As we rang in the New Year just a few short weeks ago, there were likely many celebrations involving alcohol. I think we would all agree that New Year’s Eve is one of the most iconic times associated with alcohol consumption for most women. But how much is too much? And are you at risk for some of the problems associated with at risk drinking? This past year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) launched a new initiative to promote “real alcohol screening” for women. We all need to be aware of the accepted definitions for alcohol consumption and know the harm that may come with excessive use.
To better understand the problems associated with at risk drinking, I wanted to first summarize a few of the risks.
For pregnant women, the risks of alcohol use are well documented. The most severe form of disability is fetal alcohol syndrome, which is still the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. But there is also a full spectrum of other disorders associated with alcohol use during pregnancy. There is no known safe level and even small amounts can lead to behavioral and mental handicaps. All women should know this.
For non-pregnant women, there are also health risks. Information out there is confusing because it is suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can have a protective effect against heart disease. Moderate use is defined as one drink equal to 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of hard liquor or one 12 ounce beer. However, as noted by ACOG, there is additional information to suggest that exceeding this amount of alcohol and consuming 2-5 drinks per day can significantly increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors in particular need to know that drinking even two glasses of wine a week was associated with increased risk of “both recurrence and death from breast cancer,” according to the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
For all women, alcohol is metabolized differently than in men so behavioral consequences of alcohol happen more quickly. We all know that alcohol impairs judgment and this can put us in vulnerable situations. Women may engage in more risky sexual behaviors and be at higher risk for sexual assault. Alcohol is involved in 90% of campus rapes according to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. As a parent of a college age daughter, this is especially worrisome to me. Granted these situations are more commonly associated with binge drinking but that is also on the rise and not just for college age women. Binge drinking is defined as more than three drinks per occasion or more than seven drinks per week.
This information is not meant to be a scare tactic but rather be used as a self assessment tool. Look at the definitions of moderate versus binge drinking and see where you fall. If you feel that you are at risk, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed but seek help. However, there are strategies to help with cutting down alcohol consumption versus quitting entirely.
Here are a few tips from Rethinking Drinking:
- Keep track. Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that works for you- possibly carry drinking tracker cards in your wallet, or enter notes in a mobile phone notepad or personal digital assistant. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.
- Set goals. Decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you’ll have on those days. It’s a good idea to have some days when you don’t drink. Drinkers with the lowest rates of alcohol use disorders stay within the low-risk limits.
- Find alternatives. If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then fill free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing ones you’ve missed. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, then seek other, healthy ways to deal with those areas of your life.
- Avoid “triggers.” What triggers your urge to drink? If certain people or places make you drink even when you don’t want to, try to avoid them. If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking. If drinking at home is a problem, keep little or no alcohol there.
However, if you think your drinking has become excessive or a problem for you, seek medical attention. Support includes:
- Summa Health System’s Ignatia Hall Intensive Outpatient Program for those with alcohol or chemical dependency diagnoses
- 24 Hour Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Treatment Facility Locator: 1-800-662-4357
- Alcoholics Anonymous
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- Cleveland line 216-241-7387