Take control of alcohol before it takes control of you
DEAR DOCTOR K:
I am a 42-year-old man who drinks alcohol pretty much every day. Although I don't feel "out of control" from the amount I drink, I know it's more than the recommended amount. How can I nip this in the bud before it goes too far?
If you have just one drink a day, there's evidence that this actually may be healthy. More than two drinks a day for men under 65, more than one a day for men over 65, or more than one a day for a woman of any age can raise the risk of alcohol-related diseases.
One alcohol-related disease is addiction to alcohol. Alcohol addicts -- true alcoholics -- need alcohol to function every day, and can experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they don't have something to drink.
So if your daily alcohol intake is potentially unhealthy, it is something to be concerned about. Most people who overindulge with alcohol are not true alcoholics. However, a growing number of people drink more than they should. Even though they have not yet reached the point of needing alcohol to function, they are on a slippery slope. That's why addressing your overindulgence sooner rather than later is a good idea.
Like you, most people who are concerned they may be drinking too much want to cut down rather than quit altogether. For some, cutting down is possible. But others eventually find that they need to stop completely -- that's easier for them than cutting down. For them, drinking a little alcohol seems to breed a desire to drink more.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests the following steps to help people cut back on their drinking:
-- Put it in writing. Make a list of the reasons to curtail your drinking, such as feeling healthier, sleeping better or improving your relationships.
-- Set a drinking goal. Set a limit on how much you will drink. Keep your drinking below the recommended guidelines. This means no more than one standard drink per day for women, as well as men ages 65 and older. And no more than two standard drinks per day for men under 65.
-- Keep a diary of your drinking. For three to four weeks, keep track of every time you have a drink. Include information about what and how much you drink. Compare this to your goal. If you're having trouble sticking to your goal, discuss it with your doctor or another health professional.
-- Don't keep alcohol in your house. Particularly if you have set a goal of drinking no alcohol, having none at home can help limit your drinking.
-- Choose alcohol-free days. Decide not to drink a day or two each week. You may want to abstain for a week or a month to see how you feel physically and emotionally without alcohol in your life.
One resource you might find helpful is the new book "Almost Alcoholic" by my Harvard Medical School colleagues Robert Doyle, M.D., and Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. You can find out more about it at my website, www.AskDoctorK.com.
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information.)
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