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Let's Put Your Drinking Habits in Perspective

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Drinking, though a common social activity, can also be a loaded topic. After a night of overindulgence, you may have a few questions and concerns beyond, "What's the best way to cure a hangover?"

You may be worried you're going to give yourself alcohol poisoning one day. How much liquor can your body handle? It's possible you're thinking that maybe you've been drinking too much. Should you go for a detox? What's the best way for a social drinker to detox, anyway?

If you have any of these or a similar question, chances are we've answered it below. Why answer these questions? Everyone should know how much they can handle, how much is too much drinking, and how to spot a potential problem- in themselves or someone close. So, without further ado, let's put your drinking habits in perspective.

How Much Alcohol Can My Body Handle?

Photo Courtesy of Amy Boyington

At the extreme end, if you ever get a BAC of 0.3 or higher, you're at risk of severe, potentially fatal alcohol poisoning. The less you weigh, and the less you have eaten before drinking, the more quickly your BAC will rise. Further, women are likely to have a higher BAC even after consuming the same amount of alcohol as men.

How Long Will Alcohol Stay In My System?
When anyone asks this question, they're less concerned with exactly how long alcohol stays in their system and more concerned with how long a specific drink will affect them. In any case, how long alcohol remains in your system is dependent on half a dozen factors. Your weight, metabolism, alcohol tolerance, medication, diet, age, and sex can all influence how long alcohol affects you and how long it takes to break down inside your body.

On average, however, it takes one hour to break down a unit of alcohol. How much alcohol is in your favorite drink?

The easiest way to tell if you may be using too much alcohol is by taking note of how long it takes you to reach a particular point of "intoxication." If it starts to take a few more drinks to get to the "buzzed" or "tipsy" stage of your choice, chances are you need a break. Once you've stayed away from the alcohol for a few weeks (or a couple of months), you'll need less alcohol to reach the same stage. Just remember to take it slow once you get back into drinking to avoid accidentally overdoing it.

How Many Drinks is Average?
The average American drinker has about 2 to 3 drinks per week. If you drink one large glass of wine per day, you're in the top 30% of drinkers. Conversely, 40% of Americans or legal drinking age have one drink per month or less.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Dependence?

Photo Courtesy of Amy Boyington

If you binge regularly, something is wrong. That much is obvious. If you or anyone you know drinks to a blackout state regularly, they most likely have a problem with alcohol dependence. However, the problem may not always be that obvious.

Drinking to excess is often an emotional problem. It's possible to be alcohol dependent but stay "high functioning." That means their drinking is a secret. If you have to hide your drinking, frequently drink alone, and can't "unwind" without a glass or two a day, it may be time to consider some time away from the bottle.

Even when you're not drinking, alcohol out of moderation can affect your life. Other social and emotional signs and symptoms of alcoholism or alcohol dependence include:
Lack of Focus
Cravings and Agitation
Failed Relationships
Loss of Interest in Work, Hobbies, and Relationships
Increased Risk-Taking Behavior

What is Binge Drinking and How Often Can I Do It?
If at all possible, never binge drink. Binge drinking, by definition, is drinking to excess. It always puts your health at risk. If at any time during or after a "social" drinking session you become nauseous, severely dizzy, your vision blurs, or you lose consciousness, get help. Binging can lead to severe consequences for your health and may put your life at risk.

Are There Ways to Lessen the Effects of Alcohol Use on My Health?
While there isn't a way to make drinking completely safe or harmless, there are a few habits you can develop to help you enjoy your intoxicant of choice more responsibly.

Stick With a Trustworthy and Sober Friend - Whether you are going out or drinking at home, having someone with you that is staying sober can increase your chances of remaining safe and making smart decisions. Just make sure that your friend is trustworthy.

Always Have Transportation Plan B - Sometimes your "designated driver" is going to "forget" their responsibility. Sometimes you will have another drink, even when it's a bad idea. Always have a backup method of getting home or to a safe place to let the alcohol wear off.

Stay Hydrated - Hydration is key to helping your body safely process as much alcohol as possible (it is also crucial to avoiding a hangover.) Try to remember to drink at least one full glass of water for every shot of alcohol.

