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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Online Flames | Drinking and Online Dating

Quick Access:
How Many Online Flames?
Surfing Dating Sites While Under the Influence

How many online “flames” is it okay to have at once?


It depends on what you mean by “flame.” For example, if you mean a casual girlfriend or boyfriend then in my opinion it’s perfectly fine to play the field – as long as everyone knows what’s going on. Now if “flame” entails some type of relationship with overtones of commitment or a deeper bond, then I’d say you’re playing with fire. I know few people who are okay with their “partner” having multiple serious or casual boyfriends or girlfriends. There are likely to be people who are okay with it as long as they are aware – but I sure don’t know many of them! It’s hard for anyone to speak out against an agreement or understanding between two consenting adults, but seriously courting more than one person at once is a rather predictable recipe for disaster.

Should I drink alcohol while surfing the online dating scene?

Remember my motto – “in matters of the heart, use your head.” So, my response to this question would be to turn it around and ask you, “Does drinking alcohol help you use your head more or less in matters of the heart?”

To be sure, moderate alcohol use is fine. In fact, the reduced inhibitions and relaxation that alcohol can provide may actually help some people feel more eat ease and confident in interacting with others. However, it would sure be a sign of a problem if a person needed to use alcohol or any substance as a crutch in flirting or socializing.

I should also mention that over the last decade research into the effects of alcohol has revealed some interesting health benefits for moderate drinkers. Alcohol has been found to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and it increases cardiovascular health by inhibiting the formation of blood clots and by increasing the production of “good cholesterol.” Some compounds found in alcohol, especially red wine, have also been found to have positive effects on the heart and blood vessels and reduce the risk of certain degenerative eye diseases. Now, don’t get any wise ideas from all of this. If you’re a person who gets drunk almost every night and consumes the equivalent of five or more drinks per night, or if you rarely drink but get really drunk when you do, you’ll probably never experience the benefits of alcohol in moderate amounts.

Okay, now back to the question I posed to you, “Does drinking alcohol help you use your head more or less in matters of the heart?” For some, an occasional drink may be just fine. For others, it may actually hinder your romantic agenda. We’re all pretty familiar with the long-term effects of heavy alcohol use like loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach ailments, skin problems, sexual impotence, liver damage, heart and central, and nervous system damage memory loss. None of those symptoms enhance a relationship, and those are just the biological effects. The social and financial effects can be equally as devastating.

However, what you may not fully realize is that the short-term effects of alcohol can also interfere with your ability to connect with some one online in a meaningful way. For instance, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information (NCADI) lists some of the short-term effects of alcohol as being:

» distorted vision, hearing, and coordination

» altered perceptions and emotions

» impaired judgment

Those effects also aren’t particularly conducive for successful online (or offline) interaction, bonding, or decision making in any context – much less in matters of the heart. Online dating is often fast paced, full of emotion, encourages a feeling of impulsivity, and requires good verbal and written skills. Generally speaking and depending on the amount, alcohol use doesn’t mix well with those circumstances. But, only you know how much alcohol you consume when you “drink while online.” Just be mindful of your goals and agenda while using online dating and what attitudes and behaviors of yours might sabotage those goals. Please, please remember my motto – “in matters of the heart, use your head.”

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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