America is getting drunker. A study in JAMA Psychiatry found a 30 percent (30percent!) increase in high-risk drinking between 2002 and 2013. What’s more, 27 percent of people 18 or older say they’ve engaged in binge drinking in the past month, according to the latest numbers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. You’re aware of the effects. Pounding headaches. Unshakable EggMcMuffin cravings. Increased weight due to increased Egg McMuffins . . .
The Red Flags
First, look at the branches of your family tree. If your relatives suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, you may have an increased risk of developing the disease as well, says Linda Richter,Ph.D., director of policy research and analysis at the Center on Addiction.
There are other this-is-not-normal signs, too. Ever had plans but broke them to stay in and enjoy a six-pack alone? That’s cause for concern. That old ’50s-dad trope of heading to the bar after work for a beer or three to relieve stress? Ditto. Went a few days without a drink and found that you felt nauseated or shaky or had trouble sleeping? Those may be symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Next, look at how drinking plays out in the rest of your life. “If you’re finding that your alcohol use is affecting your work, your school, your family relationships, and that you keep drinking regardless of these issues, then you may have a real problem,”says Richter. Luckily, there are steps you can take to course correct.
How to Cut Back
The CDC recommends a limit of two drinks per day for men (two 12-ounce bottles of beer at 5 percent alcohol by volume). But even that amount may be too much. A recent multinational study found that among 600,000 current drinkers, all-cause mortality increased when intake exceeded five or six drinks per week. Want to cut down?
“Make a concrete plan before you go out,” advises Richter. “Say to yourself, ‘This is the limit of how much I’m going to drink.’” Then hold yourself accountable. Tell a friend your plans. Try to drink slower and drink less: a bottle of beer instead of a pint, a smaller pour of wine, a lower-strength drink.
If you’re unable to take it slower, breaking your promise to yourself ora friend, and find that your habit continually affects your work and relationships, you may need to take more serious action. The benefits—better sleep, more energy, reduced calorie intake, improved overall health—are too great not to.
Seek help outside yourself. Call your health-insurance company and ask for treatment providers. Also ask about treatment type (group, medication, counseling) and setting (outpatient or inpatient). Or if the whole idea of talking to your insurer is already stressing you out, you can contact the Substance Abuse and MentalHealth Services Administration hotline at 800-662-HELP. They can help you sort out your options.
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