The holidays are just around the corner, and for many, party season is in full swing. Christmas is a great time of year to catch up with friends and enjoy some time off. But spare a thought for your health. Late nights, stress, and drinking too much can all take their toll. If you’ve been partying too hard or you’ve noticed changes in your physical or mental health, it may be time to make changes. This guide will help you to determine if drinking has become a problem and give you some tips to help you cut down and get the support you need.
How much is too much?
At this time of year, most people drink more than they would normally. There are parties to attend, and everyone’s in holiday mode. You may be going to a bar after work for a drink rather than heading home like you would at any other time of year. It’s fine to let your hair down now and again. But be wary of signs that indicate that your attitude to drinking has changed or that you’re exceeding the limit frequently.
Health experts in the US recommend a maximum weekly intake of 14 units for men and 7 for women. It can often be tough to determine if you drink too much because there’s a degree of uncertainty related to what constitutes a unit. Sadly, it’s not as simple as counting one unit per drink. A single unit equates to a 25 ml measure of spirits like whiskey or vodka, a 175 ml glass of wine or half a pint of 3.6% lager. You probably don’t keep a running total throughout the week. However, if you wrote everything down and then added the units up, you’d probably be shocked to see the total. It’s very easy to exceed the limit without even realizing, especially at Christmas time. If you’re not sure how much you drink in an average week, keep a diary or use an app.
What happens when you have a drink?
Alcohol is actually a form of poison, which has instant effects on your mind and body. When you drink, you’ll notice a difference in how you feel. Most people tend to come out of their shell and feel more confident after a couple of drinks. You may find that you’re more talkative, and you feel more relaxed. In the short-term, you may love the feeling drinking gives you especially if you usually lack confidence. However, in the long-term, heavy drinking can increase your risk of depression and anxiety. It can also disrupt the functions in your brain that enable you to make memories and cause mood swings.
Drinking can also affect your ability to make judgments, and you may take risks that you would never even consider if you were sober. This may mean trying to cross roads when cars are coming or sleeping with somebody without using protection. The implications of these decisions can be life-changing.
Your stomach absorbs alcohol, and it is then processed by your body’s filter, the liver. If you drink heavily, you’ll be putting your liver under intense pressure. It takes around one hour to process a single unit. A one-off drinking session will probably do no damage to your vital organs. But drinking excessively on a regular basis increases your risk of liver cirrhosis and some forms of cancer. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver tissue becomes scarred.
When you drink, you may also find that your heart rate increases, and you’re prone to palpitations. This is particularly common when you mix alcohol with caffeine and sugar-laden mixers. Drinking can put your body in a spin, as alcohol is a depressant and some mixers are stimulants.
Why do you get a hangover?
When you’re out in a club dancing the night away, you may not notice the physical effects of drinking alcohol. However, it’s likely that you’ll experience them the next day. A hangover is your body’s response to stopping drinking. In many ways, it’s a kind of withdrawal reaction. Alcohol has effects on your body, and when you stop drinking, these effects may be reversed. Have you ever woken up the day after a night out and felt like you’d been hit by a car or put through a vigorous workout at the gym? If so, this is because drinking contributes to inflammation and now that you’re sober, you can feel pain again. When you drink, alcohol acts as a pain-numbing analgesic and these powers wear off when you stop.
Drinking can also cause nausea and diarrhea. This is because alcohol disrupts your normal metabolic processes. Sickness and changes in your bowel habits are your body’s way of dealing with a sudden hit of alcohol.
Sleeping problems are also common when you’re hungover. Even if you’ve slept for hours, you may still feel tired. Drinking messes with your body clock, and the sleep you do get is often fragmented. Many people also find that they have vivid dreams or nightmares after drinking. This is because you spend more time in the REM stage of sleep than normal.
Hangovers are not just a physical problem. Drinking can also wreak havoc when it comes to your emotions and mental state. Are you familiar with the feeling of waking up in a heightened state of anxiety related to what happened the night before? Do you feel weepy or emotional? When you drink, it can give you a temporary high, and when it stops, your mood can deteriorate rapidly.
What are the signs of alcohol dependence and addiction?
Many people enjoy a drink, and drinking in moderation shouldn’t cause you any troubles. The issues come when you become dependent on alcohol, or you develop an addiction. For some, a casual drink after work can spiral into reaching for a bottle every time life gets tough or spending all day every day thinking about the next drink. There’s a perception that addiction affects people who have been through the mill or suffered throughout their life. But the reality is that anyone can become reliant on alcohol.
Signs of alcohol addiction to look out for include:
- Planning your day around drinking
- Lying to others about your drinking habits
- Drinking more to achieve the same effects
- Feeling guilty after drinking
- Drinking to escape or deal with difficult days
- Drinking more than you intend to on a regular basis
- Prioritizing alcohol over work, family, and friends
If your body becomes dependent on alcohol, you may also notice physical symptoms. These include sweating, rapid heart rate, sickness, and insomnia.
When should I seek help and what can be done?
One of the hardest things to do if you have a problem with drinking is to admit it. Many people go through prolonged periods of denial when they tell themselves that they could stop drinking if they wanted to. Sometimes, it can take time to reach the realization that actually, alcohol is controlling you, rather than the other way around.
If you feel like you’ve lost control, or you’re worried about how much you drink, see your doctor. They will ask you questions about your alcohol consumption and work with you to find solutions. There are various methods and treatments that can be beneficial. The route you take will often depend on the gravity of the situation. In mild cases, self-help techniques can be incredibly beneficial. Changing your habits and finding alternative ways of coping can help. Many people drink to relieve stress, for example. If this is the case, it’s worth trying other stress management techniques. These may include exercise, meditation, or doing something creative. For some, drinking is a way of tackling emotions caused by life events, for example, bereavement. In this case, counseling services may be beneficial. Speaking to somebody gives you an outlet, and you have the support and reassurance of another person.
In the most severe cases, intense treatment may be required. This may involve staying in hospital or going to a rehabilitation center. Dealing with alcohol addiction usually involves treatments that address both physical and mental health issues. The aim is to treat existing health problems, but also to prepare you for the future. Alcoholics will always have difficulties with alcohol. However, if you’re strong enough, and you’ve got the right support around you, you’ll be able to tackle day to day life, and look forward to a bright future.
Party season is here, and it’s a good time to reflect on your health. The festive season usually involves indulging, and this is part of the fun. However, it’s important to understand that there’s a very fine line between enjoying yourself and drinking too much. It’s normal to push the boundaries from time to time. But if this is becoming a habit or you’ve become increasingly reliant on alcohol to feel relaxed or get through the day, it’s time to act. There is help and support out there, and you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek advice.