An Alternative Explanation for the Prediliction of the Comfortable (and Wealthy) to Binge Drink: It’s (Economic) Class, Stupid

A couple of weeks ago, the CDC released a report about binge drinking, where binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting. But, on The Atlantic’s website, a bar owner (for fuck’s sake, consider the source) disagrees:

Since it’s unclear, would you like to know just what my last drinking binge was like?

It began at dinner with a group of friends in a popular restaurant. What followed was a series of wines paired to dishes, including some rather unusual wine selections by our very talented sommelier. I became a bit tipsy but, after nearly four hours, delightful conversation, and an amazing meal, what I felt most was satiated.

I consumed seven drinks in total, or about two per hour. I finished with a Scotch just to cap the night and then took a taxi home where I watched half of an episode of How I Met Your Mother before tip-toeing to bed.

The CDC tells us that binge drinking is a “bigger problem than previously thought,” suggesting that it can (and often does) result in risky behavior, leading to violence, suicide, spread of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, car crashes, and alcohol dependence. They also insinuate that binge drinking causes crime. By their measure, binge drinkers rack up over 223 billion dollars annually.

But during my binge drinking session I didn’t start a fight. I didn’t engage in unprotected sex or infect anyone with a sexually transmitted disease. I didn’t worry about becoming dependent on alcohol, crashing my car, or suicide. I didn’t engage in crime. I just had a great time and then went to sleep.

Another commentator argued that the wealthy are stressed out more, and are consequently getting plonked more often (yes, pity the poor family that only makes $450,000 per year). What’s ridiculous in both the above narrative and the ‘stress’ argument (other than the idea that they are actually more stressed) are the overwhelming class biases.

Yes, it’s possible to get schnozzled on Thunderbird and Schaeffer (the beer to have when you’re having more than thirteen!), but most families that earn between $25,000 to $75,000 per year aren’t drinking seven glasses of high end wine served by a sommelier, with a Scotch as a nightcap. And don’t forget the “amazing meal.” Unless you like Thunderchicken, drinking that much booze is expensive.

Related to that, drinking a lot in the evening is a luxury afforded to those who have jobs where they can do so and not get fired. Many middle-income people work odd shifts or pull a second job. Hangovers don’t work in that situation on a regular basis. And some of these jobs also involved lots of physical work. Professionals can afford to have a heavy drinking night without affecting their job–and, in this economy, workers are afraid to look like they’re slacking.

We seem to have forgotten that the wealthy, and even the comfortable, have always indulged themselves. Because they can.

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4 Responses to An Alternative Explanation for the Prediliction of the Comfortable (and Wealthy) to Binge Drink: It’s (Economic) Class, Stupid

  1. Markk says:

    Binge drinking being 5 beers in one “sitting”? No wonder Milwaukee was the drunkest city in the country according to Forbes. Many bowlers will have 5 or 6 beers (or other drinks) every time they bowl. Over 4 hours or so. Beer frame each game, one guy gets “stuck” and one after. If that is a binge, and considered a problem, then yeah it is widespread. I’d say there were a few hundred thousand people that were binge drinkers in WI and IL alone. Not too many of these people would be considered wealthy or even semi-wealthy by the way.

    This sounds like a definition problem.

  2. Homer says:

    I agree that it takes money to drink like that. I’m not rich, but I make enough to drink way too much. But, I have to somewhat disagree about how it’s easier for a professional person to go to work with a hangover than for someone punching a clock in a physical job.
    I have been on both ends of this question. I can get away with being late after a night out these days, but you have to drag yourself out of bed to punch the clock on time. Other than that, trying to do a professional job (engineering for example) is nearly impossible with a hangover. You can’t think, the quality of your work suffers greatly, you can’t participate in meetings effectively, and you can’t respond to sudden crises that require intense troubleshooting, and mental effort. But, after the pain of dragging myself out of bed, I could swing a hammer all day. It wasn’t fun, but you could do a good days work in that condition.
    This is not universal. There are many blue collar jobs that would be difficult with a hangover (mechanics, welders, machinists, machine operators, for example.)

  3. Kaleberg says:

    There are an awful lot of fairly good wines on sale at our local supermarkets that cost less than $10 a bottle. That’s less than $2/serving or $10/five serving binge. That’s about what you’d pay for a movie around here if you count the gas it takes to drive to the theater. (If you aren’t particularly fussy about your drinking or you are particularly saavy, you can binge for even less.) In other words, binge drinking, even on wine, isn’t a rich man’s prerogative.

    There’s also the time issue. The alcohol in one serving of wine takes the typical person about one hour to metabolize. If you go through a bottle of wine, or its equivalent in four hours, you may be elevating your blood alcohol level, but you aren’t spiking it. An hour after you stop drinking, your blood alcohol level should be well in the range of sobriety. If you’ve been keeping yourself hydrated – tap water works fine – you are extremely unlikely to wake up with a hangover.

    i think a lot of this is just American puritanism.

  4. Rob Monkey says:

    I get your point, but I kind of agree with the people arguing about the definition of binge drinking. While most of my drinking these days is just enjoying my homebrews, I still enjoy going out and getting a little sloppy with friends once in a while. It seems to me that according to the CDC, if you go out and drink enough to actually be affected by the alcohol, then you’re binge drinking, and unless I’m mistaken, “binge drinking” has a very negative connotation. Assuming you go by the standard definition of drinks and average human metabolism of alcohol, then anyone who manages to achieve a BAC of above the legal driving limit here in MI is a binge drinker, and anyone who even stays way below the legal limit but is hanging out with friends for 4 hours or so is also a binge drinker. Granted, consuming 5 drinks in a sitting is not necessarily the way you want to spend every day, but I think by classifying 5 drinks in a sitting as binge drinking you end up sounding as ridiculous as the DARE officers saying that pot is as bad as meth. By overreacting to relatively low-harm levels of use they make it seem like harmful levels of use/abuse are not that much worse comparatively, and you make people who might be concerned about a friend afraid to say something for being seen as a holier-than-thou teetotaler.

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