Moderation rules alcohol consumption for good health

Drinking alcohol is part of everyday life in many circles.

Occasional happy hours and watching sports with friends often involve having a few alcoholic beverages. Holidays typically include special dinners with wine and so forth.  And enjoying alcohol with meals and beer while watching TV can be commonplace as well.

The U.S. Government dietary guidelines notes that alcohol can be consumed in moderation – defined as one drink a day for woman and two drinks a day for men.  But depending on which study is viewed, even so-called modest drinking can be suspect.

For example, a study of brain scans by researchers in a BMJ (British Medical Journal) report noted that moderate drinking over 30-plus years was associated with degeneration and shrinking of the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory and navigation as well as degeneration of the brain’s white matter.

On the other hand, some information suggests potential benefits, such as references to links of moderate red wine consumption to fewer heart attacks. There seems to be indications that antioxidants in red wine, such as flavonoids and a substance called resveratrol, have heart-healthy benefits. However, encouraging people to drink for this reason is not universally accepted, especially without research about prevalence of alcoholism in a person’s family.

Some benchmarks, keeping count

With an understanding that there are varied points of view on alcohol consumption, for purposes of this article, we will look at the topic in the Mental Health First Aid teaching manual, which is used to teach 8-hour Mental Health First Aid courses. The course is often offered by mental health clinics and mental health services.

According to the manual: “At risk drinking for men is more than four drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week and for women is no more than 3 drinks per day and no more than 7 per week.” Furthermore, it advises being knowledgeable about types of alcoholic drinks and amounts. A 25-ounce bottle of wine is considered five drinks, because five ounces of wine is one drink. A 22-ounce bottle of beer is considered two drinks, and 3 ounces of liquor that is considered 40 percent is 2 drinks. And beware, when drinks are topped off now and then, the ounce count can be significantly higher than realized.

Along with this information, the manual warns that 75 percent of people who develop substance use disorder (SUD) do so by age 27, and notes that alcohol use disorders are almost three times as common as drug use disorders. With this information in mind, it is a good idea to monitor alcohol levels as one begins to enter the adult world of drinking and, of course, at any age when drinking habits become elevated.

When is help needed

When the ability to function appropriately and carry on life’s responsibilities lapses, it may be time for intervention. The Rapid Alcohol Problems Screen (RAPS4) is one common screening measure.

The screen consists of four questions:

  • During the last year, have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?
  • During the last year, has a friend or family member ever told you about things you said or did while drinking that you could not remember?
  • During the last year, have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?
  • Do you sometimes take a drink in the morning when you first get up?

A yes to at least one of these questions suggest that alcohol consumption has become harmful to the person’s physical and mental health.

With treatment there are many options, such as individual and group counseling, inpatient and residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, partial hospital programs, case or care management, MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment), IRT (Intensive Residential Treatment), recovery support services, 12-step fellowship and peer supports. And keep in mind, it sometimes takes more than one attempt for those experiencing alcoholism to secure a road to recovery.

Moderation mode

Practice moderation, but also know that for some people abstinence from alcohol is the path to a healthful lifestyle. If you have a substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health concern about yourself or one of your loved ones, we are glad to consult with you. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.