Secrets of a Social Drinker

If it’s true that you’re only as sick as your secrets, alcoholism was a terminal illness in my family. Only it didn’t kill my grandfather. He killed a child in a drunk driving accident and went to jail for five years.

I just sat with that sentence for a long time wondering if I could actually share his story. His secret. But why not? As an alcoholic, his secrets spilled as easily as his eighth or ninth drink. They spilled every time the cops showed up at his house to break up another domestic disturbance. Or whenever he got tossed out of bars or fired from jobs or went right back to pounding drinks as soon as he got out of jail.

No, the secret I’m most nervous to share belongs to my mother, who seethed with shame over her alcoholic father. She married at eighteen to escape his abuse, eventually cutting him out of her life completely and doing everything she could to create a life that was the polar opposite of her violent, chaotic upbringing. She clamped down so hard on her family secrets they nearly drove her mad. They eventually drove her to drink and drink and drink and drink.

Not that you would’ve guessed by looking at her. I lived in the same house and never fully understood what was going on. Yes, she had three or four bourbon and waters every night. She had a temper and could say some really ugly things. She was … an enthusiastic disciplinarian. But compared to her dad, a vicious, stumbling blackout drunk, my mom always had her shit together. She looked like a social drinker, even though she rarely drank in public. Even the way she abruptly stopped  drinking was characteristically single-minded and no-nonsense. The fact that she told my sister and I that she was an alcoholic was scary part. Confessing to any similarity to her dad, admitting she’d put her marriage and children at risk was humiliating for her, but she considered it both a penance and a cautionary tale. She’d learned the hard way that not all alcoholics look or act like her dad. Some still get dinner on the table, keep their jobs and drive carpool. They call out spelling words and jog and hide their hangovers with lipstick and mascara. They keep so many secrets.

In some ways, hearing how my mom struggled with alcohol was scarier than my grandfather’s experience. Like I said, she hid her addiction well and was so controlled and high functioning that, as I listened to her talk about how her craving for alcohol took over her days, how she needed to start earlier and drink more or tried to quit and couldn’t, I knew if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.

Despite her warnings, I still drank in high school and drank more in college (and dropped acid and smoked pot.) But I stayed vigilant about my consumption and eventually settled into life as an enthusiastic social drinker. That’s me in the picture above being social with strangers in Ireland. My friends joke that you can gauge my level of intoxication by how high I hold my glass. I drink to relax and, yes, occasionally to take the edge off my anxiety. I rarely get drunk, though, or even buzzed. I don’t drink when I’m depressed and I constantly check in with myself to see how I’m handling alcohol in my life. I never hide my alcohol or lie (especially to myself) about how many glasses I’ve had. I refuse to keep secrets.

Women now drink as much as men, particularly millennial women. Alcohol is being marketed to us like never before, especially in movies and on social media. When Amy Schumer guzzled Bandit boxed wine in the movie Trainwreck, sales of boxed wines — sometimes called “binge in a box” jumped 22 percent. The HBO doc Risky Drinking is a cautionary tale if ever there was one about how alcohol can consume you. (See the trailer below)

My niece Morgan and I talk about addictive personalities and how that can extend to food, relationships, the Internet or shopping. We talk about what it means to be a social drinker, a binge drinker and an alcoholic. I want her to stay vigilant about the difference. Addiction may run rampant in our family, but hopefully, if we watch out for ourselves and each other, a healthy relationship with alcohol can too.

The Aunt-bassadors weigh in on how alcohol fits into their lives. How does it fit into yours? Comment below.

Think you might be indulging too much or know someone who is. Find a test to see if you’re a social drinker or something else, as well as some good resources for people talk to below.

Laura L.

People are often surprised when I tell them I am not a drinker. I’m simply not good at it. One glass of wine and I’m on the floor. So, it can be a bit trying around others when the spirits are flowing. I’ve often had a glass of some concoction due to peer pressure – coaxing with “come on, have just one.” I’m not a prude, I have no feelings whatsoever on whether one should drink or not, I just don’t. Why that bothers some is beyond me. I DO love a glass of Pinot Noir on occasion but mostly to compliment a good meal. Is this kind of peer pressure as an adult a real thing?

Kristie D.

I think there is a type of peer pressure. I get made fun for not being a drinker. I’m with Laura! I just don’t make it a priority but enjoy a glass now and then with a good meal. I don’t drink at home at all. I’m not even sure why I don’t. I guess I don’t need it in my already crazy life.

Amy S.

I won’t drink more than three times in a week because I’m a really all-in person and I’m afraid of becoming dependent. Most months I drink once or twice all month, but during tech week I’ve found myself making a whiskey sour every night after rehearsal.

Luann C.

There have been moments (ok, years maybe) long ago where I really did drink too much, too often and for the wrong reasons. And I come from a long line of folks who probably could have benefitted from some serious “sobriety support mechanisms”. Seriously, “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” is on my Scotch Irish family crest. So I probably shouldn’t spit in the face of my questionable genetic heritage by drinking at all … but just like I LIVE for my morning cup of coffee – I love my end of the day cold beer. Everyday. On school nights, it’s normally just one or two beers. If there’s a party on a weekend I’ll have a few more, but I don’t love feeling drunk and I don’t love the hangover that comes with it. Tipsy, I dig. Taking the edge off the day is all I need. Put me down for 10 drinks a week on average. Wow that sounds like a lot. Maybe I need to dial it back.

Heather N.

I love wine. I love beer. And during colder months, I don’t mind sipping some brown liquor. I drink every day. I love the sophistication of it. I like the romanticism about a beautiful red Pinot in a bowl of a glass. I enjoy the medicinal feel of sipping whiskey in January. I’m not ashamed nor do I make excuses. It’s a vice I allow. Is it healthy? Probably not. But it’s my chosen vice. I’m given one life, and this is an indulgence I enjoy.

I’m aware enough to know when it’s a coping mechanism for stress, which I consider a good sign. I don’t feel deprived when I visit my Baptist family during holidays where the most sinful libation is caffeinated coffee after five o’clock!

Keep the sugar, keep the meat, keep the cheese, keep the pain meds and the prescription drugs… just leave me a beverage to relax into when I come home from work.

As for how many drinks a week? I honestly don’t know, as it varies week to week.

Becci H.

Most of the time I don’t drink because of my migraines. But when I am hanging out with Steph, we tend to plow through the wine. Why is that?

Clair E.

When I was in an office job I hated, I drank to cope with the boredom and stress and pettiness. Getting a bartending job seriously cut how much I drank and gave me a more than healthy respect for the not-so-glamorous side effects of overconsumption.

Anne P.

Oh my god. I drink CONSTANTLY in social situations, and I’m not above drinking while doing housework either, or at the beach, or stopping at pubs while cycling. I could go on, but maybe I shouldn’t…

Worried that you’re no longer a social drinker?

Here’s a test to see if your drinking qualifies as AUD or “alcohol use disorder.” Anyone meeting any two of the 11 criteria during the same 12-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of an AUD—mild, moderate, or severe—is based on the number of criteria met.

Think you might have an alcohol or substance abuse problem? Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance abuse/addiction and/or mental health problems.

Worried about someone else’s drinking?

Friends and families of problem drinkers can find understanding and support at Al-Anon and Alateen meetings.

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