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2020 Health Challenge Month 4: Watch Your Alcohol Intake

April 08, 2020

Most of us resolved to be a healthier version of ourselves in 2020. But that can seem like an overwhelming goal, which is why we’ve been giving you a new challenge each month to tackle one by one. This month, we challenge you to keep a careful eye on your alcohol intake. 

You likely know that it’s important to consume alcohol moderately. But what exactly is “moderately” and why does it matter?

Michael Bryant, MD

That’s what we’re breaking down in this blog. Michael Bryant, MD, primary care physician with West Tennessee Medical Group, offers some answers to a few common questions about alcohol consumption.

Q: Why does my alcohol intake matter?
A: As with anything in life, moderation is important. While some amount of alcohol can be beneficial, as is the case with small amounts of resveratrol-containing wine, too much of it can cause negative health impacts.

Excessive alcohol consumption can impact your physical and mental health in the short-term, making you more susceptible to accidents and unintentional injuries, along with changing your mood and attitude toward others.

But the short-term effects are not the only way excess alcohol intake can impact your health. Heavy drinking or binge drinking puts you at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as cancer, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Q: What is considered “moderate” alcohol intake?
A: How much a person can handle alcohol-wise varies from person to person. But that’s not a good indicator of what’s actually recommended.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and men have no more than two. 

Looking at it a different way, “heavy” drinking is defined as a woman who consumes eight or more alcoholic beverages in a week or a man who consumes 15 or more in a week.

That leads to another question, though: What is considered a drink?

The American Heart Association breaks it down as:

  • A 12-ounce beer
  • 4 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits

Q: If I’m drinking too much, how can I cut back on my alcohol intake?
A: This will depend somewhat on how much you’re drinking and how often you’re drinking, but there are a few tips that may help you find success

First, thoughtfully consider—and write down—when you drink and what makes you drink. This diary should include what you’re drinking, when you’re drinking it, how much you’re drinking and what made you decide to have an alcoholic beverage. This should give you a good glimpse into your current alcohol intake and whether you’re drinking due to outside pressures or internal factors like stress or boredom.

Next, try a tactic designed to help you cut back. This can include removing alcoholic beverages from your home or making certain days of the week “alcohol-free” days. You may also find it helpful to drink more slowly, sipping instead of gulping. In between sips of your beverage, alternate with drinks of non-alcoholic beverages such as water or soda.

You can also look for alternative ways to fill your time. While we’re currently limited somewhat in where we can go, you can still find activities that will keep you occupied, such as taking a walk, watching a movie, taking up a new hobby or playing board games or crossword puzzles.

Finally, while right now social pressures aren’t as much of a factor, it’s important to plan for when they will be again. Keep the reason you’re cutting back on your alcohol intake front of mind when going out with friends in the future. Practice ways to firmly say no to a drink, and share your decision with friends so they’ll provide you with support.

Getting started on those healthy resolutions? A checkup with your doctor is a good first step. Find a provider here