Alcohol Use: What “Healthy” Looks Like
The CDC recently released a fact sheet revealing that while 38 million adults in the United States drink too much, only 1 in 6 talks with a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider about drinking habits.
“People don’t want to talk about drinking,” says Dr. Christina Bovelsky, of Bayhealth Family Medicine, Smyrna. “But we want people to know that sharing the facts about your drinking can help us keep you healthy and safe.”
Dr. Bovelsky and Sandi Voss, FNP-C, also of Bayhealth Family Medicine, Smyrna, share important facts about drinking and health.
Why should I talk about my drinking with my health care provider?
Your health care provider is someone who is working hard to keep you healthy. If you share only some information about your lifestyle, it can be hard for your provider to diagnose sickness or disease.
Some people have chronic illnesses that are made worse by drinking. Your provider needs to understand the whole picture to give you the best possible care.
What does it mean that 38 million Americans “drink too much”?
For men, 15 or more drinks per week. For women, 8 or more drinks per week. The female body does not process alcohol in the same way the male body does. Women cannot safely consume the same amount of alcohol that men can.
It is not safe to “save up” your drinks and consume them all at one time on the weekend. Your body needs time to process alcohol and eliminate it from your brain, bloodstream, and liver.
A glass of wine or a couple of beers help me relax after a hard day at work. Is that wrong?
Drinking can be a way that people deal with hard situations- stress, anxiety, and depression. However, it is not the same as taking medication or seeing a counselor to help you through those hard times.
Drinking has more negative effects on your body than positive effects. Using drinking as a way to deal with tough times can build a dangerous habit.
People who want to relieve stress may find yoga, exercise, meditation, reading, or writing in a journal helpful.
Talking with your health care provider can help you discover new, healthy ways to deal with stress or hardship.
What is “binge drinking”? Why is it a problem?
Binge drinking is consuming several drinks in 2-3 hours. For men, 5 or more drinks. For women, 4 or more drinks.
Most underage alcohol use takes the form of binge drinking. People who binge drink are more likely to drive under the influence. They are also more likely to be injured or get a sexually transmitted disease.
As a parent, how can I help my children make healthy choices?
Have regular conversations with your child so your child sees you as a trusted resource. Ask your child questions about school and friends. Pay attention to your child’s routine. Find out how your child is doing in his/her classes.
Some reasons children may start drinking are feeling bullied or left out; falling behind in school; or worrying about parents’ approval.
If your children are in middle school, help them think about ways to respond to classmates or friends who are drinking. Practice ways to say “no.”
For high school students, talk with them early and often. When prom and graduation parties are on the calendar, make sure your child knows the risks involved with drinking.
New laws carry heavy penalties for underage drinking or providing alcohol to minors.
Your pediatrician or family provider can work with you to help your children understand the risks of underage alcohol use.
What are some of the effects regular drinking can have on my body?
Alcohol affects major organs such as the liver and heart. Over time, your body can be damaged by alcohol. Your heart may become floppy and weak. It won’t be able to pump blood as effectively.
Your liver can develop diseases which may lead to cancer.
Are there special concerns when it comes to the elderly population?
Yes. Alcohol interferes with many medications. You may experience dizziness, which can lead to falls. Alcohol can also make you less hungry, so you forget to eat healthy meals.
Over many years, alcohol can lead to liver disease and liver cancer, as well as dementia- problems that often become visible in older adults.
How do I know if I should speak to my doctor or provider about my alcohol use?
It’s always a good idea to be honest with your health care provider about your alcohol use and other lifestyle choices. Providers are able to determine the difference between healthy and unhealthy drinking.
Your doctor or health care provider can help you stay healthy. They will refer only those few patients who need specialized treatment.
“People often ignore problems because they think they aren’t serious enough to need medical attention,” said Voss. “We want to help you, and we need your help to give you the best possible care.”
If you need help finding a health care provider, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS.