A Healthy Relationship With Alcohol
Do you drink alcohol? Did you know over 85.6% of people 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their life? Unfortunately, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 15 million people aged 12 and older are battling an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Having a drink after work or on the weekends is a mainstay of American culture. Still, at what point is it no longer healthy? Where do we draw the line between regular consumption and problematic drinking?
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How Much Alcohol Is OK?
Since drinking is a socially acceptable pastime in the US, knowing what a healthy relationship with alcohol looks like is essential. The key is moderation. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men can have 2 drinks or fewer in a day and women 1 drink or none. Since men express the effects of alcohol at a slower rate than women, they can consume more before feeling its effects. Unfortunately, women typically develop alcohol-related problems at a lower drinking level. It is still important for both sexes to monitor their intake to avoid developing an AUD. Note, these guidelines are only for adults ages 21 years or older.
To clarify, 1 drink is either 12 fluid ounces (5% alcohol) of beer, 5 fluid ounces (12% alcohol) of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces (40% alcohol) of a distilled spirit.
How To Identify Your Relationship With Alcohol
Having a healthy relationship is vital for your overall health. To be mindful, you need to know the role drinking plays in your life. So take a moment to reflect on how you feel about your relationship with alcohol.
Below are a few mindful questions to ask yourself:
- How many drinks do I typically have in a week?
- What’s my tolerance like?
- Have I ever missed work/obligations due to alcohol?
- Does it feel healthy?
- Has my drinking ever put me or anyone else in dangerous situations?
- Does it impact my relationships?
- Do I get withdrawal symptoms (i.e., headaches, anxiety, or irritability) if I don’t drink?
- Has anyone ever pointed out my drinking habits?
- Has drinking caused me any persistent health problems?
- When I go out, do I usually order a drink with my meals?
- Do I sometimes drink more than I planned to drink?
- Do I ever crave a drink?
After answering the questions above, how do you feel about your drinking habits? If you notice that alcohol is interfering with your happiness, or you feel unsure, then you may be dealing with a toxic relationship.
Building Better Habits
Noticing the impact alcohol has on your life is the first step towards building better habits. The next step requires honesty, commitment, and courage. Below are some helpful strategies provided by the National Institute of Health to help you get started.
Be Mindful When You Are Out Drinking
When you are out with friends, notice how it feels to have a drink. Do you reach for your glass during awkward pauses? If so, try ordering water and alternating. For those who battle anxiety, sometimes having a drink is a great way to take the “edge off.” Instead, try reminding yourself that you are OK just as you are and perfectly capable of having positive social interactions. Once you are finished, ask yourself if you really need another? Most of the time, you don’t.
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Keeping track of how many cocktails you have while out is an essential step to drinking in moderation. By monitoring your drinks, you can notice when it’s time to slow down or stop drinking altogether. Find a tracking method that works for you. Use a food log app or keep track of it in your notes. However, you choose to mark down each standard alcoholic drink is up to you. Just make sure to jot it down.
If you want to change your drinking habits, you have to create goals and stick to them. Set days when you won’t drink, like Monday through Friday. You can also try placing a limit on how many drinks you’ll have during the weekend. Make sure your goals are challenging yet realistic, and check in on them from time to time.
Swap Between Alternatives and Practice Saying No
Sometimes when we go out with friends, it can seem antisocial to refuse a shot, but it is not. If you do not want to have a drink, say “no, thank you.” There are also non-alcoholic options like mocktails or small appetizers.
Try Healthier Activities To Avoid Urges And Triggers
Suppose you notice that you end up at a bar every time you go out with a specific set of friends. Why not introduce healthier activities to your repertoire. Suggest a group activity like hiking or yoga. Try going out earlier than later to avoid late-night drinks. If your goal is to build a better relationship with alcohol, avoiding “triggers” can help you control drinking urges. If you have a problem drinking at home, avoid buying or restocking your alcohol cabinet. Ask friends to come over and watch a movie, or if you have a pet, take them on a walk. Try to recognize what situations lead you to drink and do your best to avoid them.
Taking steps to improve your relationship with alcohol not only improves your health, but your friendships, work ethic, and everything else. By being mindful, setting goals, and creating a plan, you can develop healthier drinking habits. A different alternative is to practice abstinence. However, if you believe you may be battling an AUD, it is never safe to stop drinking cold turkey. Please consult a medical professional before making any decisions related to your alcohol intake.
Support is available if you have concerns or questions about your relationship with alcohol. If you need rehab-related help, contact a treatment provider today.
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