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The Dark Side of Home Brewing

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Brewing has a dark side.  It has yet to be brought to light by the dozens of books I have read on home brewing.  The multitude of people online who I have connected with about brewing have never spoken about it.  The brewing industry itself wants us to believe it is a myth.  That dark side is alcoholism, or alcohol dependency, and it is a terrible component to drinking.  Not everyone is blessed with the ability to moderate their intake. Not everyone is smart enough to treat alcohol responsibly.  Every brewer should know what alcoholism and alcohol dependency are, and how dangerous a full blow case can be.

My goal with this article is to simply inform.  I want to be clear, I am not saying that brewing beer, going to pubs, and enjoying beer is a negative thing.  Alcohol is reported to have positive health benefits, when used in moderation. Drunk driving, loosing one’s spouse, or destroying one’s health are negatives that are involved with alcohol when it is used irresponsibly. Some people have a genetic predisposition to becoming an alcoholic, or a family history of alcohol abuse, which puts them at a higher risk.

Something I was not aware of is alcoholism and alcohol dependency are the same thing.

The word ‘dependency’ sounds so innocent.  The dependency leads to a steady progression associated with more and more alcohol intake, and that is what causes all the damage.

For the official medical description see: http://www.mentalhealth.com/dis/p20-sb01.html

Some Warning Signs:

  • If you are developing a tolerance for alcohol, and need to drink more to get the same effect, that is a warning sign.  Making up for drinking by exercising, eating healthy, and getting more sleep is only going to feed into increasing tolerance.

  • Inability to cut back is a warning sign. That means it is a habit, and the progression has started.

  • If you find yourself making excuses to justify drinking, that is a warning sign. These may include social drinking, celebratory drinking, drinking to reward oneself, or on the negative side, drinking to cope with stress, physical pain, or to numb negative emotions.

  • The idea that it isn’t alcoholism until it impacts your life in a major way is completely flawed. Even something as simple as a mild headache in the morning, weight gain, or slight depression is a health impact.  Consider that increased drinking is the cause. Multiply a mild headache over a month, or an extra few pounds over a year, and now it is a chronic condition. Over time, excess drinking will lead to problems in all aspects of life, especially the ones you care about most.

  • Bottom line: If you think you have an alcohol dependency you do, and you need to address it. Private counseling is one very good option. Self moderation is likely not to work. Only 20% of people are able to stop on their own. Beyond that, support from family, friends, and an alcoholics anonymous club should be sought out.

This website has a guide on what constitutes alcoholism, and a short quiz you can take yourself:
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/cmed/alcohol/alcoholism/alcoholism.htm

What is at stake here?
Alcoholism has a progression.  It starts with a higher tolerance, which kicks off a cycle of increased intake.  At this point attempts to scale back may be unsuccessful.  This may continue for a number of months, years or decades.  Over the course of that time, long term drinking causes harmful health effects.  Its not just the liver that gets hurt. Research indicates the brain chemistry governing emotions of happiness are at stake. Hardened alcoholics actually loose the ability to enjoy themselves unless they have recently had a certain amount of alcohol. This is something alcohol has in common with harder drugs like meth.

Most home brewers are smart, hands on, creative, and self sufficient people. These positive attributes are made possible because of our brains. The thought of loosing that to alcohol is horrifying.   There are social impacts as well. Alcoholism effects the alcoholic and everyone around them.  The thought of loosing employment, spouse, friends, and faith is also horrifying.

Anyone who has a history of alcoholism or a family history of alcoholism should strongly consider avoiding home brewing as a hobby.

We brewers are often surrounded by alcohol, involved in the production of it, and even its perfection.

Home brewing ultimately leads to having large quantities of high quality beer on hand at a very affordable price.  At home you are surrounded by reminders of brewing – the equipment, the bubbling fermentor, the empty bottles, the spreadsheets on your computer’s desktop, the hops outside the house, and the closet or fridge full of beer just waiting to be enjoyed.  These reminders can be triggers for cravings.  Acting on those cravings repeatedly can lead to higher tolerance, and that is when the progression begins. The progression is dangerous because it can slowly creep higher and higher. There is such a thing as a functional alcoholic, but functioning at what level, and for how much longer?

