Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition

Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition

Secondhand Drinking was the topic of my lecture with Stanford Medical students recently. These were students doing an addiction / eating disorder rotation. The title of my program was, “Secondhand Drinking – It’s Real. It Hurts. And It Changes Lives.” With this program, I present the science of SHD, its causes (someone’s binge drinking, alcohol abuse or alcoholism), assessments, intervention, prevention and treatment, and how to incorporate this 21st century brain science on addiction, alcohol abuse, stress and mental illness into their medical practice through simple screenings or when patients present with symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, migraines, stomach ailments and the like.

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:

Alcohol Abuse Going on in the Family? If Only My Doctor Had Asked

Secondhand Drinking Prevention


Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition

Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition

Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition



Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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8 Responses to Secondhand Drinking is Not About Prohibition

  1. Great definition of secondhand drinking, Lisa. It is something that will probably need to be repeated often (for the masses) so that people fully understand. There is definitely a difference between being a social drinker, in complete control of yourself at all times verses someone who abuses alcohol and their family and friends have to deal with the negative behavior. Thank you for all that you are doing to spread the word!

  2. Hey Lisa! Great stuff as usual here! I especially love the photos as a way to explain what second hand drinking is. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that just might be true in this case – very effective!

  3. Hey, if your knowledge is good enough for Stanford Medical students, it’s good enough for me (and my readers). But, then, you know I’ve always had great respect for your work, Lisa. I’m glad to know the true definition of “secondhand drinking;” however, I must say I never thought it was about abstinence. After all, it isn’t the “healthy drinker” (all I could come up with) that’s causing the problems – it’s the individual who can’t stay below those “low-risk” limits. Right? This is a great concept – cause – for which to advocate, Lisa. Me thinks you’ve fallen victim to others’ icky drinking behaviors. Thank you for the lesson/message…

    • Thank you, Bill – I always respect and appreciate your opinion and support. The student’s concern (and that expressed by others, as well) is that “going after SHD” was an attempt to prohibit alcohol as the solution rather than it’s an effort to raise awareness that drinking beyond “low-risk” limits often causes drinking behaviors, and it’s the drinking behaviors that are the problem. And you’re right – I’ve definitely been the victim of others’ icky driving behaviors…

  4. Herby Bell says:


    Gotta grin out of the doctor’s good discerning question about whether Secondhand Drinking implied quitting or “prohibition.” And you’ve helped me think about this in a whole new way…It always amazes me when someone learns that I’m a recovering person when alcohol is being served and asks if it bothers me that they drink. Now, I’m thinking it might, but for different reasons than they think!

    And OMG I do not miss counting my own drinks…

    I really appreciate your no nonsense tag line that SHD is “real, it hurts and it changes lives.” I truly think you are changing our culture with this work, Lisa. Educating primary medical health care providers? I’ll say it again, you’re a genius.

    • I agree – it was a good question and with the ban on smoking successes, makes a lot of sense. Now I got a grin out of your, “Now, I’m thinking it might, but for different reasons than they think!” – so true! And thank you, Herby, for your kind words and support of this work.

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