Beyond Hangovers: Alcohol and Your Health

  • Published
  • By Jill Barrett, Director of Psychological Health
  • 108th Wing

A couple of beers is often the choice for a group of colleagues looking to relax after a hard day’s work.  James Bond depends on his famous martini – shaken, not stirred – to unwind after eliminating a villain. Weddings kick off with a champagne toast.

Alcohol is part of our culture.  It helps us celebrate and socialize and reward ourselves for a job well done. However, drinking too much, on a single occasion or over time, can have serious consequences on our health and quality of life. 

Alcohol beverages supply calories but few nutrients and may contribute to unwanted weight gain. If you need to lose weight, looking at your drinking may be a good place to start. 

To stay healthy, and to decide what role alcohol should play in our life, we need accurate up-to-date information, and not myths and internet hearsay.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides detailed guidance based on the latest research regarding alcohol’s effects on our brain and body.  On its website Rethinking Drinking  - -  the NIAAA offers verified interactive data to help us check our drinking patterns, learn how alcohol effects our health, see signs of a problem, and get tools to make a change if needed.  Rethinking Drinking also offers an interactive alcohol calorie and content calculator to help you make smart choices about weight and nutrition.

One of the important questions that Rethinking Drinking addresses is How much is too much?  Do you think you may drink too much at times? Do you think “everyone” drinks a lot?  The following results are from a nationwide survey of 43,000 adults by the National Institutes of Health on alcohol use and its consequences.

Our risk level for alcohol is determined by how much we drink combined with how often we drink.The following graphic illustrates low-risk drinking limits.

 “Low risk” is not “no risk.” Even within these limits, drinkers can have problems if they drink too quickly, have health problems, or are older.  Based on your health and how alcohol affects you, you may need to drink less or not at all.  For healthy adults in general, drinking more than the single-day or the weekly amounts shown above is considered “at-risk” or “heavy” drinking.

Not all drinking is harmful. You may have heard that regular light to moderate drinking (from ½ drink a day up to 1 drink a day for women and 2 for men) can even be good for the heart. With at-risk or heavy drinking, however, any potential benefits are outweighed by greater risks.

If you find yourself in the “at-risk” or “heavy” category, you could benefit from learning more from the Rethinking Drinking website.  If you have ever wondered if your level of drinking is abusive, see if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself.

 In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • more than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten arrested, been held at a police station, or had other legal problems because of your drinking?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you don’t have these symptoms, then staying within the low-risk drinking limits will reduce your chances of having problems in the future.

If you do have any symptoms, then alcohol may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change.  Visit the Rethinking Drinking website, contact your Psychological Health Program at 754-2159 or speak with your healthcare provider for assistance.