Alert

Signs you’re drinking too much

By Benjamin Adams-Doolittle, D.O.

Family medicine physician

Pardee Family and Sports Medicine

Over the past year, we’ve all experienced an increase in stress because of the COVID-19 pandemic and experts believe alcohol use is on the rise. Many people drink to cope with boredom, stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression. While it may feel good at first to over-indulge a little, drinking too much too often can have negative effects on your immune system. It can also cause inflammation, increase your risk of illness and infection, make it hard to sleep, and even lead to alcohol abuse.

If you’ve been drinking more than usual over the past year, keep reading to learn how alcohol affects your body, strategies for cutting back, and signs that you may need to get help.

Alcohol use and the pandemic

Researchers have noted that past crises – like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina – led to increased drinking and worsening alcohol use disorders. We also know that social isolation like we’ve experienced during the pandemic can exacerbate depression and anxiety which in turn can lead to more drinking.

How alcohol can affect your health

While alcohol can make you feel good temporarily, the effect wears off and can even make your problems worse. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to changes in the brain that make the body’s stress response worse and can actually worsen underlying depression and anxiety over time.

Drinking too much alcohol can alter the immune system, cause inflammation, and interfere with how the body responds to bacterial and viral infections. Excessive alcohol consumption can also damage the brain, liver, heart, lungs and pancreas, and increase the risk of certain cancers.

Who shouldn’t drink alcohol?

You should not drink alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Other reasons you should abstain from drinking include taking certain medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), if you have certain medical conditions (ask your Physician), if you plan to drive or operate heavy machinery, or are recovering from alcohol use disorder. Also no individual under the age of 21 should drink alcohol as it can not only be harmful from a developmental standpoint but is against the law.

Signs you’re drinking too much

The NIAAA defines “moderate” drinking as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. This means no more than 14 drinks per week for men and no more than seven drinks per week for women. If you drink more than this, you’re putting your health at risk.

You may be abusing alcohol if loved ones express concern about your drinking or you’re drinking more servings in one sitting or more often than usual. Another way to look for overuse of alcohol if it is causing you to experience negative effects in your social or work life, causing behavioral problems, or is causing you to put yourself and others in dangerous situations.

Talk to your primary care provider if you recognize these symptoms but are having a hard time cutting back.

Healthy ways to cope with stress

  • Prioritize your mental and physical health. Talk to a counselor, faith leader or trusted friend; exercise regularly; do activities you enjoy; visit with family and friends if you’re able to do so safely; set goals for yourself and work toward them each day; journal; or practice yoga and meditation.
  • Eat healthy meals. Eating too much processed or sugary foods can spike your blood sugar, which can affect your mood and lead to cravings. Eat well-balanced meals with vegetables, lean protein, fiber and healthy fat to stay energized and avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster. Also try to limit your carbohydrate intake.
  • Improve your sleep hygiene. Instead of having a few drinks to wind down at night, create a bedtime routine to help you sleep better. Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime. Listen to calming music, read, take a bath, stretch, or meditate. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day – this will help your body get into a natural rhythm that makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep in a cool dark environment.
  • Get professional help. If you’ve heavily consumed alcohol for a long time, talk to your health care provider. They can help you quit while managing withdrawal symptoms, which can be painful and even potentially fatal if not managed correctly. To find a provider near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.

Sources:

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/directors-blog-alcohol-poses-different-challenges-during-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.wakehealth.edu/Stories/Podcasts/BestHealth-Podcasts/COVID19-Alcohol-and-your-immune-system

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/Is-your-drinking-pattern-risky/Drinking-Levels.aspx

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene

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