Family Health Magazine - MODERN LIVING
Alcohol and Your Health
Dealing with alcoholism
Alcohol has deep roots in our society. For thousands of years people have celebrated everything from birth to victory with a drink. Alcohol is used in some religious ceremonies. We often have a drink when we meet for visits, meals or parties. Drinking is an accepted part of life for many Canadians.
It is estimated that about 25 per cent of adults drink too much. Of these, one in five fit the accepted criteria for alcoholism. The remainder do not. While these people do not deny that they drink more than they should, they do deny the label alcoholic' and are not defined as alcoholics.
Alcohol abuse costs society. Problem drinkers are the people who - under the effects of alcohol - have accidents, get drinking and driving charges, contribute to family violence and hurt productivity in the workplace. These drinkers have many more problems linked to alcohol than alcoholics do. Yet most public attention has focused on severely dependent alcoholics. The pattern of alcohol abuse in Canada costs billions of dollars.
The number of problems caused by alcohol are hard to measure. According to research we know that:
- five per cent of people have severe alcohol dependence and are alcoholics.
- 20 per cent of people are problem drinkers but they are not physically dependent on alcohol.
- 75 per cent of people have no problems with alcohol.
Each of us makes different decisions about the use of alcohol:
- Some avoid it altogether.
- Others drink socially or casually and do not have any trouble with alcohol.
- Some drink and may have some problems with alcohol.
- A few have their lives seriously affected by use of alcohol.
If you are in the first two groups, you probably do not need to review your drinking habits.
Standard Drink Unit
- 12 ounces of beer (light and regular beer considered the same)
- 1.5 ounces of spirits (such as rye or vodka)
- 5 ounces of table wine
- 3 ounces of fortified wine (port, sherry)
Although there is now some evidence that moderate use of alcohol (less than two drinks per day for men and one a day for women) may benefit your health, it is not wise to start drinking alcohol if you do not now do so. If you are in the fourth group, you should seek help from your family doctor or local addiction agency.
Serious Alcohol Problems
You know you have a serious problem and should quit drinking if any of the following is true:
- You have a medical condition brought on or made worse by drinking and you are having difficulty avoiding alcohol.
- You have suffered from withdrawal symptoms (seeing things, getting the 'shakes' or having fits when you stop drinking).
- You have been treated in the past for alcoholism.
- You need a drink to get you going in the morning.
- You are in trouble with the law because of your drinking.
- You have serious problems with your mental health.
- You use street drugs as well as alcohol.
- You drink more than 35 standard drinks per week. (See Table 1 for the standard drink measure.)
Some people use the CAGE test as a simple check for alcoholism.
C tried to Cut down?
A Angry if asked about your drinking?
G felt Guilty about drinking?
EEye opener (alcohol early in the day)?
Problem drinkers would answer no to the above questions, but yes to the following:
- In a typical week you have between 15 and 35 drinks.
- You and people who know you well are worried about your drinking.
- You have begun to have problems because of your drinking (such as more arguments or being late for work).
Those who answer yes should consider reducing their intake or quitting.
What is a moderate level of alcohol intake? Although every person's case is different, the following pattern would be described as moderate. (Note: During pregnancy, you should avoid alcohol because no safe level has been defined).
- You stick to 14 drinks or less in a week for men and seven drinks per week for women.
- You limit yourself to no more than three drinks on any day.
- You avoid drinking on at least two days of the week.
- You do not drink in the morning.
- You take no more than one drink per hour.
- You do not use alcohol to solve problems or change moods.
- You do not drink alcohol as a main source of recreation.
If you are unable to control your drinking so that it falls into the above pattern, you should talk to your family doctor or some other source of support for help in cutting back.
Drinking alcohol can be a pleasant, social activity when its use is moderate. Enjoy it within limits, but seek help if you see yourself in the serious or problem drinker groups.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [ML_FHc93]