Have you ever put the trash out and wondered how you managed to get through so many bottles of wine and beer in only one week? Or maybe you have woken up hungover one morning (or afternoon) and really regretted having had those drinks the night before? If this is the case, it might good idea to think about reducing your alcohol consumption.
Cutting down on your alcohol intake has many feel-good benefits - it's good for your health, will help you lose weight and will significantly lower the risk of developing diseases such as cancer, heart, or liver disease. Furthermore, decreasing your alcohol consumption can be great for your relationships and can even have a positive impact on your sex life.
The good news is there are plenty of practical ways you can cut down on your alcohol consumption.
In this article, we will briefly look at some of stats surrounding alcohol consumption and the negative impact that alcohol can have on your health and the economy, before following this up with some great tips that will hopefully help you reduce your alcohol consumption, leading to great health benefits. If you want to skip the stats and the effects of alcohol on the body and jump straight to the tips and benefits, click here.
How Many People Drink in the US
More than half of all Americans aged 12 or above report that they are current drinkers. This means that more than half of the population of the US over the age of 12 have consumed alcohol within the last 30 days.
According to figures taking from the latest (2014) national survey by the NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 52.7% of those surveyed (approximately 67,500 people) said that they were current drinkers. This is an estimated 139.6 million people. This figure has increased slightly from the estimated 136.8 million drinkers in 2013.
The following statistics have been taken from the 2014 NSDUH survey. Roughly 217.7 million people reported that they have consumed alcohol at some time during their lifetime and 176.5 million said that they have consumed alcohol in the past year. Among the 139.6 million current drinkers of 2014, an estimated 60.9 million (23% of the population) reported binge drinking in the last month while 16.3 million reported heavy drinking in the past month.
For the purpose of the survey, the NSDUH classified binge drinking as five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30. On the other hand, heavy alcohol consumption is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more days in the last 30.
How Much is Too Much?
When trying to determine whether your drinking habits are cause for concern, you'll likely wonder how much is really too much. Millions of people worldwide drink alcoholic beverages on a regular basis without ever developing a drinking-related problem; they do not become alcohol abusers, alcohol dependent, or alcoholics.
However, it is possible to drink at levels that could put your health and well-being at risk without drinking enough to be considered a problem drinker or an alcoholic. In short, the threshold for harmful drinking is much lower than you might imagine.
To keep yourself at low risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, you need to drink less than five standard drinks per day if you're male and less than four if you're female. But what counts as a standard drink?
In the US, a standard drink is an alcoholic beverage that contains 0.6 fluid ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. That equates to around 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol.
The following are generally considered the equivalent of one standard drink:
• 12 oz. of beer or wine cooler
• 8-9 oz. of malt liquor
• 5 oz. of table wine
• 3-4 oz. of fortified wine (sherry or port)
• 2-3 oz. of liqueur, cordial or aperitif
• 1.5 oz. of brandy
• 1.5 oz. of spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka and so on)
NB: The above examples are approximates because many brands and types of alcoholic drinks vary in actual alcohol content. Check the label for the percentage of alcohol content.
You can find out whether your drinking levels are safe, risky, or harmful by taking this Alcohol Screening Quiz.
The Effect of Alcohol on Our Bodies
Alcohol's effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:
• How much you drink
• How often you drink
• Your age
• Your health status
• Your family history
Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip, and its immediate effects can appear within just 10 minutes. As you continue to drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol's effects. These effects include:
• Reduce inhibitions
• Slurred speech
• Motor impairment
• Memory problems
• Concentration problems
• Breathing problems
*In the US, an estimated 88,000 people, approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women, die each year from alcohol-related causes, making it the fourth highest preventable cause of death in the country.
Other risks of drinking can include:
• Car crashes and other accidents (In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for just under 10,000 deaths).
• Risky behavior
• Violent behavior
• Suicide and homicide
While an alcohol problem is harmful at any age, it's even more harmful in the elderly. The impact of alcohol-related injuries is much more severe, the risk of harmful medication interactions is much greater, and the physical effects of alcohol are more debilitating.
Here are some dramatic statistics:
• There are 2.5 million older adults in the US with an alcohol problem.
• 6-11% of elderly hospital admissions are a due to alcohol problems.
• Widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the US.
• Nearly 50% of nursing home residents have alcohol related problems
Find out more about the metabolism of alcohol and the effects it has on the body by watching this brilliant video:
The Effect of Alcohol on the Economy
Not only does alcohol have a negative impact on our bodies, but it also has an adverse effect on the economy.
According to a CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention),the cost of excessive alcohol use in the US reached $249 billion in 2010, or roughly $2.05 per alcoholic beverage. The researchers found that most of these costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72% of the total cost), healthcare expenses for treating problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption (11% of total), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses (10%), and losses from motor vehicle crashes related to excessive alcohol usage (5%).
How to Cut Back on Your Alcohol Consumption
The key to successfully cutting down is by making small, but important changes in your attitude towards drinking. Lots of little changes can make a big change in your life. Here are some ideas:
Look at How Much You Drink at Home
Begin by looking at how much alcohol you consume at home. You might drink a lot more than you think on an average night in, especially if you like to have a drink while watching some television.