In the past, I was always surprised to see a craig’s list post of a home brewer selling off their entire kit for a ridiculously low price.  My original thought was, once you figure out how to brew beer that is perfect to your own taste, why ever stop?  One explanation is they brewed themselves into alcoholism and were forced to choose between booze or life.

  1. 34 Responses to “The Dark Side of Home Brewing”

  2. Crap, please remove this. The same old puritan BS. Beer is not a significant factor in weight gain, either – lay off the chips when you drink.

    By bakins on Jul 9, 2009

  3. As I said above the goal is to inform. I bet you are right, beer is probably not a direct cause of weight gain in some people. I am the lucky type who doesn’t gain weight no matter what I eat or drink. As for puritanical lectures, this is intended to be scientific and non-biased. I encourage more feedback, I hope this gets attention as it is something to consider.

    By Larry on Jul 13, 2009

  4. Sooo…. you brew and are NOT an alcoholic? Not assuming anything, Just trying to clear the air.

    By mikey on Jul 20, 2009

  5. It does make sense that a high number of brewers would be alcoholics. Check out the work going into the website and you can guess how much time I have for drinking. I brew for fun, to share, and because of the science behind it.

    By Larry on Jul 21, 2009

  6. Beer, or any other alcohol CAN be a major factor in weight gain. Beer averages between 100-200 calories per serving. As little as an extra 100 calories a day, for a year, can add 10lbs! Calorie intake is the main contributor to weight gain, not carbs or fat! I workout almost everyday so I can enjoy a few beers now and then…

    As far as being an alcoholic…from what I’ve read more than 3 drinks at a time can mean you have a drinking problem, LOL…..count me in!

    By Mike on Jul 28, 2009

  7. Wow! this is the first i have seen this on topic on any web based home brew media. Many home brewers likely drink excessively and could be called alcohol abusers. I have not met many a home brewer that I would call dependent or an alcoholic because of the science and perfection of making the perfect beer and system seems to dominate as the addiction rather than the consumption of their creation.

    Home brewers i have met are often obsessive compulsive about brewing and designing new equipment. They spend lots of time and money devoted to this cause. This may even meet DSM-IV criteria for addiction. Many also drink large amounts of beer (both purchased and created). When does the line cross from obsessing about brewing to the act of drinking. May be difficult for many to detect in themselves or observe in others.

    I agree if you have a family history (like myself), you walk a fine line with me. If your life starts turning to shit and you don’t care (loose wife, kids, friends, job, or house), then alcohol is most likely the root of the cause. Addictions however are rooted in the part of the brain that is so old from an evolutionary stand point, that the addiction is linked to survival instinct. Thus those dependent on alcohol will deny the problem even when faced with the fact of their life is turning to shit.

    Important topic to talk about in the community! Thanks for bringing light to this dark side of home brew.

    By Matt on Jul 31, 2009

  8. I brewed with many people form the age of 18 until 30 years old. The people in our brewing community all drank. We all drank often and alot. Our friends worked at brewing stores and we drank at the store. We drank before during and after brewing. We had beer tasting and competitions. Quite frankly I would say that out of all the people I knew there was not one single person who could not throw back 4 – 6 pints of delicious homemade beer at one sitting. We all drank and we all got drunk. Perhaps nobody noticed as we were well behaved.

    As far as being addicted to alcohol is concerned, face the facts. Alcohol is a drug. It is a legal drug. It is a legal drug that you can mak at home. As long as you do not beak the law and screw up your life you can be a funtiuonal alcoholic or as we like to say a drunk.

    If nobody gets hurt and you chooses to drink a few pints everyday and get hammered on the weekends or when you know you will not screw up your life … who cares.

    However, all homebrewers who know many homebrewers must know at least one person who can’t handle it. A person who has a beer and changes, turns into something else, keeps drinking, drink fast, drink more than others, is loud or overly emotional …

    So, if you want to make legal drugs and drink them there is no problem. Remeber though that behing all the science, fancy terminology and interesting information and the process, that you are making dope.

