I would like some clarifications.
If a man says, "I haven't had an alcoholic drink since 1985" but goes on heavy, coma-inducing, bed-wetting binge drinking when outside of the USA as often as possible, is he or is he not a drunk?
What about, "I stopped smoking cold turkey seven years ago," and he chews nicotine tablets all day long? Is he addicted?
I am a neophyte, as I very seldom drink and don't understand addictions. However, I am sensing a deep denial on the part of the man.
If this guy is not a drunk then he is at least a liar. Neither drunks nor liars can be trusted with money or women. Nor can they be trusted to drive cars, paint houses or hold your seat at the ballgame. The list is long.
But not too fast! Maybe what he said was that he hadn't had an alcoholic drink since 1985 within the continental United States. Did he sort of cough into his sleeve at the end of the sentence?
Also, it must be said, in some circles, a beer is not an alcoholic drink. It is "just a beer." To some people, wine is not an alcoholic drink. It is "just a glass of wine." So he might mean that since 1985 within the continental United States he has not drunk seven vodkas in a row.
When I quit drinking, it was a shock to realize that even one drink counts as drinking. I thought of one drink as not drinking. In fact I often thought of actual drinking as not drinking, unless it was accompanied by driving wildly or climbing on rooftops. Just sitting around drinking was not really drinking. It was just sitting around.
So the question of what is an alcoholic drink may constitute a definitional dispute. I would be on your side in such a dispute. I would say that having one drink is drinking. (The marvelous corollary is that if you never take that first drink, you absolutely cannot get drunk.)
As a side note, one wonders at the fortitude it would take to confine one's coma-inducing, bed-wetting binge drinking to foreign countries. It's nice of him to do so, and the hotel workers of America extend their collective gratitude, but one guesses he probably does not have a 100 percent clean record. Perhaps he does not consider them binges at all if they last less than three days.
Now here is another question on the international angle: Occasionally one will take a first drink in a bar in the Bowery and find oneself three days later lying on a deserted beach in Spain, or on a traffic island in Tel Aviv, with no knowledge of the intervening events, tumultuous and frenzied as they no doubt were. How to classify that?
To sum up: Anyone who drinks as much as he does deserves to be called something. If the word "drunk" lacks diagnostic precision then out of sheer exasperation, or a shortage of more accurate and damning epithets, "asshole" might be the appropriate term.
Those of us who have gone on such binges do not like to be called assholes. Nonetheless, if you wreck the hotel lobby and piss the bed, you're going to be called something unkind. Take your medicine. Fair enough.
As to the nicotine: Nicotine is addictive. If you ingest an addictive substance every day over a number of years, it's likely, is it not, that clinical tolerance and dependance will occur? Doctor, is that not the case? That's sort of the definition of it, isn't it?
Maybe he means it's better than smoking cigarettes. But he seems to have substituted one nicotine delivery method for another. So there's probably more to the conversation than just the clinical definition of addiction.
Finally, you didn't mention it, so perhaps I shouldn't pry, but I am curious: Why are you hanging around with this guy?
What? You want more advice?
- Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
- See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
- Ask for advice. Letter writers: Please think carefully! By sending a letter to email@example.com, you are giving Salon permission to publish it. Once you submit it, it may not be possible to rescind it. So be sure. If you are not sure, sleep on it. You can always send tomorrow. Ready? OK, Submit your letter for publication.
- Or, just make a comment to Cary Tennis not for publication.
- Or, send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.