HEALTHY LIVING
03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You A Functioning Alcoholic?

If you love a good cocktail or two or maybe three after work (not that we would know anything about that), you might crack the occasional joke about being a functioning alcoholic. But what exactly does that entail? And is it really such a bad thing? Was James Bond an F.A.? Please discuss below in comments.

So how much alcohol is too much? The Department of Health recommends that women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and no more than three units in any one day (a 175ml glass of wine at 13 per cent is 2.3 units; a measure of spirits is one unit). After an episode of heavy drinking it is advised that you refrain from drinking for 48 hours to allow the body to recover. But William Shanahan, the medical director at the Capio Nightingale clinic, which offers treatment for addiction problems, says such guidelines are confusing.

It is not possible to state, he says, a single tipping point at which heavy drinking can be called alcoholism. 'It's important to remember that all alcohol is a poison, and that our bodies are only able to metabolise one unit an hour,' he says. 'Anything over that will damage your body. Most people hate the term "alcoholic" because they don't see themselves sitting on Hungerford Bridge with a brown paper bag. It's much more helpful to think of it in terms of "harmful drinking" and "dependent drinking" rather than simply as alcoholism. Drinking is harmful if it causes a problem in any area of your life.

Keep reading.

So why do people drink themselves silly?

Researchers have had a hard time understanding binge behavior. Until recently, their definition of binge drinking -- five drinks or more in 24 hours -- was so loose that it invited debate and ridicule from some scholars....In fact, the dynamics of bingeing may have more to do with personal and cultural expectations than with the number of upside-down margaritas consumed. In their classic 1969 book, "Drunken Comportment," recently out in paperback, the social scientists Craig MacAndrew and Robert B. Edgerton wrote that the disconnect between the conventional wisdom on drunken behavior and the available evidence "is even now so scandalous as to exceed the limits of reasonable toleration."

Keep reading the New York Times story.

The Times also recently ran a piece on a newly diagnosable disorder called "drunkorexia."

Drunkorexia is not an official medical term. But it hints at a troubling phenomenon in addiction and eating disorders. Among those who are described as drunkorexics are college-age binge drinkers, typically women, who starve all day to offset the calories in the alcohol they consume. The term is also associated with serious eating disorders, particularly bulimia, which often involve behavior like bingeing on food -- and alcohol -- and then purging.

Keep reading.