    Remeber this is what you are doing minus the hobby:

    3 kilos of fermentable sugar, 22 litres of water, 1 pack of beer yeast = 60 bottles of about 5% disgusting tasting alcohol.

    Would you nake beer if it contained no alcohol? Drug makers like us would no doubt leave the hobby in droves if suddenly yeast no longer did its job.

    But hey! Relax, dont worry! Have a hombrew…

    By Aventius on Sep 4, 2009

  9. Thank you for this article. It is well written and not judgemental. If a person is concerned about being or becoming dependent on alcohol then reading other people’s ideas on the topic help him develop his own thoughts and feelings with respect to it. This has done that for me. Homebrewing is a wonderful creative outlet but as pointed out it can increase the desire to drink. When I brew, I suddenly have a lot more beer available and I therefore increase the regularity in which I consume beer. One of the things I do to help avoid becoming dependent is to brew smaller batches (2.5 gallon) thereby resulting in less beer around the house. I also consiously take breaks from drinking for 1 or 2 weeks at a time.

    cheers!

    By stout on Jan 5, 2010

  10. Hi Stout,
    Thanks for thoughtful reply and the suggestion on brewing smaller batches and taking breaks from drinking. I agree with everything you said. This year I have decided to brew less and focus on purchasing higher quality ingredients.

    By Larry on Jan 16, 2010

  11. I like that quote larry: I brew for fun, to share, and because of the science behind it.

    By travis on Jan 29, 2010

  12. This is a good discussion. I’m part of my local brew club, and have started to train to be a better brewer and beer judge. One solution i have is to aim for making beers which can have lots of interesting flavors, aromas and texture – but without the hi gravities. In the first year or two of homebrewing i was discovering Belgian ales, imperial IPA, imperial Stouts – wonderful complex but big hitting beers. I was starting thinking am i drinking too much? Each beer 8-12 %ABV. Now i have found it was just a fad of being interested in these styles, and now appreciate smaller beers, where after an hour you can still enjoy the company you are with, or the film you are watching on tv. Beers such as Smoked Mild (2.8%), witt, Munich Dunkel’s. Some of these i can enjoys the flavors all night without too heavy of a buzz. Just as with many risks in life – yes look both ways before you cross the road, and listen for anything you did not initially see.

    By Gravity on Aug 22, 2010

  13. “Even something as simple as a mild headache in the morning, weight gain, or slight depression is a health impact.”

    huh,

    Sounds like my wife is having issues

    By Jim on Sep 13, 2010

  14. Congratulations Jim! When is she due?

    Just kidding… 🙂

    By Larry on Sep 14, 2010

  15. Very worthwhile discussion. Beer can be a food, a drug, or a poison.

    Everyone who chooses to drink alcohol should occasionally pour themselves a drink (make mine homebrew) and reflect on whether their drinking is having a harmful effect on themelves or on those they care about. Reach your own conclusions, decide for yourself what (if anything) needs to be done.

    I love beer-as-food; I admit I enjoy beer-as-drug. (Not a big poison fan!) I brew because I enjoy having good beer on hand, and having my beer on tap means I can have a mouthful or a mugful as I choose. And I can share a jugful or two with friends.

    Thanks for the site! I came here looking for how to adjust OG readings for temperature, and have been learning all day.

    By Jeff on Sep 26, 2010

  16. Thanks Larry. This is a great site, and adding this content merely increases its depth and value.

    By JonO on Sep 28, 2010

  17. To me the dark side of brewing is brewing beer late at night in the back yard. Unlike wine, we brewers can make beer that can compete with the best beers in the world. Nothing against the home wines, they just can’t compete with a top notch wines.

    Maybe if Charlie Sheen brewed beer he would calm down a bit and stop acting like the leader of Libia.

    By NightBrewer on Mar 4, 2011

  18. True, wine is a more elusive target, one that I have started experimenting with.

    The greeks had this to say about Wine in 375 BC:

    “Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes, the eight is the policeman’s, the ninth belong to biliousness, and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture.”

