How’s your consumption?

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THOSE of you who read last week’s column are now more aware of what alcohol actually is and more importantly, what it does to our bodies. The next question should be – are you drinking too much alcohol?

Many people have a distorted view of what having a problem with alcohol looks like. They assume it’s the people who have a drink first thing in the morning and can’t hold down jobs, those who smell bad and have to beg for money to fund their habit. However, the most common types of consumers are what we call functioning alcoholics which means they are able to go to school or work and maintain a lifestyle that society would deem ‘normal’.

The overall picture is simpler than most people believe. At the end of the day, it does not matter what you drink, how much you drink or even how often you drink, what matters is your craving for alcohol, whether there is an uncontrollable need for it or if the amount you consume takes away from your responsibilities of daily life.

If someone drinks every day, it does not necessarily mean that they have a problem with alcohol. For example, I know many people that have one glass of wine or one beer with dinner; there isn’t anything wrong with that.

The more worrisome drinkers are those who often crave alcohol and give in to the cravings; once they start drinking, it is difficult or near to impossible to stop. There are many who can go months or even years without alcohol but it takes over them the moment it touches their lips.

It is crucial for everyone to know whether they are abusing alcohol, especially in a country with such a social and normalised consumption culture. I’m going to ask a series of questions – if you answer yes to more than six, it is likely that you are abusing alcohol.

1. Do you consume alcohol more than three times per week?
2. Do you have more than three drinks per hour every time you drink?
3. Has your tolerance for alcohol significantly grown? Meaning does it take a lot more alcohol to get you drunk than it would have last year?
4. Do you get drunk every time you drink?
5. Does your drinking interfere with your abilities to attend or perform at school or work?
6. Do you get involved in dangerous activities when drinking? For example, drinking and driving or violence?
7. Do you often wake up with a hangover/ sick feeling after a night of drinking?
8. Have you lost interest in activities that do not involve drinking?
9. Do you drink even though alcohol has caused you problems in the past? Anything from accidents/health problems to legal issues?
10. Have your family and friends ever talk to you or show concern about your drinking?
11. Do you feel any physical symptoms such as trembling, headaches, agitation or mood swings when you aren’t able to drink?
12. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?

In extreme cases of overuse, there will be alcohol poisoning which typically happens after binge drinking. Binge drinking is consuming a large amount in a short period of time and typically differs between genders. Binge drinking for women is considered four or more drinks in the space of two hours while for men it is five or more. It’s also good to keep in mind that our liver can only effectively process one drink per hour.

I’d like everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning because if someone around you develops it, they will not be able to take care of themselves. Someone is likely to be suffering from alcohol poisoning if they are experiencing extreme confusion and loss of balance and coordination. In most cases, there is vomiting, low body temperature, breathing issues and possibly seizures as well as stupor which means conscious but unresponsive.

In cases like this, you should not leave them to sleep it off as even if they have stopped drinking alcohol, the amount already present will continue to be absorbed into the body. If you can, try to keep them awake and give them water. If they are passed out, put them to lie on their side. There have been cases where people choke on their vomit if they are on their back or their breathing is obstructed if they are on their stomach. If you can stay with them, always do as alcohol poisoning is life-threatening.

It is not possible for me to tell you how much alcohol it takes for alcohol poisoning to occur as it depends on a number of things such as gender, age, weight, your body’s water concentration, whether you’ve eaten as well as your general health.

It is important to mention (for those of you who may be worried) that not everyone who drinks a lot will end up being dependent on alcohol- but they definitely are more likely to. In my experience, those who drink heavily end up moving on to more or harder liquor over time. So, it’s better to be aware and take charge before this happens to you. It may sound silly but no one ever intended to become addicted.

Alcohol withdrawal is the number one sign of abuse; if you do experience this, you do have an issue with alcohol. Withdrawal is the detoxing of the drug which means that the body and brain are so used to the substance that it cannot function without it. Withdrawal can be mild to severe with mild having symptoms such as headaches, nausea and mood swings. Severe withdrawal, however, is life-threatening and may include shaking/trembling, vomiting, convulsions/seizures, insomnia as well as both hallucinations and delusions.
Basically, you just need to know (as only you can) whether or not the amount you drink is negatively affecting your life. Is it causing physical, mental, social, legal or financial consequences that would not have been there if you didn’t drink alcohol?

Please check in next week to learn about reasons why people may drink in the first place.

Thanking you for reading. Please keep sending any topics you’d like to talk about to caitlinvieira@gmail.com

Say Yes to Life and No to Drugs! Always!
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