The Doctor Will See You Now – Alcohol, Abstinence, and Your Health

By Dr. Jaren Trost, Optum New Mexico Senior Medical Director

With Alcohol Awareness Month coming up in April, and St. Patrick’s Day this month, it’s a great time to consider what impact green beer, or any other cocktail, has on your health.

There are many reasons people may consider reducing the amount of alcohol they consume or eliminating alcohol altogether. For example, consuming alcohol could impact certain medical conditions, alcohol may have an adverse reaction with certain prescription or over the counter medications or individuals may wish to abstain for short- or long-term health reasons.

The CDC describes moderate drinking as two or fewer drinks per day for men, and no more than one for women. Yet, in New Mexico, 15 percent of adults consume four to five or more drinks on a single occasion, which constitutes binge drinking (four drinks per occasion for women, five for men).

Alcohol and your health

Drinking too much alcohol is associated with a variety of mental and physical health challenges – from anxiety and depression to high blood pressure, liver disease, and certain types of cancers. Although reducing consumption or abstaining from alcohol can help mitigate alcohol-related health issues, it also can impact health and well-being in many positive ways.

Even temporary abstinence from alcohol can enhance your quality of life. People have reported health benefits ranging from better sleep to more energy and physical activity – including weight loss for some. Alcohol avoidance may also decrease your risk of several types of cancer, including throat, esophageal, breast and colorectal.

Other potential benefits of abstinence that can improve your sense of well-being range from improving relationships and saving money to simply meeting a personal goal.

Tips to get started:

  • Set a goal. Whether it’s cutting back or abstaining from alcohol altogether, start with a commitment to yourself.
  • Keep track of how much you drink. Use a calendar, your phone, or a notepad to jot down every time you have a drink.
  • Choose alternatives to alcohol. When you normally reach for alcohol, opt for a fun, healthful beverage substitution instead. Mocktails are a popular choice.
  • Have a plan for occasions that you may associate with drinking. If it’s not something you want to skip altogether, develop a strategy ahead of time to avoid alcohol.
  • Always have a “no, thanks” ready. If you’re likely to be in a situation where you are offered a drink, be prepared with a standard response such as “No thank you” or “Water would be great.”

Talk with your doctor

Whether abstinence is a personal choice or a health necessity, there are lots of resources for support so that no one has to go it alone. Start by having an honest conversation about your alcohol consumption with your doctor, and always get expert medical advice before making a health decision. When someone who regularly consumes alcohol suddenly stops drinking, dangerous withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Whether you have a cocktail or glass of wine (or a green beer!) should be a conscious decision, not a mindless habit. While drinking less – or not at all – can take a bit of planning and effort, the health rewards make it a choice worth considering.

If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation. Moderation means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.  Some people should drink less and some people should not drink alcohol at all, including those who are pregnant or might be pregnant, younger than the legal age for drinking, take certain medications or have certain medical conditions, have difficulty drinking in moderation or recovering from alcohol use disorder.

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