Secondhand drinking was the topic of my recent lecture with Stanford Medical students.
During discussion, one student questioned using the term Secondhand Drinking – a term meant to invoke thoughts similar to those we have when we hear the term, Secondhand Smoke. In the case of secondhand smoke, the effort was to stop smoking to reduce the health impacts of smoke on other people.
The student’s question was whether Secondhand Drinking was meant to stop drinking. The firm answer is, “NO!” Rather it’s meant to stop Drinking Behaviors. Drinking behaviors are those that people exhibit when they’ve had more to drink than their liver can process, thereby changing the way their brains work, which in turn is what changes their thoughts (judgement, memory, for example) and behaviors.
Drinking behaviors include: driving while impaired, having or forcing unwanted or unprotected sex, insane circular arguments, verbal or physical fights, etc…. Drinking behaviors are caused by binge drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. To the person on the receiving end, it does not matter what label you attach to the kind of drinking that causes drinking behaviors – it’s the drinking behaviors that hurt.
And as I further explained, it’s not that one binge drinking episode means a person has alcohol abuse or alcoholism, but it could be the one time they do something that could really change their life (unprotected sex and contracting an STD, for example) or the life of someone else (a DUI accident, for example). EQUALLY important in the Secondhand Drinking prevention messaging is that it helps those in the sphere of someone whose had more than low-risk limits to be wary – to take precautions to protect themselves and stay out of harms way – don’t engage in the discussion or insane, circular argument, for example, don’t try to win an argument or take to heart the hurtful things said. It’s so important people understand and remember, when the brain is impacted by alcohol, it can’t work normally – neural networks controlling emotion, judgment, memory (not to mention, breathing, walking, reaction time) are deeply compromised so anything that person says or does should not be taken personally.
Secondhand Drinking Is About…
Thus, Secondhand Drinking is not about prohibition. It is about making people aware that exceeding “low-risk” limits (normal drinking) can result in Drinking Behaviors. Low Risk limits are defined as:
- For women: 7 standard drinks/week, with no more than 3 of the 7 on any one day
- For Men: 14 standard drinks/week, with no more than 4 of the 14 on any one day.
Don’t forget that the quantity and type of alcohol determines a “standard drink.” In the case of wine, it’s 5 ounces; regular beer, it’s 12 ounces (1 regular can); in the case of hard liquor, it’s 1.5 ounces; in the case of malt or lager beers, it’s 8-9 ounces; and in the case of champagne, it’s 3.3 ounces.
For more information on drinking patterns and drink calculators to determine how many standard drinks are in common cocktails poured at bars and restaurants, check out NIAAA’s website, RethinkingDrinking.
Bottom line: Secondhand Drinking is not about prohibiting drinking – it’s about taking a stand against drinking behaviors – it’s about encouraging low-risk limits for those who choose to drink.
Check out the images below for re-enforcing messages. And check out these two posts for more detail on the reasons we need to take a stand against drinking behaviors for they can deeply impact someone’s health and the very quality of their lives: