Sunday, April 24, 2011

It Adds Up

So I recently read A Million Little Pieces and while it may have been a fake memoir, it's a damn good book and it totally gets you thinking.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the book, it's about a man with severe drug and alcohol addictions. His addictions go beyond anything I've ever heard of in real life and make Requiem For a Dream and Trainspotting look like child's play.

You read about his addictions, everything in his life he's managed to completely screw up under the influence of these addictions, etc.

Point: It's a great book and gets you thinking about the fine line between having fun while drinking and alcoholism. I don't care if it's not real, it'll scare the living shit out of you.

I lent the book to a friend here and he said it hit close to home. Honestly, I wouldn't call him an alcoholic. He drinks pretty much the same as everyone else around here.

Czechs, and Europe in general, have a drinking culture. You go to the park and you drink. You go hiking and you drink. You sit down to eat and you drink. It's just normal.

But does drinking the same as the rest of the people you're surrounded by mean you're not an alcoholic? Some would just say that's social alcoholism. I honestly don't know either way.

We discussed it the other day and he sent me a link to a map of global alcohol consumption created by The Economist. I love maps and this one is interesting.

{via The Economist}
However, this map and the information with it did need some perspective and deciphering. See, the World Health Organization calculates alcohol consumption in units of pure alcohol better known as ethanol. (Wait, isn't that the stuff people want to make cars run off of instead of gas?)

According to the WHO, Moldovans lead the world, each drinking 18.1 liters of pure alcohol  per year. The Czechs are right on their tails at about 16 liters each. This article doesn't mention anything about averages. I'm guessing that they simply divided the amount of pure alcohol by the drinking-age population of the country, so it essentially is an average. I'm sure there are teetotaler Moldovans out there too.

Now for the metric-system inept (aka Americans), or just those who would like to know how the hell many actual drinks that is, I've done the math for you. (Keep in mind, math is not my strong suit...)

We'll need to start from the beginning:

One 12 oz. beer (at 5% alcohol strength) = One 5 oz. glass of table wine (at 12%) = One 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor (at 40%). Hey, those TABC came in handy after all.

***Note: Keep in mind that people rarely drink 12 oz. beers. The average serving size is 500mL or a little more than a pint which is how we'd serve it up in the USA.***

This is the system for a standard drink. Each has roughly 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol.

It takes about 67.6 tablespoons to make a liter (according to Google). So that's about 56.3 drinks to make one liter of pure alcohol. Now multiply that by 18.1 and the Moldovans drink about 1019 drinks per year. Each.

That means the Czechs drink about 900 drinks per year. Each.

Now to break this down even further that means Czechs would need to drink 2.5 drinks per day to reach this... goal? So do you call two-ish drinks per day a problem?

In America, we would. Then again, we also don't let people drink until they're 21 and overall, our culture is quick to judge others and for some reason has the super affliction to alcohol. At least that's how I see it.

Either way, I don't know if you'd call that alcoholism. To me, the idea of alcoholism implies there's a problem. Simply drinking every day or often doesn't mean you have a problem. To me, alcoholism means that you've lost control somewhere. If you can drink and keep your act together, fine. So be it.

But then I remember when I learned about high-functioning alcoholics. These are typically high-powered people who drink to take the edge off. One drink turns into two or three. But they're still able to get everything they need to done and attain their goals.

So again, where's that line?

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