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  Where do you draw the line on drinking?                          by Helen Selenati

You husband gallantly fills your glass of wine after every sip. Your grandmother tells you that she and all her friends drank while breast feeding. You have a history of liver disease in your family, or maybe your father was an alcoholic. You regularly take pain medication for headaches. Sunday evening card games always involve cocktails and Monday morning is a bit rough.

Alcohol is a regular part of our celebrations, meals, and culture. But some of us shouldn’t drink at all, some shouldn’t drink during certain times in their lives, and some just need to know how to make safe, smart choices

Although most individuals who drink alcohol do so safely, many people are unaware of the negative effects alcohol can have on their health, even as they may be aware that there are possible benefits to consuming alcohol.  For most of us the question is “What is a safe level of drinking, and where do I draw the line?” This is a difficult question as the answer is not the same for everyone and may change over a lifespan. For most adults, moderate alcohol use causes few if any problems. But if you have a family history of alcohol abuse, are taking certain medications, are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, or have a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking, then even moderate alcohol use may lead to significant health problems.

What is considered moderate alcohol consumption?

Up to two drinks per day for men.

One drink per day for women and people over the age of 65.

What is considered At-Risk drinking?

For men: More than 4 drinks per day or more than 14 drinks a week.                             

For women: More than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks a week.                             

For individuals age 65 and over: More than 1 drink a day. There is no weekly limit for older adults.

One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or cooler, one 5-once glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

On the other hand, alcohol appears to have possible benefits on heart health and reducing risk of stroke. Recent studies illustrate that there may be a link between moderate alcohol use and prevention of dementia.

Think about it – when was the last time you went to the doctor for a physical and talked about your drinking habits? Probably never. But shouldn’t we talk about alcohol just as we talk about other things that that affect our health? It isn’t a matter of judging or pointing fingers or reinstating prohibition. It is an acknowledgment that alcohol can cause serious difficulties and so, as with other health issues, we should get the facts and make healthy decisions.

Fourteen million American adults suffer from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, and more than 100,000 people die from alcohol-related diseases and injuries each year.  Alcohol abuse is characterized by clinically significant impairment or distress, but does not entail physical dependence. Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is characterized by impaired control over drinking, tolerance, withdrawal syndrome when alcohol is removed, neglect of normal activities for drinking, and continued drinking despite recurrent related physical or psychological problems.

At-risk drinking includes drinking beyond moderate levels either on a regular basis or on a particular occasion. Whether you are concerned about your own drinking habits or those of someone you love, getting help is easier than you think.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a searchable database listing treatment providers across the country. You can search for treatment programs which specialize in adolescents, older adults, women with children and other special populations. Call (800) 662-HELP (800-662-4357) or visit www.sahmsa.gov and www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov  

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a list of resources at www.niaaa.nih.gov  including Alcoholics Anonymous and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.

Helen Selenati is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Coach. She has a private practice in Redwood City and can be reached at helen@selenati.com or by calling 650-596-0807. Also visit www.selenati.com



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