Keeping Alcohol Consumption in Check during a Pandemic
Over the last year, as we've all learned to navigate our 'new normal,' have you found yourself unwinding, more often than not, with a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day, as a way of coping with all the additional stresses? If so, you're not alone. Data shows that people are drinking more than ever these days. In fact, Nielsen reports that alcohol sales were up 54% in late March compared to last year and that online sales were up by a whopping 500% in April alone!
"There are data to indicate people are drinking more than usual," said Dr. Mariann Piano, a substance abuse researcher. "And there's no question that drinking too much every day leads to an increase in health risks."
You're probably familiar with the most obvious health risks associated with alcohol: depression, weight gain, increased risk for accidents.. But many people don't realize one of the most significant risks of all: cancer. Alcohol use accounts for 6% of all cancers despite being a preventable risk factor, like tobacco. Even more shocking is that moderate alcohol consumption- just 1-2 drinks per day- is linked to a 30-50% increase in risk for breast cancer. Ladies, let that sink in. For every drink after the first, the risk goes up by 7%. If that's not incentive to regularly examine our drinking habits, then we don't know what is.
But before you panic, here's something to consider: gone are the days where alcohol dependency is thought of as 'all or none.' In other words, "there are as many kinds of drinkers along the continuum as there are personality types." Sure, there will be people who decide that it's best to eliminate alcohol completely, but many of us will benefit from simply taking regular stock of our habits and making adjustments toward moderation as needed. Here are some of our favorite tools and techniques for keeping our drinking in check:
- Speak your intentions of 'cutting back,' either by telling a friend or family member, or simply writing them down.
- Set goals and limits for yourself. At most, this should be no more than 2 standard drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women.
- Keep a diary for one month. Include what and how much you drink, as well as where you are and the circumstances. You'll likely be able to see some sort of pattern when you look back over the month and adjust accordingly.
- Limit alcohol in the house. (Just like what we did with unhealthy snacks last week!)
- Drink slowly for enjoyment, rather than for quenching thirst. Alternate with water or juice between drinks.
- Watch for peer pressure and practice saying 'no.'
- Stay busy. Focus on the things you love to do: go for a hike, read a good book, take up a new hobby...
- Guard against temptations. Make note of people and places that you associate with drinking. Plan ahead for holidays and events. Manage your emotions and learn new coping strategies.
- Move your body. The benefits of physical exercise are endless, especially with regard to alcohol.
Now more than ever, it's so important that we start to change the cultural idea that alcohol is a good way to cope with life's challenges. Instead, let's focus our efforts on healthy coping strategies: physical activity, adequate sleep, healthy foods and hydration. During these uncertain times, when many of us are feeling especially lonely, anxious and bored, let's take it a step further by implementing tools to combat these feelings: scheduling video chats with loved ones, getting outside for fresh air and vitamin D, exploring yoga and meditation, etc. The bottom line is that there are SO many stress-managing alternatives to alcohol, most of which make us feel even better- and healthier- in the long run.
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