Having a beer or a glass of wine can be a nice way to bond with friends and colleagues after work. Having a drink can even be a part of the team culture; a way for you to debrief together and let go of the stress of the day.
But alcohol use becomes a problem when it becomes part of how you function every day and is used as a way to cope with painful emotions and stress.
How does your drinking compare to the recommended guidelines?
For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury.
Noticing the negative effects of alcohol
Alcohol acts as a depressant, which means that it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. The increased sociability and reduced inhibition you feel with those first few drinks is actually caused by the slowing down of the part of your brain that is responsible for impulse control. As you drink more, you might start to notice your body running less effectively, which you may experience as:
Short-term effects of alcohol use:
- Impaired judgment
- Memory loss
- Slower reaction times
- Slurred speech
- Laboured breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased risk of falls and accidents
- Alcohol dependency
- Increased risk of stroke and dementia
- Cirrhosis and liver failure
- Sexual and reproductive problems (such as impotence, fertility issues)
- Increased risk of stomach and bowel cancers, as well as stomach ulcers
- Increased risk of heart damage and heart attacks
- Family and relationships problems
- Poor work performance
Long-term effects of alcohol use:
Alcohol numbs painful emotions but also dulls any positive parts of your life. Your relationships can suffer as you withdraw from others, become unpredictable or make risky life decisions. And your health can be severely impacted.
Is your drinking making a negative impact on your life?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, look at how much and how often you drink:
- are you unable to stop drinking once you have started or find you often drink more than you intended?
- have you been unable to meet your commitments due to drinking , for example, not going to work or not being able to look after the children?
- do you experience feelings of guilt or regret because of your drinking?
- at times are you unable to recall details of what happened while drinking?
- have your friends, colleagues, or family expressed concerns about your drinking?
- are you experiencing repeated legal issues because of your drinking?
- is drinking the only way you feel able to cope with stress in your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, or are concerned that you are drinking above the recommended level, a health care professional may be able to assist you.
What can I do?
When considering making changes to alcohol consumption, there are two options: abstaining from alcohol or drinking in moderation.
How you choose to reduce your alcohol intake depends on your preference and the severity of your drinking concerns. You may want to discuss the best option with your GP.
If you feel that you want to be taking more control over your alcohol use, consider the following options:
If you know you are going to be in a situation where excessive alcohol use is encouraged or a normal part of group culture, make a plan about how you will manage it:
- Make a commitment to yourself before you go about how many drinks you will have to stay within a reasonable limit.
- Use non-alcoholic drinks as ‘spacers’ between alcoholic drinks, or plan to only have non-alcoholic drinks.
- Tell someone you trust at the event that you’re trying to cut back, and let them know how they can support you to do this.
Practice Delay, Distract, Decide:
- Delay drinking within an achievable timeframe (5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes). Gradually increase your delay periods. This teaches your brain that you don’t have to act on impulses that will eventually pass. Urge surfing can be a good technique to use when you need to ride out strong urges.
- Distract yourself from drinking. Walk, read, talk to a friend or watch a movie. Have a list of activities that you can do when the urge to drink comes up.
- Decide after the end of the set period of time why reducing your drinking is important to you. How will it help you to be the kind of person you want to be, and have the life you want to live?
There different treatment options that you can access to get support for yourself or a loved one who is experiencing difficulties with alcohol. This can include both psychological treatment and medication. You can speak to your GP, the Police Psychology Unit, your local health service, call a helpline such as the Alcohol and Drug Information Services VIC or visit the website of Turning Point, Australia’s leading addiction treatment, education, and research centre.