‘I peeked inside other’s drinking habits and it was fascinating’

Each January, when I visit my GP for my yearly check-up, I answer a questionnaire that, for the most part, I am confident in its answers – there’s just one prompt that gives me pause.

How many units of alcohol do you consume per week?

Ah, alcohol. So simultaneously delicious and destructive. There have been countless studies and pieces of advice circulated on what, when, and how much to drink – but it doesn’t take a scientist to glean that the general idea is to drink less. But as is human nature, we don’t always follow the advice we should.

I’ll never be the coworker who vetoes happy hour, and I love a glass of wine with my dinner. I immensely enjoy the social aspects that alcohol facilities – a relaxed, jovial, collective wind down to all the intensities of life. But I also place a very high importance on my physical and mental health – and alcohol can often be a hindrance to that. I crave my Alcohol-Free Days (AFD’s) and aim for at least a few per week. My drinking habits are entirely contingent on my social calendar, and even then it’s hard to ascertain an aggregate of how many units I’d consume. How am I meant to answer this very expansive question?

(Admittedly, by employing some creative license on the numbers of the aforementioned questionnaire).

This in itself makes me intensely curious about other people’s drinking habits. How much are we really knocking back per month, measured in days and units? I know I could easily start tracking my own consumption but for whatever reason am yet to do so. Perhaps it’s a matter of being afraid of my findings. Or is it because it’s hard to recall just how many after the third tequila soda? Or is it because talking about how much we drink is still a little taboo – casting judgements over habits different to our own being all too easy?

Instead of reaching out to the professionals (for fear of judgement), I set out to gauge findings from people across a breadth of ages and industries and continents – asking the people in my circle about their own alcohol habits to get an idea.

My girlfriends

For such a tight-knit group of women, posing the question of the habits/motivators/deterrents to drink, varied greatly.

From the practical…

“I don’t really drink during the week unless I have an event on, and even then I get sketchy drinking cause even two wines can cause me a severe hangover at work the next day”.

“I drink to get drunk, generally only on the weekend.”

“I’ve lost my license, so having a drink when I’m out for dinner during the week costs more in Ubers.”

To the unashamed….

“There was a Monday about three weeks ago and that was the first day this year I don’t think I had even a drink after work. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I felt like I was getting sick so jumped in bed super early.”

To the modest….

“I don’t drink Monday-Friday ever really (consciously) only drink Saturdays if I have something on. Special occasions will drink regardless of the day.”

To the observant…

“I think people who ultimately don’t drink, and prove me wrong, don’t have as busy social life as those who do. And that’s probably why they don’t drink. Cause at the end of the day they don’t like all that comes with grog and going out and meeting new people. They prefer to stay home and watch TV .”

My hospitality friends

Surely working within an industry that sells itself on having a good time would influence one’s own drinking habits. I turned to the experts – my local bartender. (Over a drink, naturally).

“My alcohol consumption fluctuates wildly. Last summer I’d be drinking five to six nights a week, light days being four units; two rounds of beer and tequila or something of the sort. And heavy nights would be closer to 10 units or more. Conservative estimate 90 units per month.”

“It’s a massive part of the industry, but for me, it was never a problem. I definitely work and have worked with people who need to drink and do drugs during or after a shift to cope.”

My family

My teacher-sister, responsible for 30 nine-year-olds daily, doesn’t usually drink anything on a school night unless it’s over dinner with friends, as she (understandably) needs to be sharp. But that only applies during the school term.

“I’m on holidays at the moment. And teachers love getting drunk in the holidays. I do have a glass of wine if I’ve had a really shit day at work. It makes it better.”

My lawyer-sister, who recently had a baby – is having far fewer AFD’s than usual. But it’s circumstantial – her husband being away for work, and my seven-month-old niece not providing as stimulating conversation to what she’s used to.

“The baby is teething and I’m a stay at home mum so I drink to pass time. But generally, I try to have two to three alcohol free days per week”.

My work colleagues

I live in New York, but all of my colleagues are Australian, so in this respect going out for after-work drinks is easy. We often discuss the differences in American vs Australian cultural habits, and alcohol consumption is undoubtedly one of the most common – namely that alcohol is widespread within Australia, and entwined with the majority of social and cultural activities.

(Full disclosure, I forgot what they told me regarding their collective habits because happy hour got the best of us).

Ideally, I’d like to conduct a nationwide survey to get more accurate results, but I have neither the time or resources at this juncture. So, my investigations all boiled down to this: self-awareness.

As long as you’re being honest with yourself, there’s not a lot of room for error.

Because really, what’s normal anyway?