I am often asked from clients and friends if I believe there is a healthy amount of alcohol that may be consumed on a regular basis. Of course, no one likes my response: actually no, there is not. However, I also like to reframe the question: how do you define healthy? More specifically, is there a use for alcohol?
According to a recent study published in The Lancet, (“Alcohol is a leading cause of death, disease worldwide” www.TheLancet.com), it found that “alcohol is a leading risk factor for death and disease, associated with 2.8 million deaths each year and the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability globally in 2016”. Additionally, this study also stated, “there is no amount of alcohol that is healthy”. For comparison, globally, heart disease is first; diabetes is fifth, killing 1.6 million people in 2015, up from 1 million in 2000 (WHO.com).
Let’s assume, generally, a healthy diet is one that maintains or improves one’s overall health. Let’s also assume, generally, a healthy diet begins with moderation; or making what I call more informed choices. However, are we making a more informed choice when so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community struggle with oppression every day?
Maintaining a healthy diet becomes more difficult when we struggle with safety and threats of violence every day for being our authentic selves. Where in the past for the lesbian, gay, and trans communities, the social outlet was the bar or club scene; today most of us in the LGBTQ+ community have apps that allow for the combined sex, drug and party scene in the palm of our hands. Unfortunately, today it is also estimated that up to 25% of the LGBTQ+ community has moderate to severe alcohol dependence, compared to up to 10% of the general population (CDC.com). Leading back to moderation and heathy choices or what I term “use and misuse”.
Okay, so not many of us have discussed our drinking in terms of “use and misuse” before, but it’s the best way to discuss drinking without judgment or stigma. First, let’s start with the standard one drink an hour rule for moderation in alcohol consumption. Another suggestion comes from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture, which suggests women have no more than one drink daily and men have no more than two daily.
Whoa, right? For some, this may be a little extreme. For comparison, think of moderation in our sugar intake, carbohydrate intake, and most any other food choice we make.
If we maintain that alcohol use is a drink an hour, then more than that would be alcohol misuse. If you realize you are currently misusing alcohol, then you can modify your behavior; or more simply, try to achieve a healthier balance with your drinking. This works for other healthy choices too: if you are misusing pills, food, or sex, for example, then you can more honestly take a look at how to modify your behavior to maintain a healthier moderate lifestyle.
If you or a loved one has moved beyond alcohol misuse, then a more difficult discussion is necessary about out-of-control behavior (OCB) and drinking. For example, how often do you have 5 or more drinks on one occasion; how often in the last few months have you failed to do what was expected of you because of drinking; and has a friend or loved one suggested you cut down on your drinking? If you can answer “yes” to some of these questions, then you are most likely navigating unhealthy choices or OCB with drinking.
Nobody likes to talk about embarrassing behavior, which is why it’s recommended to speak to a health care professional; attend a 12-step recovery group; or speak with a trusted friend or loved one, if you have questions or concerns about your drinking.
So how can we make better choices about our drinking? Keep these points in mind:
- One drink an hour is always the best rule to start from; ask yourself “Do I need another drink right now?”
- Is your drinking consistent with others around you? Are you often encouraging others to catch up to you or have one more shot?
- Do you get angry, embarrassed, or secretive when questioned about your drinking habits?
- Is your drinking consistent and in synch with your other dietary habits?
- Is your drinking compatible with your overall health and exercise routine? (Do you have a health and exercise routine?)
If you would like more information or have more questions, you can look for me and my colleagues at the annual Ferndale Pride on Sunday June 1, 2019, when the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health (CRSH) will be sponsoring the Sober Space for the first time. Please stop by to say hello, play a game, or just relax with a free bottled water! I believe with practice, we can have more healthy behaviors when it comes to drinking and our health.