Did you know that April is Alcohol Awareness Month? Take action if you’re more than a social drinker. Most people give little thought to their drinking habits — or the risks they pose to both themselves and others. That’s unfortunate, since an estimated 3 in 10 U.S. adults drink at levels that increase their chance for alcoholism, liver disease and many other physical, mental health and social problems.
The problem is even more serious among minorities. Studies show that ethnic populations are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related problems, and that African American men experience higher rates of drinking results and alcohol-dependent symptoms than white men at the same level of consumption. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also shows that alcohol plays a significant role in suicides among Hispanics and American Indians.
Since April is National Minority Health Month and Alcohol Awareness Month, it is a good time for all of us to think about how alcohol may be affecting our health. Even if we consider ourselves as social drinkers without a clear dependence, we may show a pattern of regular alcohol use or abuse that affects our relationships with family, friends, or employer.
Alcoholism goes a dangerous step beyond. It consists of:
- craving for alcohol
- inability to control drinking in a given situation
- withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea, sweating and shaking) following a bout of heavy drinking; and
- the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get a high.
The risks of alcoholism are not just health related (liver cirrhosis and cancer), but also include domestic violence, car accidents, assaults and homicides.
Kicking the Habit
Many people need professional help to overcome alcoholism. For others, small changes can make a big difference. Here are some suggestions from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
Keep track of how much you drink. Making note of each drink before you have it may help you slow down.
Pace yourself when you drink. Sip slowly, and limit yourself to no more than one drink with alcohol per hour. Make every other drink a drink spacer, water, soda or juice.
Include food so that the alcohol is absorbed into your system more slowly.
Find alternatives to drinking, such as developing healthy activities, hobbies and relationships, or renewing ones you miss.
Avoid triggers that prompt you to drink. If certain people or places make you drink when you don’t want to, try to avoid them. If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something to do other than drinking.
Know how to say no. Have a polite, convincing no thanks ready when someone offers you a drink you don’t want or should not have. The faster you say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in.
Whatever strategies you choose to curb your alcohol habit, give them a fair trial. If you feel you’re not making progress after two or three months, then consider quitting altogether. To accomplish that, you make need the help of a physician or other health professional.
Check out our Wise Drinking Tip Sheet for more information.
Do you ever get concerned about your drinking? Are you worried about someone else in your life? Share your thoughts about social drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism.
Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!