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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Day-Drinking

Is it always five o’clock somewhere? How bad is a breakfast Four Loko? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Day drinking! Is it really that bad to be a bit toasted at work? Does the sun make you drunker? And you have to go for it on red-letter days, right? Let’s see if day-drinking is bad, really, by exposing five lies you’ve been told about getting your booze on before dinner.

Lie #1: Drinking at Work? Really?

Look, there are plenty of jobs for which sobriety is pretty important. Surgeons shouldn’t drink on the job, nor should pilots, lifeguards, judges, ambulance drivers or heavy machine operators. There are almost certainly others. Oil tanker captain?

But if you work in a job where a beer or two not only doesn’t impair your ability to do your job, but might on occasion enhance it, why wouldn’t you? Working in the creative industries, for instance, involves coming up with a lot of out-of-the-box ideas, something which is sometimes a lot easier when talking shit over a beer or two than sitting in silence, forehead veins bulging as you attempt to “be creative.”

“There’s a curve,” says John, a lunchtime beer enthusiast working in the advertising industry who decided after this chat that he didn’t want his surname used. “There’s a magic point somewhere between two and four pints where something just happens. The right bits of your brain relax and let creativity flow. I’m the best writer I ever am at that point, although my typing really goes down the toilet. Then, at about four and a quarter pints, it all goes to shit and I can’t articulate that creativity anymore. I keep talking about this idea where I hire a stenographer for a month, then I spend every afternoon getting drunk and every subsequent morning looking through the transcripts and finding the good bits, and either end up rich or dead.”

This curve is also known as the Ballmer Peak, a term coined in this XKCD comic in reference to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his tendency to at least appear to have had a pretty exciting lunch. Science actually backs it up, to an extent — a 2012 paper in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that a blood alcohol level of around 0.075 (the equivalent of about two beers) helped with creative problem solving, with drinkers getting better results faster than their sober counterparts. The paper says: “Astonishingly, those in the drinking group averaged nine correct questions to the six answers correct by the non-drinking group. It also took drunk men 11.5 seconds to answer a question, whereas non-drunk men needed 15.2 seconds to think. Both groups had comparable results on a similar exam before the alcohol consumption began.” 

Exciting lunches all round!

Lie #2: Drinking in the Day is the Behavior of Dirtbags

It kind of depends on what you’re drinking and where — take a warm Four Loko out of your coat and crack it open during a McDonald’s breakfast and people think you’re some sort of pig’s ass, but have a Champagne breakfast in the fanciest suite of an expensive hotel and you’re as classy as it gets, even if you’re in bed and haven’t brushed your teeth yet, you bastard.

For some reason the rules are different for the wealthy and powerful. There’s the Mad Men / Jack Donaghy kind of thing, where as long as it’s quality booze an afternoon drink isn’t only okay but actively encouraged. We’ve somehow decided that if a handsome older man in an expensive suit paces around his office pouring himself whiskies from a crystal decanter while making million-dollar decisions, that’s aspirational, but if you go to apply for a bank loan and the manager is wearing one of those hats that holds two cans of Coors and has a big straw, that’s somehow sub-optimal. 

There is, of course, a difference between drinking in the day and getting drunk in the day. Go somewhere like Berlin and wander through a park at lunchtime and you’ll see dozens of respectable-looking middle-aged couples sitting on benches enjoying a nice, enormous robust early afternoon beer. But then they stop drinking and carry on with their day. There’s nothing inherently bad or unhealthy about drinking during the day — where it goes wrong is being unable to stop, day drinking turning into evening drinking turning into night drinking turning into early morning drinking.

If it’s an either/or thing, drinking in the day is safer than drinking at night. There are more options for getting where you need to be without putting yourself in danger, most of the people around you are likely to be stone-cold sober, which decreases the chances of bad shit happening, and in general terms, way more terrible things happen after dark. It’s just hard to be drunk at 6 p.m. and go, “Right, that’s enough, I’ve had fun getting drunk but it’s time to go home, even though it’s too early to go to bed and I’m too hammered to achieve anything — guess I’ll watch Encino Man, do a piss every 10 minutes and order the same pizza twice.”

Lie #3: Drinking in the Sun Will Fuck You Up!

Drinking is drinking is drinking — the same booze going into the same body has largely the same effect whether it’s in the blazing sun or a pitch-black dive bar in the dead of night. 

While there are potentially some elements at play during day drinking that can make it hit you harder — dehydration being exacerbated by hot weather, early booze hitting an empty stomach and so on — the thing that gets you drunk is drinking more booze than if you only drank at night. Don’t blame the sun, you befuddled vampire. Blame getting overexcited.

However, while the sun won’t get you more drunk, it can really do a number on you in other ways. Alcohol increases your risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and it’s very rare for a drunk person to do a good job applying sunblock. (One German study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology even found that alcohol decreased the time it took for skin to burn, a real kick in the nuts for a pale drunkard on a July afternoon.) If getting on one during the day, drink plenty of water and resist the urge to fall asleep in the sun. 

Of course, as with everything in life, there is no fucking winning: You are more likely to be an alcoholic and suffer liver disease if you live somewhere that gets very little sunlight. A study from the University of Pittsburgh published in the journal Hepatology found that colder areas and areas with less sun had more instances of cirrhosis. Another study found every increase in temperature of one degree Celsius was linked with a 0.3 percent decrease in alcohol-attributable cirrhosis. Goddamn it all!

Lie #4: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere!

A fun way of combining alcoholism and an awareness of time zones, “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” is a cheerily self-aware way of faux-justifying illicit early drinking — it’s kind of giving yourself a pretend slap on the wrist in order to show off and make sure everyone knows you’re being a bit cool and having an early beer.

But, unless you say it bang on the hour or half-hour, it isn’t. Fifty-eight minutes out of sixty, it isn’t five o’clock anywhere. It might be 5:01, or 5:16, or 5:43 somewhere, but not five o’clock. You could say, “It’s after five somewhere!”, but in a 24-hour system it’s after five o’clock almost everywhere — the only places where it isn’t after five o’clock are places where it’s five o’clock. If you want to avoid this kind of temporal inaccuracy, avoid numbers entirely and just say, “Look at me! Although some would deem drinking alcohol at this time to be inadvisable, it’s something I’ve chosen to do. Hooray for me!”

Lie #5: “Guess I Should, It Is a Special Occasion!”

What isn’t a special occasion? Every day is something. Between vacations (and, of course, drinking early on a vacation is fine), celebrations (it’s the Fourth of July, you can go for it), family occasions (“To the happy couple, getting married in just five hours time!”), international communications (“I have a Zoom meeting with colleagues in Hong Kong, they might be drunk, I should be too”) and sports-based overexcitement (“I know it’s on at 10 a.m. here via an illegal livestream, but I can’t properly enjoy the illegally live-streamed Aussie Rules without a few beers”), there are probably more days of the year where you can convince yourself you’re drinking in the day because you have some kind of obligation to than those on which you can’t.

This… doesn’t seem good. Loopholes are dangerous things, ways of absolving yourself of responsibility while persuading yourself you’re behaving exactly as you should. If you know you shouldn’t be doing something, and the only way to justify it to yourself requires complex moral gymnastics and pretending to adhere to increasingly elastic rules you set yourself, maybe the whole thing is due a rethink.

If you want to drink in the day, drink in the day, but do so because you’ve chosen to, not because you’ve persuaded yourself that you have to. As much as anything else, doing things because you have to is no fun. That’s work, and you wouldn’t drink at work, would you? 

Wait, no, hang on, we’ve covered that, go for it. As you were. As you were!

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