Get Enough to Eat - Eating a big meal with a good portion of complex carbohydrates can help balance the alcohol and sugar found in most drinks. This will slow down how quickly the alcohol affects your body and make it easier to process.

Pace Your Drinking - In the absence of a meal, you can also just pace your drinking. Keeping your max at one drink per hour or less.
Schedule Your Breaks (And Stick to the Schedule) - If you like to use alcohol socially, it's important to schedule some time off. Try to pick a time where you will have less going on to decrease temptation.

Choose Drinks that Are Lighter in Color - The lighter the color of the alcohol you're drinking, the less additional "toxins" it tends to contain. While this may be an oversimplification, lighter varieties of alcohol tend to lead to fewer "after effects."

Use Reminders - People make poor decisions when they're under the effects of alcohol due to lack of focus and impaired decision-making skills. Placing physical reminders in your car, on your key ring, and other key places can help you stick to your plans.

What Are the Physical Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse?
Before getting to a point where the physical effects of alcohol abuse are permanent and will impact the quality of the rest of your life, your body may start giving you warning signs. These signs will vary from person to person, but they are common with overuse of alcohol. The effects of habitual (though not heavy) alcohol compounded over the years often present fewer symptoms than heavy drinking, but if your body is getting close to its limit, you may still experience signs.

Subtle Yellowing of the Skin and Eyes - This yellow tint may be a sign of malnutrition or an early warning for liver disease.

Spider Veins or Small Broken Capillaries on the Face - Alcohol can dilate blood vessels. If they are stretched too frequently, they may burst. This leads to the appearance of "spider veins" and broken capillaries under the skin. They are easiest to see where the skin is thinnest, like the face.

Dry Skin - Alcohol can cause chronic hydration in the body, one of the first signs of which is dry skin.

Considerable Weight Changes - While many people will lose weight due to a loss of appetite, some may gain due to the additional caloric intake associated with most alcoholic beverages.

Fatigue and "Brain Fog" - Even if you haven't had a drink in a few days, your brain may still be under the effects of alcohol. It's taxing for your body to process the substance, and doing so can take time away from processing other more necessary nutrients.

Thinning of the Skin (Premature Aging) - Too much alcohol can lead to dehydration and malnutrition. When these two things go on for long enough, they start deteriorating your health and lead to the appearance of premature aging.

Brittle Hair and Nails - Again, lack of proper nutrition and hydration can lead to many outward signs.

Neglect of Hygiene and Self Care - Loss of interest and lack of focus can lead to neglecting to shower, trim one's nails, or keep up any other necessary bodily maintenance.

Chronic Infections - When the body is run down, it is easy to get an infection and hard to fight it off.

Stomach Upset or Ulcers - Alcohol can cause an increase in stomach acid leading to upset and ulcers.

When Is It Time To Take a Break? How Do I Detox?

Photo Courtesy of Amy Boyington

If you have serious concerns or if you feel your drinking may be getting out of hand, it may be time to consult a professional and learn more about alcohol detox. Doing it alone can get rough. Choosing a trusted friend or professional to support you will be critical to completing the process.

If you are determined to detox alone and you feel that you only need a break from social drinking, rather than a solution to a more significant problem, start with these steps.

Determine a Timeframe - How long will you give up drinking?
Remove Any Alcohol From Your Home - Get rid of any temptations. You might need to clear your social calendar, too.
Phone a Friend - Have someone nearby or "on call" during your detox, especially in the first few days.
Prep Your Meals - As your body begins to detox, you will feel horrible. Your energy levels may drain, and you may lose your appetite. You'll still need to eat. Prepping meals beforehand can make it easy to get the nutrition your body needs as it detoxes.

Remember to Hydrate - Your body will need all the water it can get to cleanse your system.

In any case, always remember that detoxing can have severe consequences if done improperly. Always notify a trusted friend or family member and have someone nearby during the process. If you feel that you may need additional help, there are numerous treatment centers out there with a program that will fit your needs.

Author

Amy Boyington

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