U-M experts offer help for staying in control of alcohol intake
No holiday brings as strong a message to party as New Year's Eve, and the most popular party ingredient is alcohol. Knowing when to stop drinking for the sake of how you feel, for legally operating a motor vehicle, or because you want to stay in control of your intake, is a challenge facing many.
At the University of Michigan's Alcohol Management Program, people who want to improve their health by drinking less alcohol or none at all, can get help.
Experts at the program say you can start by asking yourself how many alcoholic drinks you have per week. One drink is considered 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
"Most people call us because they feel like they're drinking too much and don't like the way they're feeling," said Teresa Herzog Mourad, coordinator of the Alcohol Management Program, which services U-M employees, members of the local community, and people around the country. "We help people who are not alcoholics either cut down or quit drinking, and refer alcoholics to U-M Addiction Services."
Who comes to the Alcohol Management Program? Herzog Mourad says it's often women who have an average of 19 alcoholic drinks a week and men who have an average of 21 alcoholic drinks per week.
"The vast majority of these people don't drink every day and tend to drink more on the weekend," said Herzog Mourad. "Are they getting to work on time? Are they parenting their children? It's amazing what people can do and still drink that much. Many people have tolerance."
Jeff, 42, of Canton, who has been part of the Alcohol Management Program for two years, said, "I learned what my body can take. I can stop at 2 to 3 drinks, but at 5 to 6 drinks, I'm not stopping. It's good to have someone to talk to about balancing alcohol in my life, and it's a completely nonjudgmental organization."
Herzog Mourad describes New Year's Eve as "an extended, culturally sanctioned drinking opportunity." She suggests that if you want to prevent problems on New Year's Eve and want to feel productive on New Year's Day, consider a prescription for your alcohol consumption. That means coming up with a plan for when and how much you are going to drink and sticking to it.
"What I do is to help people plan their drinking in a way that feels healthy," said Herzog Mourad. "Alcohol is a treat, not a treatment. It has to be limited. A man who doesn't want a hangover should not exceed five drinks, and a woman shouldn't exceed four drinks. That is considered binge drinking, and there is no such thing as risk-free drinking."
Mary, 31, of Ypsilanti, was arrested for drunk driving last year, and she pursued the Alcohol Management Program as part of her probation.
"I deserved wholeheartedly to get pulled over," said Mary. "Even though you think you can drink and drive, it's much better to plan around it and take the bus or a cab."
Mary says that with help from the Alcohol Management Program, she has learned to plan ahead.
"It's like a bottle of aspirin," said Mary. "You don't take more than a recommended amount."
For Susan, 62, of Washtenaw County, the Alcohol Management Program was integral in helping her set a goal to reduce the amount of drinking she was doing.
"It was quite gradual," she said. "I enjoyed a glass of wine, which evolved into the enjoyment of close to a bottle of wine. I was exercising and eating healthy food, so I asked myself why I wasn't paying attention to this one thing.
"What Teresa and I talked about was very reinforcing like taking the time to keep track and write things down. Knowing that every week or two I'd be facing Teresa, I wanted to give her an account of my success. The crazy thing about addiction is that you feel like it is something completely out of your control and you learn that your health and your behavior are within your control."
As far as New Year's Eve goes, Susan isn't worried. "I plan on enjoying tonight at home with my husband rather than out at a party. I will enjoy a glass of wine but not get drunk.
"It's not the alcohol itself but the abuse of it and the overuse of it that are the problems."