“Fools Rules” for Justifying Drinking
By Sarah Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC
One of the symptoms of an alcohol problem or Alcohol-Use Disorder is when individuals start to make “rules” around their drinking. These rules may offer a false sense of security that their drinking is under control. The origin of many of these “rules” is from the societal stereotypes about alcoholism and the belief that if one does not exhibit the behaviors or image of the “typical alcoholic” then he or she “must not have a problem.” Sadly this stereotype has been a powerful influence on the minimization of alcohol problems in our society.
It is important to define what the “Fool’s Rules” are, so that individuals can be honest with themselves about their relationship to alcohol.
2. I don’t drink in the morning.
3. I’m drinking by choice, not because I have to.
4. I only binge on the weekends, I don’t drink during the week.
5. I can sometimes control the quantity I drink.
6. I can take breaks from drinking (i.e., 1 week, month(s), etc.)
7. I drink the same amount as my friends.
8. I’m a connoisseur of fine wines, champagne and craft beers.
9. I’m only hurting myself, not my loved ones.
10. I do well at work or academically therefore, I don’t have a problem.
11. I have never blacked out or passed out.
12. I never miss obligations due to my drinking or hangovers.
13. I never drink and drive (but I have to use Uber, cabs, sober friends to get home safely.)
14. I drink for fun and not to “self-medicate.”
Some of these rules are also myths that many believe and use as a way to assure themselves and others that they do not have a problem. The bad news is that they may create a false sense of security, because those with Alcohol-Use Disorders may not be daily drinkers; they may only drink socially; they may be able to take breaks from drinking; they may only drink expensive liquor and may be successful personally and professionally.
Over time, the belief in these rules can be the justification that individuals use when defending their drinking habits to others. Individuals “hang on” to the fact that they have some parameters which lead them to believe that their drinking is under control, but often “if you have to control something then it is out of control.”
Additionally, rules may be set and then broken once in a while or regularly, leading to new or adjusted rules. This is referred to as “drawing lines in the sand” that are crossed and then recreated. This behavior is a clear sign that an individual has some type of drinking problem and should have an assessment with an addiction specialist. Creating rules for drinking and breaking and/or changing them can be an important process in determining if we have an alcohol problem. The NIAAA website RethinkingDrinking.org is a resource that can support individuals in assessing their drinking patterns, create low-risk drinking goals and assess if they are consistently adhering to them.
For an entertaining and informative discussion about “Fools Rules” and more, please visit my podcast with Liz Jorgensen “Straight Talk from the Sober Chicks” at Insight Counseling available on I-tunes.