AM I DRINKING TOO MUCH?
Most people who enjoy drinking find it a sociable and relaxing thing to do, and don’t over indulge – 75% of people drink within the recommended drinking guidelines in the US. In general, drinking within the guidelines is compatible with a healthy lifestyle.
The hazards of heavy alcohol consumption are well known and consumption at levels above moderate levels can increase the risk for motor vehicle accidents, other injuries, high blood pressure, stroke, violence and some types of cancer, for example.
The US government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the daily guidelines of 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women. (Click here to read the guidelines in full). Regularly drinking over the recommended limits puts you at an ‘increasing risk’ of developing health problems, and if the amount you’re drinking is usually double the guidelines or more, you are putting yourself at a ‘higher risk’ of developing health problems.‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week.
Simple ways to cut down
Alcohol free days
If you feel your drinking levels are creeping up and you’re drinking too much too often, a good way to ‘test’ yourself, is to try and have alcohol free days from time to time. This can help you recognise if you are becoming psychologically – or physically dependent on alcohol. If you promised yourself to cut out alcohol for a few days and you don’t or put it off, then it may be time to seek help.
Down size you glass
A great way to cut down on your drinking without giving up is to choose a smaller glass for wine, or a longer mixer for spirits (use a measure too as home pours are always much more generous). Don’t top your glass up, wait until it’s empty and set yourself a clear limit before you start drinking. Again if you’ve broken your own rules, have a careful look at how much you are drinking. There are great Apps available to help you keep track.
Make a lower alcohol choice
Maybe try a lower alcohol beer, there’s a great choice at below 4% now.. and the alcohol free beers taste good too! There are some very tasty lower alcohol wines, try choosing a lighter style at 11% rather than a block buster at 14% for example. If you prefer spirits, use more mixers and ice or cut down from a double to a single.
Try alternating alcohol drinks with soft drinks or have a glass of water on the side - you’ll stay more hydrated and give your liver a chance to break down the alcohol. Watch out for ‘top ups’ too– you can kid yourself that you’re still on the same drink.
A bite to eat
If possible, try and drink with food, or eat before you drink. Alcohol is absorbed much quicker into the blood stream on an empty stomach and you tend to drink faster.
If in spite of your best intentions you end up drinking more than you should, there are a few things you can do to ease the morning after.
Symptoms of a hangover include feeling thirsty, sick, tired and headachey and being more sensitive to noise or bright lights.
What are the risks?
Short term increased risks due to getting very drunk include unplanned sex, antisocial behaviour, not getting home safely, vomiting, passing out or even alcoholic poisoning, being a victim of crime and of course, the inevitable hang over. When you ‘binge drink’ (that is consuming five or more drinks in quick succession on one or two nights a week) you increase your blood pressure and the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Long term illnesses related to long term heavy drinking are cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus, cirrhosis of the liver, dementia, haemorrhagic stroke and pancreatitis. Visit our Alcohol and Health section to learn more.
It is important to remember that ‘the majority of people who drink alcohol, drink sensibly the majority of the time. Also, more than half the worlds’ adult population choose not to drink alcohol for religious, cultural or health reasons. With moderate drinking, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease as well as all causes, may be reduced by up to 30%, especially for men over 40 and post menopausal women. The risk increases exceptionally, however, with each drink above moderation. Therefore, while a glass or two of wine, beer or spirits per day can be considered to be ‘good for you’, drinking ‘more’ than the guidelines will not provide ‘more’ benefits, only more harms.
Binge drinking is a commonly used term that has no clear meaning. It differs in its medical and social usage from drinking to drunkenness, drinking five or more drinks in quick succession, or on one drinking occasion. It may be useful to describe harmful patterns of drinking as ‘drinking to drunkenness ‘ or ‘going out with the intention of getting drunk’ as well as tracking the number of drinks consumed, time frame and context. The World Health Organisation has defined binge drinking as drinking six or more drinks during one drinking occasion.Whatever the definition, drinking to drunkenness and repeatedly subjecting the brain to the effects of withdrawal from the presence of large doses of alcohol i.e. having what people would term drinking ‘binges’, could damage brain cells even more than continuous drinking.
What is alcohol tolerance and addiction?There is alcohol tolerance and alcohol addiction. Toleration is when you gradually need more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect. If you drink well above the daily recommended guidelines on a regular basis you run the risk of becoming addicted.
Addiction means that you can no longer cope without alcohol. Without alcohol you feel sick and have withdrawal symptoms, which include trembling, shivering, feeling nauseous and even vomiting. These withdrawal symptoms make it very difficult to overcome addiction and specialist help and support is needed.
Regarding dependency and alcohol problems, the following site could help:
National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) toll-free telephone number for alcohol and drug information/treatment referral assistance.
Telephone: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Or see this leaflet from the NIAAA
Disturbed sleep and getting agitated and anxious are likely to be the first noticeable effects too much alcohol has on your mental health and wellbeing. But heavy drinking can lead to work and family problems, which in turn can lead to isolation and depression. Drinking heavily also slows down your brain function, affecting things like concentration and memory.
Time to get support?
If you have any concerns about your drinking, speak to your doctor or call a professional helpline. They can also give you the contact details of alcohol services in your local area.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
© 2000 Alcohol in Moderation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.