Drunk Math

Posted: October 26, 2010 in Early sobriety, Synapse Misfires
Tags: , , , , , ,

Alcoholics are pretty stupid most of the time.  This isn’t news.  We slur.  We forget things (like 2006 or if we’ve bathed).  We certainly can’t perform tasks that require higher order thinking very well…. or CAN we?  Recently, in fact, there have been some studies that show that high childhood IQ is a fairly good determinant of heavy adult drinking.  Perhaps the Think Tank is actually in the Drunk Tank?

Take mathematics, for instance.  I have always sucked large, reindeer sized turds when it comes to anything more than simple addition and subtraction.  I wasn’t terribly bad at algebra, but I struggle to help my 8th grader with her homework these days.  Drunks are notoriously bad at math:  think about our bank accounts and credit card statements.  And, see!   I said I was pretty good at simple addition or subtraction!  (Drunks are also charming liars.)  But we are especially effective at what I call Drunk Math or Alkie Algebra.  This kind of higher order cognition takes a good deal of math skill, memory, and careful planning–none of the things one associates with active alcoholism.  Ahhh… but if it has to do with our access to obtaining/maintaining our buzzes, we’re freakin’ GENIUSES.

An alcoholic is always painfully aware of (a.) how much booze s/he has access to at the moment, (b.) roughly how much booze it will take to get/maintain intoxication, (c.) how much money/access to more booze s/he has, (d.) how long it will take to (1.) get more booze and (2.) get drunk/more drunk, and finally (e.) which excuses and lies to make in order to achieve access and drunkenness (should this be necessary).

There are other variables that my fellow alcoholics could add almost endlessly to this list.  For example, drunks have rigid maps and schedules committed to memory:  the locations of bars and liquor stores and their opening/closing times.  (This is especially crucial to those of us who may live in states with strict blue laws or even dry counties… pity the thought!) We have to plan our days around irritating chores like work or driving or being in public places where drinking isn’t permitted.  We find ways around these obstacles of course–thus, careful planning is required.

We know that our bodies can metabolize roughly 1 ounce of liquor per hour, but know have a grasp on our higher tolerance level:  solving this problem becomes a complex exercise in experimental and theoretical math.

If you want to know what an alcoholic is “thinking,” on the surface it’s quite simple:  we’re thinking always, only about our next drink.  Even when we’re having the present drink, the next one is on our mind.  And that next drink is a site of emotional trauma and paranoia, because it might NOT be enough.  This is why, for me, the moment of almost complete happiness was the trip home from the liquor store with a heavily laden purchase in hand.  Putting the bottles away, having the cupboard stocked with alcohol was the closest I could come to a feeling of real security.  Hell, screw peace in the Middle East!  Give me a gallon of vodka and six bottles of wine in the pantry any day!

So, in keeping with 8th grade math, I thought I’d let a quadratic equation tell the story of alcoholic thinking and experience.  For those of you excellent alkie students who have graduated onto the more nuanced aspects of our inebriate algebra, enjoy the refresher.  And don’t hesitate to help your non-alcoholic classmates understand these principles!  You remember “FOIL” right?  First, Outer, Inner, Last?  Solve the following equation to arrive at the product E (the Experience of drinking):

(x-d + ac) (y – b) = E


x = booze

y = 24 hours

a = physical craving for alcohol

b = self-esteem

c = self-pity

d = alcohol immediately available

See… you thought it would be easy!  The mental gymnastics required simply to maintain our habit is staggering (and we have to do it WHILE staggering).  And, of course, one of the things that makes sobriety so difficult–once the physical cravings have been overcome–is the problem of filling the mental void left behind from these cognitive aerobics.  Newly sober alcoholics like me often joke morbidly about what to do with all this free time on our hands!

My thinking and behavior during my drinking days seems almost like that of a paranoid schizophrenic these days, especially the obsessive Drunk Math in which I was engaged.  I suppose alcoholics have this in common with schizophrenics, along with a tendency toward having A Beautiful Mind (though John F. Nash I’m certainly not).  It’s known that schizophrenics often self-medicate with alcohol–easily to the point of dependency.  I firmly believe that I have medicated my alcoholism with schizophrenia.

  1. Evelyn says:

    You are so fun and clever. I snorted aloud at several parts.
    I’m applying a lot of these feelings to my own addictive tendencies and trying to use them to understand the lovable alkies in my own life.
    Well written and so linear.

    • soberfornow says:

      I agree that this kind of thinking/behavior is definitely not the special province of booze-beasts alone!

      An ex of mine was totally OCD. (She claimed not to be, and even got a therapist, post-break-up, supposedly to agree with her. Now, if you’re not OCD and you call up your ex to “prove” that you’re NOT OCD… well…) Anyway, I started to look around the house just trying to THINK like her for a few months… noticing the drawers slightly open, the cans in the pantry not all facing outward, the books not evenly squared one-inch from the edge of the shelf, etc. It was EXHAUSTING. While her neurosis wasn’t “addictive behavior,” it was certainly a maladjusted, abusive deployment of what were essentially healthy human instincts.

      It’s like the Drunk Math: these are excellent survival instincts we addicts exhibit–it’s just that it’s the alcohol that’s surviving, not us! The more I look around, though, the more I agree that we’re all screwed up in one way or another–and most of the ways are pretty similar. Nice to know I’m not alone!

  2. teeej says:

    It’s amazing to read your 5 awarenesses of an alcoholic and not feel so at home. I mean, I’m literally half reading and half thinking those exact thoughts.

    Right now I’m about 16 hours sober and hoping to make it through my first day in several months. Reading your blog has been a joy.

    • soberfornow says:

      Sixteen hours is a lifetime! And only a “normie” would say different. And at the risk of making you want to strangle me slowly with leftover candy canes until Groundhog Day: it DOES get easier.

      Thanks for the post. Really: it’s nice to know that someone is reading this stuff–even though I write it almost entirely for my own sobriety. It makes me feel “responsible” to something/someone out there in the ether. A cyber version of my HP, perhaps.

      And the thing about alcoholics is that we all come in different shapes and sizes, but our thinking is pretty much the same. That’s why writing this slop is like falling off a bottle: it’s the height of unoriginality!

      Thanks for helping to keep me sober tonight! We all deserve our sobriety (but never at the expense of our irony)!

  3. Brian B says:

    Hey Im digging the blog its well written and original (rare these days). Anyway i hope you keep it going, and i cant but wonder if a normie could even begin to understand….

    • soberfornow says:

      Thanks for reading, Brian. I’d be writing anyway, because it helps my sobriety, but it’s lovely to find that I’m not whistling in the wind entirely.

      That’s a good question about normies… Hadn’t thought about it. I have friends in other fellowships–I’m thinking of OA specifically–and while there’s a lot of overlap, there are things with which I simply cannot empathize about their experiences. Sympathize, yes; but there is an element missing. I have another family member who was recently in treatment, and what shocked me most about his experience was that a few of his family members simply REFUSED to try to understand, to get the education that would help them understand him. This comes from resentment in part, of course, but I can’t help feeling that many normies don’t “get” us because they don’t WANT to. They still operate under the presumption that this is all about willpower, all about morals and the inability to control ourselves, etc… Who needs to “understand” what is essentially willfully bad behavior?

      Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts!

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