At this time of year, alcohol promotions, sales and consumption are prominent. Many of us enjoy celebrating a year ended, work and family gatherings, a holiday and a time to kick back and relax. But it can also be a time when we experience adverse consequences of our own or someone else’s drinking. Many of us don’t treat alcohol with the respect the drug demands.
Some of us seriously underestimate how much we drink, so perhaps the first step to deciding if we need to cut back is to consider how many standard drinks are in that glass of wine, beer or spirit. A miscalculation increases the risk of drinking outside the low risk guidelines. Pouring your own drinks, topping up a glass before it’s finished, or not paying attention to your consumption influences whether you drink more than intended.
Here are some reasons why you might think about cutting down on drinking.
1. Improving your health
Reducing alcohol means you might find it easier to manage your weight. Some drinks have as many calories as high fat foods.
In one large English study, alcohol represented a large proportion of all calories consumed (over 25% for men and nearly 20% for women) on the heaviest drinking day – and these are calories with little or no nutritional value. Not surprisingly, there was a link with obesity, but the relationship is complex. Some heavy drinkers do not eat well, partly contributing to the paradoxical observation that some heavy drinkers are underweight rather than overweight.
Health problems such as liver disease, brain injury, cancer and heart problems are strongly linked to drinking alcohol, and the more you drink the greater the risk. People with pre-existing mental and physical health vulnerabilities are more at risk.
2. Improving your mood and sleep
Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems. Depression and anxiety are more common after heavy drinking and people who drink heavily have worse mental health outcomes.
If you have trouble sleeping, cutting back on alcohol might help. You might fall asleep more quickly after drinking, but heavy drinking can result in poor quality sleep, meaning worse hangover effects.
3. Improving your relationships
Alcohol-affected choices are not always the best ones – you might think you’re the life of the party, but others may be less impressed.
Have you seen this before? – “WARNING: The consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at four in the morning.”
But even more serious relationship problems can be related to alcohol. One recent Australian report found approximately a third of all intimate partner violence has a link to alcohol.
If drinking is causing friction with friends, partners or family members, cutting back can make a dramatic difference.
4. Saving money
Australian households on average spend the same amount on alcohol as they do on domestic fuel and power. Drink less and you’ll make a dent on the nearly A$2000 average annual drink bill.
5. Protecting your baby’s well-being
If you are thinking about pregnancy or you are pregnant, the safest option is not to drink. Drinking before breastfeeding is not a safe option because some of your alcohol will find its way into the breast milk. The more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby’s wellbeing.
Some evidence is now suggesting fathers should think about their drinking too. There is emerging evidence alcohol consumption by the father can have an impact on pregnancy health, on maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, on fetal outcomes, and on infant health outcomes. But we need more evidence about what level of drinking is associated with the level of risk.
6. Avoiding dependency (if there’s a family history)
You should consider cutting back your drinking if there is a close family member who has a history of dependence. This increases your own risk of becoming alcohol dependent.
7. Interactions with other drugs
If you use other drugs, including medications or illicit drugs, you significantly increase risk to your health by drinking alcohol. For example, alcohol can combine with depressant drugs such as those used to treat pain to increase the risk of impaired driving and sometimes the risk of overdose. It’s important to be aware of this increased risk and to seek professional advice, for example from an addiction specialist or your GP.
8. Avoiding alcohol-related injuries in the young
Young people need to think about their drinking. They are especially at risk of alcohol-related injuries. Evidence identifies how adolescent alcohol use can disrupt brain development, which can affect capacity to learn, make good decisions and do well at school.
9. Avoiding alcohol-related health conditions in the old
As you age you are more likely to experience health conditions that are exacerbated by alcohol use, and some medications should not be combined with drinking.
Changes in your body composition can mean you end up more affected by alcohol, and older people are more at risk of alcohol related falls and injury.
10. Avoiding intoxication, poor behaviour and risk taking
Intoxication can result in a range of injuries associated with the workplace, driving and violence. If you put yourself and others at risk because of intoxication, you can reduce that risk by drinking less, drinking slower and only with or after food. Or consider if drinking is appropriate at all in these circumstances.
It’s important to think not just about how much you drink. There are some situations that increase the risks. If you are operating machinery, swimming, driving or supervising children, the risks increase dramatically, even with small amounts of alcohol. And not just when you’re drinking – you might be impaired when you are hungover.
If you do drink, know how much you are drinking, and what the risks are – enjoy yourself but treat alcohol with respect. Small changes can make a big difference to your quality of life without denting your social life. But if alcohol is taking a central role in your life, seek help – it can make a difference.
Author Bios: Steve Allsop is Professor, National Drug Research Institute and Tina Lam is a Research Fellow at the National Drug Research Institute both at Curtin University