    Re Charlie Sheen, I’m sure the last thing he needs is more drugs in his system. Sounds like he’s way past his tenth ‘bowl of wine’. I doubt he has the patience required for home brewing. That said if he drank beer, it might be healthier for him than whatever hard liquor he probably drinks all day. I hope Mr. Sheen gets better. He’s a funny guy.

    By Larry on Mar 5, 2011

  19. I appreciate the treatment this issue is getting. I had been wondering about it myself. I do have alcoholism in my family (according to another possibly biased family member), but I also firmly believe in personal responsibility in everything. It goes along the line of blaming your parents for the way you are, or putting on some big-boy britches and taking responsibility for what you do today.

    For instance, when I drink, even in larger amounts/weights, I work to maintain my composure and not be loud, idiotic, or a “drunk”. This extends to my responsibility to the craft brewing community at large. I expect myself to represent the craft as an artist, not a junkie.

    By edge on Mar 20, 2011

  20. I was an avid ale drinker before but I found homebrew gave me a new respect for beer and made me slightly more moderate as I am far more fussy now.

    My craft as I see it is for sharing, I have always bottled my brew so I can easily pass it on to friends and I enjoy the good feedback from a successful batch as much as the drinking of the product itself.

    By Mark E Pitt on Mar 26, 2011

  21. Hi. My name is Bob, and I’m an alcoholic. That’s why I brew my own alcohol. It’s cheaper that way!

    By Bob on Jul 19, 2011

  22. It certainly can be cheaper. I find myself addicted to buying equipment for brewing and talking about brewing… this has shot my savings curve all to heck. If you keep it simple, yeah it can really pencil out.

    By Larry on Jul 21, 2011

  23. I found this artical on a google search for alcholism and homebrew. For generations my family has homebrewed and struggled with mantaining moderation in all our addictions. After reading this well presented artical and thinking about my family history, I’m going to continue homebrewing with an eye on lower ABV beverages. Thanks for the info.

    By Stonie on Aug 12, 2011

  24. to me the dark side of home brewing is perfecting a Stout or Porter to your liken….

    By jim on Oct 31, 2011

  25. Nah…

    If I was an alkie, I wouldn’t be letting my beer age at anything like that. Brew, ferment and drink would be it. I have seen REAL alcoholics. They sure as hell don’t worry about IBUs, Style guidelines or any of that…

    I do drink every day and get drunk most Fridays and Saturdays.

    By Dan on Dec 14, 2011

  26. Interesting perspective.
    To me, the biggie is “Emotional changes”

    1. Change when drinking: e.g. maintaining composure, as noted above. Similarly, drinking to “become a nice person” or “deal with life” is a warning sign and a “bad change”.

    2. Change when not drinking:
    I feel like I need at least a week per year of total and continuous abstinence. This changes what I do and where I go during that period, but I’m not miserable. It also makes beer taste really, really good later on 🙂

    I think the point about the steady progression is a really good one. Thanks for bringing this up.

    By helmingstay on Dec 14, 2011

  27. I Brew because I like to brew and I like to drink. All in modertion. Jesus turned the water into wine and I am not going to fault him for that.
    Have a great day

    By Dan on Jan 19, 2012

  28. I highly doubt there is an correlation between home brewing and alcoholism. It would be much easier and cheaper to purchase alcohol, brewing is a very laborous way to support a drinking habit, especially in a society where alcohol is available and relatively cheap.

    To me home brewing is more like cooking or any other hobby that produces a consumable. While I like the beer that I drink, I am more interested in the process of creating great beer. The beer that even a first time home brewer can produce is far superior to the generic beers in stores.

    Are there alcoholic home brewers? Probably, but there are also alcoholics in every hobby.

    By Harry on Feb 12, 2012

  29. Great post!

    I’m a brewer (~ 5yrs), a scientist, and a huge beer fan. The scientist in me would like this to be quantified… That is, do I have a problem if I have one homebrew at night with my dinner? What about if I start looking forward to it at 10am (I get up at 5!)?

