Everyone has their own relationship to and tolerance for alcohol, but next time you're at a party, you might do well if you have exactly two drinks. If you are a person who has found that zero drinks, or one drink, is the right number for you, then that is the number to stick with. For everyone else, try two. Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Here "party" means anything bigger than an intimate group of family or friends. If people are gathering and drinking alcohol, and those people include people you don't really know, or people you don't really like, or especially people you have to work with (see previous two categories) -- at a party like this, it is a good idea to consume, in the course of the event, two alcoholic beverages.
Does this seem low? It's not, really. Having two drinks -- specifically, one drink, and then later on another drink -- is moderate social drinking. It will probably make you a little more relaxed and easygoing. It is unlikely, however, to leave you sloppy or belligerent. You will not be the life of the party. Being the life of the party is usually a mistake, especially around people you don't like and/or have to work with.
How do you go about drinking only two drinks in the course of a party? First, have one drink. Make it something you enjoy drinking, but also something you know that you're drinking, so you don't thoughtlessly rush through it. If you're slurping down a delicious fruity alcoholic beverage because it's delicious and fruity, you'd be better off having a delicious nonalcoholic smoothie.
The current craze for ostentatiously bitter IPAs can be helpful here. The idea that bitterness is the signature of sophisticated beer is obnoxious and false, but bitterness can be a feature of some good beers, and if you enjoy a bitter beer, it encourages you to sip your way through the bottle. You may be only halfway down when your friend or not-really-friend drains their own first beer and offers to go get everybody some more. "Thanks," you say, "I'm still good with this one."
The same result can be achieved by slowly sipping a glass of bourbon or scotch. Taste it. Savour it. Let other people rush to the bottom of their drinks, if they must.
What about the old student maxim, "Liquor, then beer, never fear; beer, then liquor, never sicker"? It doesn't matter, because you're only having two drinks.
Eventually you will get to the bottom of your first drink, because you are not not-drinking. Now is the time to get something else: A nice, refreshing glass of seltzer. Maybe a bracing cup of cranberry juice. Maybe cranberry and seltzer together. The sort of people who pay attention to what other people are drinking may notice and say something. No one owes these people any sort of explanation, but you may hoist your beverage a few centimetres or so and smile and say, "Pacing myself." That is what you are doing, in fact: You are pacing yourself.
The truth is, even if you are setting out to drink six or eight drinks (a bad idea), you should follow your first drink with a hydrating, nonalcoholic beverage. Everyone at a party is better off with a little fluid in the system.
By the time you reach the end of your nonalcoholic drink, some of the people around you will be on their third drinks, maybe even their fourth. They may be saying things that are indiscreet. Rather than taking this as an invitation to say something indiscreet yourself, you may take it as a reminder of the value of discretion. Or, if you wish, you can say something that seems indiscreet but is carefully considered. You are under control.
Now that you have fallen completely off the pace, have another drink. Again, choose something you enjoy. Savour it. If you accidentally find yourself in possession of a drink you don't really like -- a flavoured Uncanny Valley simulacrum of a beer, for instance -- get rid of it at once and replace it with something you do like.
At this point, the people who are on their way to getting good and drunk will have lost count of your drinks, if not their own. They will see you and your drink, and you will register as one of them. Your drink will slowly warm you up, and you will feel convivial; you are one of them. Just not a sloppy or reckless one.
Nor will you be desperate to join them in the line to go to the toilet. You're well hydrated but not sloshing.
Enjoy your drink. Chat with the people you want to chat with. You will find it surprisingly easy to manoeuvre around the bores and troublemakers. If shots appear, do not take any. This may require a little resolve, but you will have plenty of resolve. You're not going to lose an argument with a drunk.
Eventually your second drink, like all good things, will come to its end. If you were having three or more drinks, a third drink would seem like a good idea. But you are having two drinks. Look around. Is this party still a place you want to be? If it is, get another seltzer or juice, or go outside and hang out with the smokers. If it is not -- when it is not -- say your polite goodbyes to people who are still capable of listening, get your stuff and go. It is not your job to sustain a thinning party.
Venture out into the night. Feel the noise and stimulation of the party lift from you, leaving you clear-headed and alert. Go home and get a good night's sleep. You're not missing anything.