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For the most part, Australians have a positive relationship with alcohol. The majority of us drink moderately, and enjoy having a drink to relax and enjoy a meal with family and friends. However, there are those who have a more negative relationship with alcohol – consuming too much and too often.
Whilst we are aware of the risks associated with heavy alcohol use, we are largely unaware of the risks associated with moderate alcohol use. In-fact, there is an assumption that moderate use is actually good for our health. How many times have you heard that a glass of red wine is good for your heart? Yet the research behind these findings is weak at best, therefore the benefits of drinking alcohol in relation to our health have been massively exaggerated, especially when there is strong research to suggest that moderate alcohol use is not risk-free. In other words, no amount of alcohol is really safe, which is why the World Health Organisation has declared alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen.
What are the health risks?
Alcohol affects every body differently, depending upon your genetics, your diet, your gender, and your habits. Some of the risks associated with alcohol consumption include;
*Depression & Anxiety: Alcohol changes the balance of chemicals that help your brain to think, feel, create and make decisions. Alcohol can cause symptoms of depression and/or anxiety or make an existing problem worse.
*Poor Sleep: Ever had a couple of drinks only to find yourself lying awake in the early hours of the morning? If so then this is a rebound effect. While alcohol is a sedative, and its initial effect is to sedate, when this wears off, there is a rebound stimulant effect.
*Weight Gain: A standard drink has around 80 calories. Research shows that most people who drink a glass of wine at home often pour double that amount into a single glass. That adds up if you’re having a glass most days of the week and is a large contributor to the obesity epidemic (our nation’s biggest issue).
*Long-term health problems: Alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis, fatty liver, hepatitis, brain damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer. In-fact the list of cancers caused by alcohol is growing, and includes anything which alcohol touches – cancer of the mouth, upper throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast, liver, stomach, colon and rectum. Alcohol is also a likely cause for skin, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
Tips for drinking less:
There are many ways to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. Some include;
*Don’t drink if you don’t want to: Drinking alcohol is part of the Australian culture, so it can be a difficult decision to be a non-drinker. However choosing not to drink is your decision, and one that should be supported. You shouldn’t feel the need to make excuses or justify your decision to anyone. Remember you can still have fun without alcohol. If you have teenage kids then this is also a great opportunity to let them know that there are other alternatives and that alcohol doesn’t have to be part of every social gathering. And that’s because teenagers often look to their parents and other adults as role models to help them develop socially acceptable attitudes and behaviours.
*Start with non-alcoholic drinks and alternate with alcoholic drinks: Choose non-alcoholic drinks instead, or even alternate between the two. You can even water down alcoholic drinks like wine with soda water. Also if you participate in rounds of drinks try to include some non-alcoholic drinks.
*Set limits for yourself and stick to them: If you are planning on drinking, then ensure to set a limit to how much you will drink and then stick to it. According to the national guidelines, if you are healthy then this should include no more than two standard drinks on any day. What is a standard drink? A standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of the alcohol type. For example:
Can/Stubbie mid-strength beer ≈ 1 standard drink
100ml wine (13.5% alcohol) ≈ 1 standard drink
30ml nip spirits ≈ 1 standard drink
Can spirits (approx 5-7% alcohol) ≈ 1.2 to 2.4 standard drinks
*Aim to have more alcohol free periods: The more often you drink, the less of an affect alcohol has on you. Because of this, it becomes much easier to binge drink during social occasions in order for alcohol to provide you with the affect your after. So if you’re a regular drinker, then try to limit drinking to Friday and Saturday nights only. It may also be a good idea to stop drinking for a couple weeks, or even a month, so you can have a clean slate and then reintroduce alcohol more intentionally.
*Decide what you want more; Alcohol or a lean body: A standard glass of wine takes about half an hour of walking to burn off. Drink two standard glasses and you need to walk for an hour. This is just to burn of what you drink, not to lose weight. So if you’re trying to lose weight (which almost 75% of Australian’s need to do), then you probably need to stop drinking alcohol altogether. Remember, if you booze, then you don’t lose.
*Drink mindfully: If you are going to drink alcohol then take the time to smell, taste and fully experience it, with the goal of staying present. Not only will you enjoy it more (meaning you will need less to satisfy you), but you will also begin to shine a valuable light on any bad habits you may have around alcohol. You will become more mindful of your decisions and where they might lead… Do I really need that next drink? Why am I drinking? Is there anything else that will satisfy me instead of alcohol? Do I really want to end up hungover the next day? Once you become more mindful of any potential negative or simply habitual behaviours around alcohol, then you can more easily eliminate them. For example, if you notice that you mostly drink in the evening to relax and unwind from a stressful day, then what other, more healthy options could you use to de-stress? This could something as simple as running a salt bath, losing yourself in a great book or something else. The more mindfully you drink, the healthier your relationship with alcohol will become.
At the end of the day, there are very few benefits of drinking alcohol other than for the flavour itself, and for helping you to feel more relaxed, which is perfectly ok when done occasionally. However, if you are like the vast majority of Australians who already have health issues including needing to lose weight, then alcohol is not doing you many favours. The less you drink, the greater your chances are of reversing any health issues associated with alcohol.
If you or someone you know needs support and treatment to reduce your alcohol intake, you should contact either your doctor or call your state alcohol helpline.
Q.Do you drink alcohol and if so why and how often?
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