    Tom

    By Tom on Feb 22, 2012

  30. The definition of alcoholism is a hotly debated topic, and totally subjective as far as I can tell. Organizations like AA, WHO, and the APA’s DSM-IV do not agree completely. It would be nice if it could be more easily quantified. This wiki article has a lot more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcoholism

    By Larry on Feb 23, 2012

  31. Interesting article, and I do often wonder if my beer intake qualifies for that godawful tag of alcoholic. I brew, alot. Been brewing since 1996. I generally have 2 pints, sometimes 3 every evening when I get home from work. Probably a couple more than that on the weekends, or many more than that if together with friends for a few hours. What this and other articles never clarifies is WHAT consititues excessive drinking. Am I there with 2-3 pints a night? Is my liver in danger? My life otherwise is not, solid job, homelife, marriage etc is fine. I also exercise several days a week (to keep the beer belly down!). Am I good? This article, and others really just state the danger but leave the question open what is too much.

    By Jim on Feb 25, 2012

  32. Yes, it is frustrating because it depends on who you ask. This article was meant to present the more extreme opinion. Alcohol/Drug counselors are educated to believe that alcohol is a horrible thing that destroys lives. If you ask one of them about your case, they’d probably freak out. Same thing for a Mormon, a mother from MADD, or a member of any other anti-alcohol group. Those people don’t really get the home brewer’s perspective though.

    Stepping over to another, perhaps more trusted viewpoint, my doctor thinks drinking in moderation is harmless, and even considers it healthy for the heart. If you are really curious talk to your doctor and order a blood screening that checks liver levels. Sounds like you are in good health to me, enjoy beer and manage it just fine.

    People who get the shakes when they stop drinking for 24 hours are CLEARLY alcoholics. People who drink when they first wake up are CLEARLY alcoholics. 5 DUI’s – yep, CLEARLY a problem.

    What we are all feeling around for here is a black and white difference – what makes one person slip into 24 beers per day, vs another who does fine with 2-3 pints? Turns out there probably isn’t a simple answer. It does have to do with self discipline and awareness. Not everyone has that same level of self control, or the same social network. If I lost my wife, my family, and all my friends, I’d be more likely to slip. Worrying about it is a waste of time, but being aware of it is good.

    By Larry on Feb 25, 2012

  33. This debate is so old. Dionysus, the God of wine and parties was also the God of madness and men driven to madness by over indulgence. A lesson was, at that time, that partying was best kept as a part of life not its purpose.

    The Greeks were aware of the need for self awareness in the Bronze Age.

    Beer is 5000 plus years old, predating medical science, modern religion and psychology.

    The fear of alchohol and the fear of its negative affects is a relatively new phenonomen, around 150-200 years with this fear slowly becoming ingrained into the social meme.

    For the rest of the last 5000 or so years people just take stock of their lives. If something works, use it. When it stops working re-evaulate and lose it.

    If you have to stop and ask “is beer inherentlly good or bad?” then maybe its time for that re-evaluation. For me, it’s neither. It tastes good and goes with the food I eat and is fun to play with.

    It’s great that someone posted some cautionary information, its just as good that the majority of people here can reflect, shrug and go on enjoying their hobby.

    By Emmanuel on Feb 25, 2012

  34. This strikes me as pretty backwards-thinking. I actually began drinking less when I started homebrewing, because I began to more fully appreciate what beer is. I never drink to get drunk anymore!

    By Tim Shorkey on Mar 26, 2012

  35. I have a neighbor who is a homebrew craftsman, andhe is not a problem drinker by any stretch. I’m pretty moderate too, about tice a year though, usually backyard BBQ parties, we both cut losse. That’s fun, just for context butOY! Hungover.. OK for sure, water is good for your body, your are 70% H2O. Drinking alcohol gets rid of a lot of it. Having a glass of water between each adult beverage helps keep you from dehydrating – and also can help you from assing out as quickly :-b Water before bed, water in the AM, with something like a wheat toast with peanut butter, banana slices and honey. there’s plenty of advice out there on how to Get Rid of a Hangover , you might just have to try around, until you find what works for you.

    By David Katz on Jul 5, 2012

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