To start, I am not writing about Alcohol Use Disorder specifically. I just want to offer a little sip of caution to those who drink alcohol socially—almost half of Alabama adults. What is social drinking? Well, some people are more social than others. But if you’re rethinking your drinking habits, you really want to know “Where do I fit in?” “Are my alcohol choices affecting my health or quality of life?”
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Scroll to the end of the post for a refresher on the medical facts of alcohol consumption. But if you clicked on this post, you were probably hoping to find something you might not have considered. Here it is:
Mindful Social Drinking
- Alcohol affects sleep and sleep affects weight-control. First, alcohol interferes with your normal sleep cycle. You may notice that your sleep is less restful, you wake up during the night, you have more sleep apnea, or other symptoms. Worse yet, scientists have come to realize that sleep and weight control are closely related. The relationship is complicated, but poorer quality and amount of sleep seem to affect your appetite and even increase your craving for higher calorie foods. This relationship does NOT work in your favor!
- Alcohol habits actually have seasonal patterns. We can’t say how or when the “sober September” movement hit social media, but it’s a fact that alcohol consumption is higher in the summer than the rest of the year (except the December holidays). Schedules are more relaxed. It becomes more acceptable to drink in the day time. A chilled glass at the beach. A well-stocked cooler at your family BBQ. The kids are home, and suddenly even the moms’ play group may include wine coolers. Do the kids notice that house rules relax a little when the grown-up beverages are poured?
- The term “mindful drinking” has become a catch-phrase in social media. It’s not just the latest health fad or a new way to make moms feel guilty. We have enough of those! Mindful drinking means being aware of why you are having a drink. To celebrate? To enhance a special meal? To feel comfortable in a group? To bring a better mood to the homework hour? Do you drink at unplanned times or more than you meant to?
While most people who drink alcohol are not considered to have alcohol use disorder, having too much to drink on occasion can affect your body and your mental state. Ask yourself if too often lately, you are disappointed in a social evening you had looked forward to, and the restless night and groggy morning that followed are not worth it. The problem may be more than just getting older.
Tip: Beware of the bottomless wine glass: like at weddings, banquets, business meetings…settings where you are not ordering by the glass. Your waiter is trained to never leave you with an empty glass. As you try to stand up from the table is not the best time to realize this has happened.
Unless you are a danger to yourself or others, your alcohol choices are very personal. Your doctor respects that. But we want to help you understand the relationship between alcohol and your health. Talk to us about your concerns. Allow us to offer you a referral to professional care if you feel you are not in control of your alcohol use or it is impacting you more than you would like.
Read further to learn more about alcohol and health:
Alcohol affects women differently than men. Our physical differences cause women to absorb alcohol faster and take a longer time to break it down and clear it from the blood. When a woman drinks the same amount as a man over about the same time, she will probably have a higher blood alcohol level. Because of these differences, women can be more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol.
Most people know that alcohol affects the brain in the short term. But it can also have long term effects like cognitive decline and brain atrophy (shrinkage of the brain). Alcohol is also linked to damage of the liver and heart. Excess drinking can contribute to higher blood pressure, heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, and heart failure.
Alcohol consumption has been associated with increased risks of cancers like head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer, liver, and colon cancer. Research that shows even low levels of alcohol intake can increase women’s risk of breast cancer. Drinking between 2-5 drinks/day can increase risk of breast cancer up to 41%.
Some facts and statistics:
- Alcohol use increases your risk of depression.
- Heavy drinking as a young adult increases your risk of osteoporosis in later years.
- Alcohol is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death for women in the US.
- Chronic alcohol use can interfere with menstrual periods, ovulation patterns, and reduce fertility.
- Alcohol can interfere with some medications.
- Alcohol use during pregnancy interferes with brain development of the unborn baby that can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
- No level of alcohol use is considered safe during pregnancy.
- Alcohol use is the leading cause of preventable birth defects including problems with development of the brain that can cause learning and behavior problems, increased risk of ADHD, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and impulse control problems
- Alcohol increases the risk of preterm delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Alcohol Consumption Guidelines:
- Health professional guidelines caution that more than 3 drinks per occasion or more than 7 drinks per week is considered at-risk alcohol use.
- More than 3 drinks per occasion is considered binge drinking.
- Over 25% of people age 18-24 report binge drinking.
- Binge drinking produces a sudden peak in blood alcohol level. At this level, unsafe behavior is more likely.
- The risk of organ damage is higher with sudden peaks in blood alcohol than with sustained high levels of alcohol consumption.
For additional resources see:
- ACOG Women’s Health FAQs: Alcohol and Women
- CDC Alcohol and Women’s Health
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- NIH: Women and Alcohol
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)