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Comparison Drunks: That Guy’s Trashed; I’m Fine!


Staring up at the ceiling of the ER, Grace still didn’t understand what happened. How could she have missed that stop sign? She hadn’t had that much to drink. With all the dancing and socializing, she lost track of exactly how many she’d had…but she thought she was doing okay compared to her friends. When she saw how sloppy drunk Beth was, Grace knew she was much better off than her friend. And then Tim fell flat on his face while he was out on the dance floor – that’s what “drunk” looks like! She was doing fine; they were drunk. So when it was time to leave, Grace just grabbed her keys and jumped behind the wheel.


Andy was proud of his drinking reputation; everybody knew he could hold his liquor. Every Friday, he out-drank every co-worker who showed up at Blinky’s for happy hour. Many times, he didn’t even know how much he drank. He just knew he could outlast them all. His body was an alcohol-burning machine. He could drink all he wanted with no consequences. His buddies drank, got drunk and passed out; Andy drank, drank some more and continued to feel fine – at least compared to them! He might get a little buzz on, but he clearly wasn’t drunk. His co-workers, on the other hand, were all slouched over the bar – they were drunk.


Jennifer suddenly noticed she was talking louder than everyone else at the party. Then she told a joke that no one seemed to appreciate very much. She started to wonder if she was a little drunk. Jennifer realized she was drinking more than usual, but no one else seemed to be feeling tipsy. She decided she should slow down – she didn’t want to be the sloppy drunk of the party.


Under the Influence…of Influence

Grace, Andy and Jennifer are exhibiting behavior that researchers have recently discovered is fairly common. The data shows that people judge how drunk they are based on how drunk they think those around them are, rather than how much they have actually consumed. Based on the study, researchers note that when people are surrounded by others who are also drinking alcohol “their judgment of their own drunkenness and long-term health implications of heavy drinking is measured against how drunk they rate those people around them.”

Under the influence of this comparison-mode-drinking, people are more likely to underestimate both their own drunkenness and the associated health risks when surrounded by others who are drunk. On the flip side, people are more aware of their own level of intoxication and feel more at risk of health implications when surrounded by sober people.

Shattering the Comparison

The truth is that your body processes alcohol at the same rate, no matter who you’re with. The human liver can only process roughly one drink per hour – that’s one 12 ounce beer, one 5 ounce glass of wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor. Of course, the rate at which a person’s BAC rises will vary based on body weight, tolerance and other physical factors.

Whether you’re in a room filled with bingers or teetotalers, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s your body the alcohol is going into, not theirs. It’s your body that must live with the consequences, not theirs. It’s your body, mind, heart, liver, reputation and safety on the line – not the drunken guy next to you.

Additional Reading:   Is an Alcoholic’s Thinking Really That Different?
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