I've lost count of the number of times I've stood in front of a spit-flecked mirror in the dingy washroom of a shitty dive bar, stared at my swaying reflection, and thought, "I should probably drink less." I've also lost count of the number of times I then marched straight to the bar to drown out that voice of reason with another pitcher of beer or round of shots, because fuck it dog, life's a risk, and being drunk is really fun.
The friends who I drink with down about the same amount as I do, and we usually have a great time, so when I saw that the Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey defines low-risk drinking as no more than two drinks a day and three a week for women, and no more than three drinks a day and 15 a week for men, my first thought was, That seems kind of low. Apparently, a lot of people think the same, because according to the 2012 survey, the most recent year for which data is available, one in four Canadians between ages 15 and 24 exceed the guidelines for low-risk drinking. I mean, when my friends and I drink, it's not a daily thing, no one's been injured, no one's ended up in jail, and no one's had alcohol poisoning, so how risky could it be?
Dr. Corine Carlisle, an expert in youth and alcohol use at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, sympathized with the drinking culture that a lot of university-aged kids get involved in.
"I think it's hard for young people to find that balance," she said, "and how to sort of navigate the guidelines versus your realities, seeing what happens on college campuses." From about 14 to 24, people go through an intense period of brain development that makes them more prone to feeling invincibility. It's a good thing because it lets us establish ourselves as independent adults, but it also makes us vulnerable to risk-taking—including excessive alcohol use.
"It's like we get the ability as people to put our foot on the gas before we have the ability to put it fully on the brakes," she explained.
But being young and dumb doesn't mean I get a free pass for blowing past the guidelines, which turns out actually serve a purpose that isn't just the government trying to kill my buzz—they're based on population statistics and on the impacts of alcohol on the body, and are also set to limit the chance of alcohol use becoming misuse becoming a problem becoming dependence.
So, as someone who can down the weekly recommended limit in a night, does this mean I have a drinking problem?
Well, "drinking problem" is a little tricky to pin down.
"If somebody drinks once in their life, they get heavily intoxicated, they get in a car, they crash their car, they kill somebody, that's a problem, right? Is that problem drinking? Well, it was, that one time they drank, it was a problem. So I think it's so hard to say what constitutes problem drinking," Carlisle said.
By Jackie Hong - Vice/July 20, 2015
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