The holiday season is a wonderful time for family gatherings and festive parties. The presence of alcoholic beverages is especially prominent, as we enjoy our eggnogs and toast in the New Year.
Those who drink responsibly can appreciate the special holiday cheer while balancing it with good food and plenty of water. We’ve recently been told that alcohol in moderation may even have some health benefits — one large study showed that men who drank in moderation had fewer heart attacks than those who did not drink.
However, alcohol can be a double-edged sword, bringing benefits for some and misery for others. Alcohol is associated with about 100,000 deaths each year from injury and disease, with most alcohol deaths occurring among the young.
Drinking is a personal choice, and whether or not one chooses to do should depend on one’s health, medical history, family history, sex and age.
A “drink” is defined as a glass of wine (4 oz. or 5 oz.), a bottle of beer (12 oz.), or a shot of liquor (1.5 oz.). Most people are surprised to learn that all these drinks contain an equal amount of alcohol. To put it another way, the amount of alcohol in one bottle of wine equals one six pack of beer equals two-thirds of a pint of hard liquor.
Moderate intake is no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks for men, and even less for those older than 65. Of those who drink, up to two thirds of women and one half of men admit to exceeding those amounts.
Many people find it hard to admit they drink too much alcohol. Much self-denial is involved. Often, those around a heavy drinker see the problem before the drinker does.
How can you tell if you have a problem with alcohol? The following are a few characteristics of someone who might be on the road to alcoholism:
- Thinking about drinking frequently.
- Trying to, but being unable to quit.
- Drinking more than you planned, such as thinking of having one or two drinks with dinner, then continuing to drink all night.
What causes alcoholism? No one knows for sure.
A family history of alcohol abuse is common. Men are also more likely to be alcoholics than women. Alcohol is often used to “self medicate” to alleviate anxiety, stress, depression, loneliness and anger. Many think that alcohol will help them sleep better, but quite the opposite is true — one might fall asleep faster, but will likely not remain asleep.
Excessive alcohol use is related to many health problems, such as liver damage (cirrhosis), higher risk of certain cancers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and increased abdominal fat, which puts the heart at increased risk.
Other effects of alcohol include stomach pain due to bleeding ulcers or severe stomach irritation (gastritis).
Psychological effects of heavy drinking include depression, anxiety, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. Alcohol may also have adverse affects on a baby during pregnancy, such as fetal alcohol syndrome and birth defects.
Alcohol also affects medication. Severe depression can occur from alcohol’s effect on narcotic pain medication and tranquilizers. It can also make the effects of sleeping medication much more potent. Alcohol can inhibit the action of Coumadin, a commonly taken blood thinner, and when consumed with an antibiotic called Flagyl, can cause a very serious physical reaction.
Patients often ask if they can drink alcohol while taking other antibiotics. I know that those who drink regularly will do so no matter what medication they are taking. The literature says that alcohol may lessen the effect of the antibiotic and may increase its side effects. My advice is to stop drinking while taking an antibiotic. If you choose to continue drinking while taking any medication, do so in moderation, knowing that there are potential negative effects. Talk with your doctor about the dangers of mixing alcohol and medication.
Suggestions to help moderate your alcohol consumption if you choose to drink are:
- Pay attention to how much you pour.
- Do not binge. Drinking less or not at all during the week then having as many drinks as you want during the weekend may cause significant health problems.
- Most importantly: If you choose to drink, do not drink and drive. Always have a designated driver.
The bottom line is that if you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
Have a very healthy, happy and safe holiday season.