Table of Contents
Table of Contents
The math is clear: alcohol causes more societal damage than hard drugs. There are many potential explanations, but perhaps the most compelling is this: alcohol lacks the social stigma associated with other drugs like marijuana or heroin. Because of this, no one thinks twice at the office if you talk about going out for drinks after the staff meeting; try the same sentence, but substitute “heroin” for “alcohol,” and you’ll quickly find yourself unemployed.
Alcohol has clear physical and social effects: it damages our brains, lives, bones and more; it’s linked to poverty, violence, and the disintegration of the American family. And, for some reason, no one will look twice at you if they see you drinking. This widespread social acceptance has created a society in which we have very little grasp of how much we actually drink and what those drinks are doing to us; indeed, it’s estimated that up to 32% of America’s alcoholics are classified as “high-functioning.” A full 25% of them will never seek treatment, believing that their ability to hold down a job and manage a life means they don’t actually have a problem.
Some confusion may stem from a simple misunderstanding of exactly how much alcohol they’re consuming; many drinkers have no idea how widely alcohol content can vary from drink to drink. The NIAAA defines one “drink” as “roughly 14 grams of alcohol.” However, those 14 grams can show up in a variety of ways. They’ve got this handy pictorial guide on their website:
In a world where one out of eight Americans may be an alcoholic, when should you start worrying about your own drinking habits? According to Dr. Ali Barwise, a doctor writing for GQ, adult men should consume less than 21 units of alcohol per week and never more than four units in a single day. Dr. Barwise also recommends that each week include at least two days in which you consume no alcohol at all.
Of course, it’s more complicated than simply counting your drinks. We now know that alcoholism has a genetic component—so if you have a family history of the disease, it’s wise to be overly cautious. Either way, there are some questions you need to ask yourself:
If you’d like a more rigorous accounting of your drinking level, the World Health Organization has developed a self-audit that provides a score you can use to gauge how problematic your drinking is. We’ve reproduced it below.
Total your score from the answers above:
First of all, it’s easier to manage location than it is to manage temptation; since you know this, keep yourself physically out of places where you know you’ll want to drink as much as possible.
Numbers are your friend; don’t just aim to “drink less,” which is a vague goal that’s easy to talk yourself around. Instead, set a numerical, measurable goal: “I’m going to have fewer than ten drinks this week,” or something similar. You want to walk your drinking back slowly and consistently. It may help to substitute drinks with a lower alcohol content; have a light beer, or a less alcoholic wine than your usual.
Don’t go it alone; involve your partner or circle of friends to help keep track of consumption and give you some accountability. If that makes you uncomfortable, consider going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or some other form of group therapy. If you’re in the danger zone based on the quiz above, it’s very important that you involve your physician; quitting cold-turkey in the middle of alcohol dependency can have real physical consequences, up to and including death.
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