Ever think you may not be “drinking in moderation” at happy hour? Or wonder if that red wine you enjoy is becoming a liability for your liver instead of helping your heart?
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Studies suggest that drinking in moderation can have positive effects on heart and brain health. The socializing in which alcohol often plays a part is also good for brain health.
“However, hearing that ‘a little red wine’ is good for your heart can somehow get translated into ‘lots of whiskey’ or ‘a case of beer’ is good for your heart,’” says Donald Ford, MD, a family physician who also helps patients with substance abuse.
“The results can be devastating. And other toxic behaviors can go along with alcohol, such as nicotine use or recreational drug use,” Dr. Ford says.
What problem drinking looks like
“You don’t have to drink large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis to have a drinking problem. If you drink too much, too fast, you are misusing alcohol,” explains addiction specialist Joseph Janesz, PhD.
What does high-risk drinking look like? Five or more drinks for men and three to four drinks for women within a five-hour period.
5 Red flags
“If someone close to you expresses concerns about your drinking, examine the consequences,” says Dr. Janesz. He suggests looking for these red flags:
- Loss of control. Intoxication from always drinking more, or drinking faster, than you intend.
- Accidents. The result of alcohol increasing impulsivity as well as fatigue.
- Health troubles. High blood pressure, digestive tract inflammation, weight issues, diabetes, liver disease and more.
- Work worries. Reduced ability to problem-solve, diminished executive functioning in the brain, and decreased strength, stamina and focus.
- People problems. Violent outbursts, infidelity, jealousy, economic insecurity and decreased sexual interest/satisfaction, impacting those you care about.
A friendly challenge
If you think that alcohol may be causing a problem in your life, speak confidentially to your doctor, another healthcare professional or a friend.
Too often, however, people don’t realize they have a drinking problem. “Alcoholism is one of a handful of diseases that tell you that you don’t have a disease,” says Dr. Ford.
“Part of the denial is believing you can quit at any time. So I might tell patients, ‘If drinking is not a problem, give it up for a month. Then tell me how easy that was.’”
His next step is to recommend AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. “They’re free, and if they help, that tells you something,” he says. Finally, Dr. Ford may recommend a formal evaluation with an alcoholism counselor.
A counselor will talk to you about different treatment options, such as:
- A brief inpatient stay for detox
- Inpatient rehabilitation (usually for a month)
- Partial hospitalization for rehab (leaving at night and on weekends)
- Intensive outpatient treatment (typically for a few hours, three days a week)
The benefits of recovery
Rehabilitation may include individual, group or couple’s therapy that continues in aftercare, which typically lasts about a year.
But no treatment plan would be complete without AA, says Dr. Janesz. “It takes great courage to confront the disease of addiction,” he notes. “The first step is always the hardest. But you will not have to face this challenge alone.
“The recovery journey promises not only hope for a life free from addiction, but also the opportunity for personal transformation and healing.”
Ironically, many of his patients express gratitude for the “gift” of addiction that brings them to positive and life-changing experiences in recovery.