Drinking and Your PhD

In honour of ‘Feb Fast’, this top five Thursday post comes from our guest blogger, PhD student and artist @themarquise , who would like to share her thoughts on alcohol and PhD life – how do they really mix?

1) Having a wine or two at the end of a hard day of research work can be a nice way to unwind.

You’ve been slogging it out on that thesis, paper, presentation, or artwork and you feel you can do no more. However, your mind is still racing as you try to switch off and concentrate on other areas of your life such as cooking dinner, putting the kids to bed, or catching up with Grey’s Anatomy.

A drink or two of alcohol can help you to relax, and if indulged in only a few times a week, can provide some health benefits. Some people may even use alcohol (or food) as a ‘reward’ for working so hard.

2) Having a wine or two at the end of the day can become a habit that starts to get in the way of productivity and your health.

Using alcohol to relax or as a reward can easily become habit forming. Most of us realize the current recommendations are that women should not be having any more than two standard drinks a day and for men it’s four.

However, not all of us are equally aware that we should be having two to three alcohol free days, commonly known as ‘AFD’s, per week. This provides our bodies with a rest from processing alcohol and helps to prevent us from becoming alcohol dependent. Having three AFDs per week will mean you have at least three nights where you can get some extra work done and  give your presentation the next day without a hangover. Furthermore, the combined effect of sitting on one’s bottom most of the day studying, and drinking alcohol is a sure way to put on a lot of weight: think of all those wasted kilojoules!

3) Some people find a couple of drinks can free up their thinking and lead their writing or practice into unexpected areas.

Alcohol can have powerful affects on our thoughts and perception. Depending on how much you have consumed, this can be moderate or extreme. On the moderate end of the scale, a wine whilst writing might relax you enough to see an idea you’ve been struggling with a little differently. On the extreme end of the scale, a little too much booze and you’re deleting parts of your thesis and moving files around that you will never see again.

At the moderate end, a couple of wines can lead to an inspirational frenzy of painting. At the extreme end, you find yourself staring at a dog’s breakfast of a canvas the next morning. Moderate amounts of alcohol can make us feel confident and happy, a useful thing at conference dinners. However, a mere glass or two more and we can be plunged into depression, anxiety or anger, none of which go down very well anywhere.

4) Small habits can become big problems that affect many areas of your life

In contemporary Australian society it is often easy to forget that alcohol is a highly addictive drug. Smoking has been ‘outed’ for the killer that it is, but alcohol is everywhere. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE a drink. That’s why I’m writing this. I’ve loved having a wine as my ‘gosh you’ve worked hard reward’ for a long time now. I’ve also enjoyed drinking at pubs, clubs, social occasions and work functions, christenings, funerals, dinner parties, in front of the TV and in the bath.

Problem is, it can get hard to say no. Even as you realise that your drinking is starting to affect your productivity, creativity and health, it can still be hard to say no when the whole world seems to be offering you a drink. People often have perceptions of alcoholics as people who can’t function effectively in society because of their drinking, but this isn’t always the case.

I expect that every one of you reading this knows an alcoholic, or if not, someone like me who is a ‘problem drinker’. We manage to get up everyday, meet with our supervisors, whack out some words, and in my case, make some art.  But I’m sure that if we didn’t drink as much, we would feel a whole lot better about ourselves, be a lot more productive, and lot more creative.


If you’d like to put your relationship with alcohol to the test, it’s not too late to sign up for FebFast. Imagine how much more clear headed you’ll be after a month of not drinking alcohol! And you’ll be helping another researcher out as all proceeds go to funding research into alcohol related diseases and rehabilitation.

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11 thoughts on “Drinking and Your PhD

  1. Anonymous says:

    Excellent post. Alcohol can be very slow & insidious. As I have a poor concept of time, I realised that during stressful parts of my thesis, or long sets of writing days, I was not doing ‘rest days’. What felt like a month was only 24 hours. Once I submitted & determined to be more healthy, I realised that I had been pushing the boundaries & I had to dehabitualise the ‘reward’ system. Since I had used up all my self-discipline on my thesis, I kept the house dry for a few weeks so having a drink was a very conscious 10 minute cycle. When I did go to the shop, I only got one small beer.

  2. Colleen Boyle says:

    Not keeping alcohol in the house is a good one. I also find it helps to keep track but making a note of what I have drunk and trying to mark in some alcohol free days in the calendar. The ‘reward’ habit is a nasty one to break.

  3. djbtak says:

    Good article, as Colleen says I think it’s useful to investigate the “reward” system which is a key to addictive behaviour of any variety.

    Have had a few conversations with academic friends on the actual experience of drinking, and consensus that being drunk is good for a few academic things (getting into reading something impenetrable, as artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres famously said about Althusser; preliminary marking; random web research) and terrible for others (everything else, with theoretical writing being the most glaring example).

    Health-wise, definite benefits from a break, but then I don’t know anyone who expected to have improved health from a PhD, unless they were in sport science.

  4. Lucy says:

    This is an absolutely brilliant post: unusual in that the writer acknowledges their own difficult relationship with drink. As a former drug user (with what might be described as a ‘mild’ habit), and a sufferer of every eating disorder in the book, I nearly wept with relief to read the second last paragraph. All my life I’ve managed to put on a brave face and go through life as an apparently ‘normal’ person, while beneath the skin my brain seethed with the combined effects of my addictions/disorders. Being bright makes it easier, perhaps, to deceive the world. It has only been in the last four or five years that I’ve developed enough self belief (though this wavers…) to begin to explore what was evidently there all along – a hunger for knowledge and an urge to express myself more creatively and productively (though some would question whether or not PhD research is in fact the best way to do this). Thanks for the inspiration. (Oh, and after reading this, I took a week off alcohol, and managed to contract a virus that made me feel worse than any hangover… but I stuck with it because you can’t let a little thing like Sod’s Law dictate to you).

  5. Vijay says:

    I loved the article but was wondering whether these article takes a skeptical view about drinking alcohol?
    I am a PhD student and I do drink. As an International student drinking alcohol with peer group is the best way of breaking the ice and getting to know the other person. Many time I felt that somehow having beer with colleagues eases the whole atmosphere. I can dare to say that friends I made (friends include some teachers too) all because of having a glass of beer in the lovely atmosphere of a pub and we did make some good ideas/concepts for the research. Please do correct me if am wrong.
    Of course am not suggesting/supporting alcoholics but was of the view that drinking a glass of beer/wine in the evening doesnt hurt and I do believe that it can be sustained too without becoming alcoholic

  6. Bruce says:

    I have 6 weeks until I submit my thesis. If I didnt drink something occasionally my head would explode!!! Agreed, sometimes it is useless trying to write about difficult,complex problems after a couple drinks, especially if you still need to read more before you have a handle on the subject. But sometimes it relaxes you enough to break through your own inhibitions about putting pen to paper and gets some key concepts down, and if you are susceptible (as I am) to over thinking small problems or going into too much detail then having a couple of glasses of wine can help you to cut to the chase. I suppose it all depends how you are affected by alcohol, everyone is affected differently. And it certainly takes the stress out of writing, i find i can actually enjoy writing rather than stress about it if I’ve had a drink.

  7. Steven says:

    I would like to ask this question, is it true that, if someone doesn’t take alcohol, he or she will not be able to carrv out his/her work effectively?. Please, I want good and geniune responce from the exprienced people.

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