Most adults enjoy a drink now and then. In fact, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults have had an alcoholic beverage in the past year and 55 percent drink on a monthly basis. But for many of us, one drink easily turns into several – or we may have a habit of drinking every day.
In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with alcohol consumption. But when alcohol turns into a bad habit, it can damage your physical health, hurt you mentally and emotionally, and even compromise your relationships with other people.
Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to keep your bad alcohol habits in check.
Understand the Difference Between “Good” and “Bad” Alcohol Habits
Your first job is working to understand between “good” or reasonable alcohol habits and “bad” or harmful ones.
There are several key characteristics to note about your habit:
- How much are you drinking when you decide to drink? If you have a drink or two at a social occasion – enough to feel a bit buzzed – there’s nothing to worry about. But if you have trouble controlling how much you drink or if you always drink enough to be on the verge of passing out, you may have a binge drinking habit that needs to be stopped.
- How often do you consume alcohol? Drinking once or twice a week is fairly normal. But if you feel compelled to drink every night of the week, it may be time to cut back.
- Tolerance and dependence. Do you have to substantially more than you once did to achieve the same effects? If so, you may have established a tolerance to the drug. And if you have physical symptoms like headaches or sweating when you don’t have alcohol, you may have a dependence on the drug. Neither of these are present in adults with healthy alcohol consumption habits.
- Impact on decision making. Does alcohol influence your decision making? For example, do you skip social events so that you can go to a bar and drink? Has your work performance dropped because of your alcohol use?
- Relationship impact. How are your relationships influenced by your drinking? Does your alcohol consumption spark fights with your partner? Do you have damaged relationships with family members because of outbursts you made while drinking?
Any of these areas could be a warning sign of a habit that needs to be changed.
So what steps can you take to minimize your bad alcohol habits?
Be Honest With Yourself
Acknowledging the problem is always the first step. Be honest and direct with yourself. Do you have a problem? And if so, how important is it to you to fix this problem? Be willing to confront your demons or you won’t get very far.
Find a Substitute
Consider finding something to replace your alcohol habit. Instead of drinking alcohol, consider drinking tea or soda. Start exercising and make it a daily habit when you get off work, so you’re not tempted to turn to the bottle. It’s incredibly hard to start a new habit, especially a positive one, but once established, it will be hard to go back.
Identify and Eliminate Your Triggers
Most people with problematic alcohol habits continue drinking in a problematic way because of triggers; something in their environment or in their mind will prompt them to start drinking. For example, you might drink when you’re stressed, when you’re reminded of a past trauma, or just when you drive past the bar on the way home from work.
You can improve your habits by eliminating or modifying your triggers. For example, you can reduce your stress, you can minimize your trauma with exposure therapy, and you can change your route home from work so you don’t drive past the bar.
Get Support From Loved Ones
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your loved ones. They’re available to support you however they can. Be honest with them about your desire to change, as well as the specific struggles and challenges holding you back. Tell them how they can help you, whether it’s by holding you accountable to your pledges or by starting new hobbies and activities with you.
Get Professional Help
If you try to change your habit on your own and you run into difficulty, there’s no shame in getting professional help. Addiction recovery services and/or therapy can help you in more ways than you can help yourself individually, in isolation.
Overcoming an alcohol abuse problem, or even more innocent bad alcohol habits, can be challenging, but with the right approach, it’s entirely possible. Once you understand that you have a problem, you’ll be well on your way to solving it.
What are the long-term effects of alcohol use?
Long-term effects of alcohol use can cause very serious health problems and disease. Many organs and systems of the body are affected. Usually the more alcohol the person drinks and the longer the person drinks, the greater the effects will be.
Long-term alcohol use causes damage to the blood vessels. The small vessels near the surface of the skin lose the ability to expand, and they break. This often happens on the hands, face, and nose. The constant irritation of the stomach lining due to alcohol use increases the chances of getting ulcers. Kidneys may become damaged from overwork. The brain is also affected. Alcohol destroys brain cells. This leads to brain damage. This brain damage can cause a loss of intellectual abilities, as well as memory loss, and loss of problem solving abilities.
The most significant effect of long-term alcohol use is to the liver. The liver’s job is to remove toxins, or poisons, from the bloodstream. It has a limited capacity in rate and amount. When a person drinks too much, too fast, the liver cannot keep up. Alcohol thus destroys liver functioning. Liver tissue that has been destroyed is replaced by scar tissue. This scarring is called cirrhosis (suh-ROH-sis). Cirrhosis of the liver can lead to death due to the reduced functioning, or eventually nonfunctioning, of the liver.
- Liver: The liver is the only part of the body that can change alcohol into harmless products. This process is called oxidation. The liver can only oxidize about one-half an ounce of alcohol in an hour. The alcohol will remain in the body until it has all been oxidized.
- Blood vessels: As soon as the alcohol gets into the blood vessels, it causes them to dilate, or widen. This allows more blood to flow. The skin feels warm and flushed. The blood pressure decreases. The heart rate decreases.
- Brain: Alcohol goes immediately to the brain where it depresses the central nervous system, slows down coordination, impairs memory, and affects judgment.
- Stomach: Alcohol causes the amount of stomach juices to increase. Because these juices are very acidic, they cause an irritation in the lining of the stomach.
- Kidneys: Alcohol causes the kidneys to produce more urine. This in turn causes the drinker to urinate more.