Everyday Systems: Glass Ceiling

Note: you may also be interested in listening to a podcast episode I did on glass ceiling. Although there's a fair amount of repetion, I think I actually put some things better there than I did here.

The System

I used to have a problem with occasional excessive drinking. It didn't come up a lot, but when it did, it was bad. I wanted to be able to continue to enjoy alcohol without that slight but significant risk of suddenly finding myself out of control drunk. My solution? A two drink a day "glass ceiling."

The Disclaimer

"Glass ceiling" is not intended for people who suspect they may be serious alcoholics. Common as that problem may be, I'm not going to call it "everyday." If you have any doubts, See alcoholics anonymous.

The Gory Details

Moderate drinking, it turns out, is ridiculously good for you. Excessive drinking, as we've always known, is at least as bad. How enjoy the benefits of the former without risking the latter?

Note: depending on body weight, moderate drinking means 1-2 "servings" of alcohol a day. 4 drinks or more is binging.

So here's the system. For the rest of your life, without exception, you have a 2 drink a day maximum -- the glass ceiling. Period. No saving up, use it or lose it. No refills. No pouring yourself "mixed" drinks. DMV definition of a drink.

No "well an IPA is probably worth two Amstels, so I can have 4 Amstels." Two GLASSES, or two DMV definitions of a drink, whichever is less. If it ain't that simple, you won't do it.

I keep mentioning the DMV definition because I want you to think small, not because I think it's critical to measure every portion to the milliliter. Keep to the following three points, and I don't care if you drink 6% IPAs or 3% Amstel Lights:

  • no refills (however "partial")
  • no doubles or jumbo sizes
  • and above all, no more than two glasses

If you can stick to that, you'll be fine.

If you have trouble understanding or abiding by this, you may have more than an "everyday" problem. See alcoholics anonymous.

Calendar day or 24 hour day? Calendar day. For simplicity, and to allow for the occasional date spanning 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it's as small as they get. You probably would have had much more otherwise. Should be just enough to get your drinking buddies off your back, but don't do it often. Remember, The whole point of this system is to avoid binges. This is a reluctant concession, a way to bend the rules without breaking them, a legitimate, but emergency measure, like suspension of habeas corpus in time of war.

A word of advice to those with persistent and unsympathetic buddies: don't tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won't notice, especially if you switcheroo to something non-alcoholic after a while.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on N-days, 2 on S-days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one. If you don't like the calendar day rule, make it a 24 hour period instead. But again, only if you really think you can keep it.

As with food, you'll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don't view it as drunk-juice. Drink for your palate, not your throat. If you have no clue to where to start, get acquainted with the best cheap wine in the world.

Added benefit: if you were a hardened binger like I was, your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz off of two drinks.


I used to have a real problem. I didn't drink to excess often, but when I did every few months or so I'd often come dangerously close to death/divorce/making the evening news. Glass ceiling totally solved this problem for me -- and without my having to sacrifice the benefit and pleasure of alcohol. I haven't been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my drunken youth. Frankly, I'm amazed. One wouldn't think that huge, potentially deadly problems could be solved with cutesy metaphors. But this one was, for me, and that's why I'm taking the risk of posting it here. I hope my disclaimers above are enough to discourage irredeemable boozers, and that that inevitable someone in this great big world wide web of ours who could actually benefit from it (you must exist, I can't be the only one!) finds it and does. Let me know!

Note: Glass ceiling was originally described in a message board post here. It also gets a mention on the no s diet home page.

Todo: take and post a picture of two drinks on a glass table, shot from below.

By Reinhard Engels

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