsible society. But moderate to even "heavy moderate" drinking in many studies is not dangerous, even long term. Of course, that's if you have overall balance. If you're drinking 800 calories of beer, you have to work super hard to not be obese.
 
Thanks for the article. I recently went cold turkey for a month and a half to stand in solidarity with my pregnant partner. While I didn't consider myself a problematic drinker or home brewer before this, the change definitely had me productively reflecting on my alcohol consumption.
I definitely fall into that gray area but I eat very well and have an active lifestyle. I always think it's important has a home brewer to be, at the very least, cognisant of potential problems.
 
"People can come up with statistics to prove anything. 40% of all people know that." I know that there are people that have problems with drinking and that this article is great help to them, I am glad you wrote it. I just have trouble with solid numbers that apply to all. According to BMI I am obese, my ideal weight is what I had to cut down to when wrestling in high school at less than 5% body fat. Most times the research that gets the data is done by people with an agenda. I know drinking and driving is horrible (pulled a lot of drunks out of wrecked cars) but I don't like research done by MADD. If a car driven by a sober person crashes into a saloon and hits someone who is drinking, to them it is considered an alcohol related accident. As with anything moderation is key, don't let it interfere with family or work, don't drink and drive, and for Pete's sake get a workout in.
 
As far as "gray area", I drink daily, and have 4 kegs running at home. I rarely have more than 2 pints in a weeknight, but day-drinking during the weekend is not uncommon, depending on what's going on. This probably puts me at that 14 drinks/week.
I feel like I drink more than normal people, but do not feel unsafe or at risk. I personally hate being drunk. This is a good article, and something I reflect on often.
As far as the obesity side-topic, I do keep drinking in line with diet...that is, eat well, and drink well ;) This keeps me at a healthy weight. Cheers!
 
Great article. You did a great job of rationalising cutting back when necessary.
I just love one of your last points about cost. You mention "several" six packs could cost $30 or more. Here in Australia I've paid more than that for a single bottle. Your point is still valid, of course, just funny from MPOV.
 
Very nice article, thanks for writing it. As a homebrewer who is probably at 56 a bit over the average age of HBT forum readers I have found that having a reasonable level of drinking becomes more important as the years pass. It is easy to put on a few extra pounds imbibing tasty homebrew which in turn may lead to hypertension or other health issues.
 
Great article. Thanks. A couple of comments. First, there are genetic influences in what 'healthy' ammounts are. For one, I recall that there is a gene that influences addition. Those who have it tend to have less control over various additions, including alcohol. Second, there are genetic influences on how alcohol is metabolized. Some people (like many Asians) lack this gene. So, generic recommendations are fine, but your own, personal levels may be influence by your genetic makeup.
 
I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately... Was VERY glad to see this article!
Thanks for writing it... i find myself drinking heavily lately... but its usually after the kid goes to bed, then i have like 2 beers... which wouldn't be bad, but it's like within 30 minutes because i get up so early, i go to bed so early and have no time for beer.... haha. On the weekends it can get heavier... but i think that is going to change a bit due to this article (and also another kid on the way...)
 
Nice article.
I've been thinking about this after reading one of the how often / how much do you brew threads. One of the posters said he brews a keg every two weeks and drinks it within two weeks nearly all by himself. Considering the brews are normally 6%+ it is a crazy amount to drink.
I also wonder how honest people are when they say they drink 1-2 a night. I have a feeling that is actually 2-1, i.e. normally 2 but occasionally 1. I also note that people don't note the size of the drinks or the % when they say 1-2. It could be 1-2 pints of 7%.
 
@stephelton You're spot on. I'm glad that many of the commenters are healthy, but I'm sure there is a silent majority who either aren't going to comment or even deliberately avoided reading the article. I guess there may be a few chemistry geeks who started brewing without loving beer, but most of us started with the hobby because we enjoyed the end product.
Having draft beer at home for me makes it easier to lose count (no recycling bins that sound like a frat house), and the low increment cost of a pint when I'm brewing my own makes it easy not to even notice the monetary cost. Most of my brewing friends are the same way, and while we all have found a functional routine, I think if we did an audit of the real consumption we'd find that we aren't in the grey area at all, we're clearly on the wrong side of the line.
Ultimately I guess this is the land of the free, so we're free to make our own poor decisions, but I really appreciate this article bringing up the potential for problems. I once was taught that if you need to do math to figure out if you are drinking too much, that you already lost.
At some point, my love of beer makes me keep it at arms length. If I want to keep enjoying the craft and passion, I need to keep on the right side of the line or I risk someday needing to walk away entirely.
 
Great Article,
I also have thought about this very topic myself quite a bit lately.
Since i started homebrewing I find that i am drinking every day, 2-3 beers a night, different ABV amounts each night. Im Irish and i drink more than my Irish friends. However i find that my friends will only drink 2 nights a week and then drink between 8-12 pints when they do,
I do exercise very regularly, quite intense kickboxing and mixed martial arts training. I feel I should take a few nights a week off drinking though.
I find myself a little tired and lathargic in the mornings. definitely not hungover. I find the nights i dont have a drink i get out of the bed easier next morning. Maybe its cause after a drink i sleep even better than when i dont.
Fantastic article, i think everyone should be aware at the amount that they drink and make sure it never impacts on their day to day life.
 
Thank you for writing this. People really don't take the effects alcohol seriously enough. Booze is fun and enjoyable, but definitely not a toy. With the explosion of the brewing culture in the USA, people rarely talk about the impacts of trying to keep up with the innovative new brews. As someone who worked in bars for years I've seen a lot of problem drinking. This is serious stuff, so thank you again for writing this and promoting responsible drinking/brewing.
 
@Calichusetts I don't know how good the science is, but I think 1-2 units a day (maybe occasionally more) and 14/week limits are good advice. Aside from the alcohol, there's the caloric impact and associated risk of diabetes, and the negative affects on getting a good nights sleep.
 
Seems like its not all that different from, say, a chef who loves food. I love my homebrew. It's all about the portions I guess. Enjoy it, just try not to be a glutton.
 
Thanks so very much for this article. It's hard to find somebody like you who makes his/her own beer/wine, and actually cares enough to write something outstanding like this. I know many who did go down the wrong road...Great job!!!
 
What's that saying? Everything in moderation?
I think most doctors and healthcare professionals will say you can put almost any food into your body without ill-effect as long as it's in moderation. Humans crave variety, and we eat a HUGE variety of types of food. But if one type becomes more predominant to the exclusion of others it can cause detriment to our health. That's just the way our bodies work.
Beer is food, and has been viewed as food (not beverage) for most of history until relatively recently.
The next time you feel like cracking open your third, fourth, or fifth beer, try thinking of it as consuming your third, fourth or fifth bratwurst. Or cupcake. Or baked potato. If someone was eating five baked potatoes a couple times a week, you might say they have a baked potato problem, and you definitely wouldn't view it as a healthy habit. Just sayin'. :)
 
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