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Self-Care Series Part 6: Drugs & Alcohol—moderate or quit

By Rachel Parodneck, LMSW

There are many types of self-care to choose from, but for an immediate mood boost, people often turn to slightly unorthodox methods in order to self-medicate and self-soothe. What are we talking about here? Drugs and alcohol of course.

After a stressful day of work, many unwind with a stiff drink. Have a fight with your partner? A joint could take the edge off. Out partying and feeling socially awkward? No surer way to bond with your fellow partygoers than to share a line or two of coke.

Sounds like fun, no? The short-term effects of alcohol and other substances can be euphoric; if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be using them. Although you may feel better in the moment, used in excess, these do more harm than good long-term. Illicit substances are less studied than alcohol so for the sake of getting you the hard and fast facts, this article will focus on alcohol and what to do if you find that you’re using it to cope in a way that is not healthy.

How much is too much? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate alcohol consumption as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

What is heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

What is binge drinking? According to the CDC, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours.

What exactly happens to our bodies and our brains when we utilize substances in excess as a coping mechanism?

According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Drinking excessively over a sustained period of time can damage the heart, liver, pancreas, and cause multiple forms of cancer.

When it comes to the brain, regular heavy drinkers can expect less than ideal mental health. Alcohol is a depressant. You might feel relaxed after a drink, but in the long run, alcohol can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, making stress harder to deal with overall. Drinking alcohol is also linked to a range of mental health issues from depression and memory loss, to suicide.

If you’re questioning whether or not you have a problem, ask yourself when do you tend to drink? Is it to celebrate or to cope with difficult situations and emotions? How much do you use and what are the consequences? Try going without using or drinking for 30 consecutive days or try to keep it to two drinks in a night. If it’s a struggle or you find that you are unable to follow through, you may have a problem.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a quiz where you can score yourself to determine if you have a problem with drinking. The link for this self-scoring quiz is: https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/is-aa-for-you-twelve-questions-only-you-can-answer

If substance use is becoming detrimental to your wellbeing, Narcotics Anonymous has a similar quiz at this link: https://www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/pdf/litfiles/us_english/IP/EN3107.pdf

What can you do to quit? Try out an AA, NA, or SMART Recovery meeting.

If you don’t want to quit but think the answer may be moderation, there are other programs you can try such as Moderation Management (MM), which focuses on reducing alcohol consumption without abstaining altogether. MM was founded to create an alternative to AA for people who do not necessarily want to stop drinking, but want to moderate their amount of alcohol consumed to reduce its detrimental consequences.

Resources for help moderating or quitting:

Alcoholics Anonymous:
AA.org

Moderation Management:
Moderation.org

Narcotics Anonymous:
NA.org

SMART Recovery:
Smartrecovery.org

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

1-800-662-HELP (4357)

There are a plethora of ways to practice self-care that do not involve alcohol or any other substances. They may not give you the same immediate rush of pleasure, but long-term, they are better for your health.

Check out our other Self-Care Series blog articles or book an appointment with a Refresh Psychotherapy clinician today! We have therapists who specialize in addiction and can help you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

References:

Alcoholics Anonymous, (Undated). Is AA For You? Twelve Questions Only You Can Answer. Retrieved from: https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/is-aa-for-you-twelve-questions-only-you-can-answer

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Basics. Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

Drink Aware. Alcohol and mental health. Retrieved from: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-mental-health

Lautieri, A., (June 16, 2020). American Addiction Centers. Short and Long Term Mental Effects of Alcohol. Retrieved from: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/mental-effects

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects On The Body. Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Retrieved from: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Wikipedia. Moderation Management. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moderation_Management