The art of the functioning alcoholic

Eat first, then drink.

When it comes to heavy drinking it pays to have a technique, even if this will sometimes not work out. Without a good technique the inexperienced drinker can easily end up having to pay twice or even three times for an evening out. Firstly, through the monetary cost of the drink itself, secondly through the cost of the meal you ate as it came back out again and thirdly by missing work or just having to write off a day or even two days afterwards.

Having learned from my many mistakes over almost three decades of drinking I can give you some real drinking advice. Not the sort of rubbish that the government likes to present whilst pretending that they are not glad of the massive returns they receive on taxing our vices; the two units a week crap.

No, this is sensible advice for those who are going to ignore all the health warnings and scare tactics. This is the advice you want to hear if you are skirting that tightrope between oblivion and resembling a real human being. Allowing you to be the kind of drinker who can go to work or college every day, and not the kind of drinker who cries and then throws up.

To be a functional drinker it essential to have some rules, rules might keep you out of trouble. These can be flexible to move with the rhythms of your life and so don’t hold onto them too much, let them evolve, but do create some.

Do I see cake?

1. Eat

The functional drinker should always, always eat before drinking. Even if you get caught out and find an afternoon session turning into an evening session you should observe some kind of meal time. Alcohol will enter the bloodstream through the stomach, the less that is in there the quicker this will happen. Think about it as a small dam to slow down the torrent of booze that will hit your every organ; without its help you might have more disastrous hangovers and even blackouts. One New Year’s Eve I ignored my own advice and ate a small rice meal and not much else. Before the bells had rung I was lying on the bathroom floor at our friend’s house having abused all the guests and broken a lamp. I spent the first day of the year in deep, hungover, existential regret. Had I eaten a burger it would have all been very different.

As drinking also depletes vitamins and especially B vitamins such as B12 and thiamin, it is wise to eat food that is rich in both. Meat is always a good option, but also marmite/yeast extract, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and wholegrain bread, so a marmite, peanut butter and pulled pork sandwich is perfect.

They're adding 50 to 100 per cent to their hangovers.
They’re adding 50 to 100 per cent to their hangovers.

2. If you don’t smoke, don’t smoke

Unless you live in Lancashire, where 30% of the adult population still smoke, you’ll notice that most people who used to smoke have given up. But go to a house party with a packet of fags or a full pouch of tobacco and soon all of these non-smokers will be lighting up, in fact more often than not I have found the whole party move outside even in the depths of winter to sneak in those precious drunken cigarettes that we all know don’t count. Except, well, they do in the morning.

Writing in Raw Spirit, his 2003 book in search of the perfect dram, Iain Banks said that “Extensive research has revealed that my hangovers are consistently between 50 and 100 per cent worse in the morning if I’ve been smoking.” Again, this is perhaps due to the fact that smoking can also deplete vitamin B12. Lack of which can cause fatigue and brain fog and can even shrink your brain, causing it to rattle about in your head increasing headaches.

3. Don’t drink on your own, except…

I used to insist that I never drank on my own. I had an active social life and would regularly go out, at least five times a week, with friends. Drinking on my own would mean drinking on my days off and the slippery slope would lie before me. You need some balance.

As I’ve got older and friends have got families and I don’t really want to be dancing to shite pop music at 3 a.m. on a school night (not every week anyway), I’ve gone out less and less. I’ve also started to invest much more heavily in a quality drinks cabinet at home, which in turn lends itself to cocktail making. With two children it isn’t easy to have a cocktail party every night, yet I do love to learn new cocktails all the time. Therefore this rule has evolved and I now drink alone, around once a week. I’ve also noted that the difference between three cocktails and four or more is the difference between being able to feel human on the pre-school run and having breath like paint stripper and hair like a straw hat. Not a great look in front of the other parents.

4. Time gentlemen, drink it up now please

This rule is really for those who are holding back the floodgates of inevitable drunkenness. Those whose couple of pints means a three-day binge. Hemingway sometimes fit into this category, he enjoyed booze so much that he needed to set rules or he’d never produce any art (or earn a living). He’d never drink until he’d finished what he was working on. However, he’d also say that he often finished writing mid-flow and not when he’d exhausted his creativity, so that he could come back and continue with the flow. Obviously this means he’d never actually finish. It’s always good to set yourself two rules that can exist paradoxically.

He also would proudly tell people he never drank before noon. Many have suggested that he’d always break this rule, but he didn’t see beer as drinking and he’d also state that, “it would be afternoon somewhere”. Perhaps Hemingway isn’t the best person to garner drinking advice from.

"That's interesting."
“That’s interesting.”

5. Have a few stock responses

If you have over indulged and find yourself surrounded by sober people do be aware that the likelihood of sounding like a drunken twat with an IQ lower than the common toad is very high, and you might also be rather irritating.

Time to use some stock responses and ignore the conversation that the abusive drunk inside your brain is telling you is charming banter. Try saying instead, “That’s interesting” and nodding your head. You can do this at any time as most people think they are being interesting at all times. “Can’t complain” can be thrown in at most times, as can “Yes, yes” or “Correct”, although the latter can only be used around middle-class types or the risk of twatdom remains high. (They also tend to think they’re always correct and appreciate reinforcement, which is what social media was invented for.)

6. Drink water

Obviously, dehydration is one of the biggest hangover culprits. If you’re  chastised for drinking water by your alpha friends try this witty comeback—“Fuck off”. Works every time.

Andy Hamilton (Bristol, September 2016)

Gin in the morningAndy had his first alcoholic drink at eight and has never looked back. He now works as a freelance drunkard and does many booze related things to earn a crust. These include taking people out into the woods and teaching them how to make booze from wild plants, writing about booze in his books, the bestselling Booze for Free, the in-depth treatise on beer, Brewing Britain, and more recently the book he is working on, Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails. He often writes for the Telegraph and occasionally for the Guardian. He’s also been know to help various establishments design their own signature drinks. Andy is known as one of the politest people in the drinks industry, he never swears and is always convivial and never an incompressible drunk. Honest. And he really is the editor at large for Alderman Lushington.

Twitter: @andyrhamilton Website: The Other Andy Hamilton