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How to Manage Your Alcohol Use and When to Seek Help

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

While drinking socially, and within the limits specified by health bodies such as the National Health Service (NHS) should be fine for people without underlying medical conditions, problematic drinking is an issue. There are many reasons why people take to problematic drinking. A sense of boredom, or a chronic sense of emptiness, or the very addictive nature of alcohol are all reasons. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and people with underlying personality and psychological disorders may use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Alcohol Use Disorder is emerging as a silent killer among Bangalore’s working professionals. Stigma stops them from getting the help they urgently require. Alcohol abuse can be controlled, managed and one can successfully learn to drink moderately.

What alcohol can do to your body and mind

Unrestrained use of alcohol damages liver and increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Excessive consumption of alcohol also disrupts one’s professional and personal lives, resulting in psychological distress. Binge drinking is known to cause more harm than drinking alcohol regularly, in limited quantities. Moreover, driving under the influence of alcohol results in injuries and/or fatalities.

Alcohol causes one to lose inhibitions, putting one at risk of engaging in unsafe sex. A person who is intoxicated will probably not bother wearing a condom or asking his or her partner to wear one. Bangalore has one of the highest rates of HIV in the country.

Moderation is the key. Know your limits and your units

Most people take an “all or nothing” approach when it comes to alcohol use. Abstaining from drinking may not work for everyone, and it may actually cause the person to drink even more. Low self-esteem caused by ‘abstinence failure’ can result in dangerous drinking habits. A more nuanced approach is to adopt a realistic goal and focus on drinking in limited amounts. Most international organizations including the WHO suggest that 21 units of alcohol can be consumed safely in a week. Recently, the UK’s chief medical officers recommended not exceeding 14 units of alcohol in a week. This does not mean one can drink all the 14 units in a single day. Most studies recommend drinking not more than 4-5 units in a day. A unit is defined as 10 ml of pure alcohol, or 25 ml of spirits.

It is important to remember that one unit is not the same as one drink. One drink may contain as many as 8 units at one go, if one chooses to drink as much. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains what a standard drink is. The Mayo Clinic describes one drink as 44 milliliters of hard liquor, 148 milliliters of wine or 355 milliliters of beer. Two such drinks a day will probably not do much harm. Drink Aware has a very useful alcohol unit and calorie calculator. Drinking moderately may help to ward off type 2 diabetes or certain cancers. However, it is probably better to rely on physical activity and healthy diet to stay healthy, rather than drinking for heart health. If you do not drink, there probably isn’t a good enough reason to start drinking.

Self-help for managing alcohol use

If you are not able to drink within the recommended limits and if you frequently find yourself binge-drinking or getting into problems because of your alcohol use, you probably suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), one of the substance use disorders. While it can be a potentially life-threatening condition, there is help available. There are many free resources online that can help and motivate you to control your drinking. Katherine Levine, my friend and a psychotherapist, has published 7 rules and many tips about how you can safely control your own drinking.

What if your alcohol use is unmanageable?

If you are not able to control your drinking, seeking professional help is the next step. Usually, medicines and psychotherapy work well if you suffer from severe AUD. There are medicines to reduce the urge to drink as well as to elicit an aversive response to alcohol. However, intensive psychotherapy maybe required to address underlying psychological difficulties that usually maintain Alcohol Use Disorder. Abstinence is necessary if you are unable to manage your drinking.

Psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy, behavioral techniques and motivation enhancement therapy help to achieve moderation goals while also addressing underlying psychological disorders. People who use alcohol and other substances often experience depression and anxiety or maybe suffering from co-morbid personality disorders. Along with individual psychotherapy, group and family therapy is often helpful too.

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