Replace the Alcohol in Your Fridge
Try replacing any alcohol in your fridge with soft drinks or water. Luckily for us, these days the soft drink option doesn't need to be dull, since the supermarket shelves are packed with upmarket cordials. smoothies, and fizzy drinks. Entertaining some guests and want to impress? Try something slightly different and serve up a nice selection of non-alcoholic mocktails.
Measure Your Drinks
Remember that home measures are often a lot bigger than that which you'd get when you're out. Be aware of this before you pour your favorite drink into a goldfish bowl sized glass. Buying small wine glasses or an alcohol measure are great ways of making sure that you don't drink more than you intend to.
Monitor Your Intake
Before going out, it's very important to decide how many alcoholic beverages you're going to enjoy. Pace is also very important; rather than downing three-four drinks in an hour, it's a lot wiser to enjoy a few drinks over the course of a few hours.
Enlist Friends and Family
Those who find themselves drinking too much may need to examine their social circles to see if excessive drinking is being encouraged. A good friend or a family member should always be happy to try to help you cut back on drinking.
Do Something Else
If drinking has become a big part of your life, try doing other activities during those times when you'd usually have a drink. Take up a hobby, begin an exercise program, make new friends, or spend more time with your family. find something that you really enjoy doing so that you can use it to occupy the time where you would usually be drinking.
Learn How to Say No
Chances are that you will find yourself in a situation in which someone is going to offer you a drink or expect you to drink with them as you have done so in the past. Therefore, you need to learn how to politely say "no thank you," and really mean it. Say it quickly and firmly so that you don't have time to change your mind.
Focus on the Benefits of Not Drinking
Thinking about the benefits of feeling and being healthy can actually make people drink in moderation or avoid alcohol altogether. Start by putting together a list of ways in which cutting down on alcohol will make you feel better. Post the list where you can see it each day.
The Benefits of Cutting Back on Your Alcohol Consumption
Some people find that alcohol helps them drop off to sleep but, in reality, as this study concluded, it actually affects the quality of your sleep. When you drink too much, you spend less of the night in a deep, restorative slumber. To add to this, you're more likely to wake up early and find it hard to drop off again. Once you have cut back, you should start to notice your sleep improving. This can have a knock-on benefit for everything, ranging from your mood to your ability to concentrate.
More Energy and Better Concentration
Alcohol contains a chemical substance known as ethanol which is able to pass freely through cell membranes. When blood, containing excessive amounts of ethanol reaches the brain, the ethanol enters the brain cells where it acts as a central nervous system depressant. Ethanol can attach itself to nerve receptors, and particularly glutamate, making it less active. In its active form, glutamate excites the neurons. However, when it isn't active, the neurons are less excitable, therefore the body's response to external stimuli becomes slow and sluggish. Furthermore, ethanol also attaches itself to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and activates the GABA receptors. The activation of these receptors slows down the brain and induces a feeling of calm, leading to somnolence. This is why alcohol makes you lethargic and decreases your ability to concentrate fully. So start drinking less, and it shouldn't be too long before you notice that you have more energy and better concentration levels. .
You don't need to have a headache and be feeling ill for alcohol to start affecting your work. Regularly drinking above the alcohol unit guidelines will affect your concentration and ability to work. Cutting back on alcohol can do wonders for your concentration - and your career.
Alcohol dehydrates your skin making it look dull and grey - add some dark circles under your eyes from a lack of decent sleep and you will look less than your best. Luckily, skin is quick to react to changes so it could be looking much better after just a couple of days of drinking less.
Not only does alcohol make your skin look grey and dull, studies have shown that alcohol consumption can also lead to an increased risk of melanoma. For a detailed summary of such a study, click here.
Alcohol is high in calories and can be seriously fattening. Cut out just one pint a day for a week, and you'll have consumed close to 1,500 calories less. Therefore, it won't be long before your jeans start feeling a bit looser.
For more information on how alcohol consumption affects your weight and shape, check out this informative article written by Dr. Muhamad Usman.
Better Long-Term Health
Cutting down on alcohol will reduce your risk of developing cancer, liver, or heart disease and could also lower your blood pressure. You may not be able to see the difference you're making, but by cutting down to within the government's guidelines, you can be confident that you're doing your body a huge favor.
However, a recent study found that the effect of alcohol on our health is far-reaching and not easy to wipe away. The researchers took the time to analyze data from an earlier study of male Vietnam-era veterans. Out of the 664 people they observed, all at least in their 60s, half had reported a history of alcohol dependence. Those who did, were in poorer physical and mental health than those who didn't, reaffirming reams of earlier research on the negative effects of alcohol. However, even the 75 people who had stopped abusing alcohol by their 30s were more likely to be unhealthy than those who never had any alcohol-related problems.
Their findings were published here in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
If You Can't Cut Down
If you find that you cannot cut down, you may have already developed an alcohol use disorder. As a result, you may need to seek some professional help to quit. If you don't want one-to-one sessions with a psychologist, it might be worthwhile considering joining a support group. To find the nearest AA support group near you, follow this link.
Sources: greatist, drinkaware, verywell, niaaa, verywell, cdc, medicaldaily and drinkaware