How much is too much?

It’s the time of year for poolside parties, bonfires at the cottage, BBQing your favourite meat with family, and hitting the links with friends. For many, a cold beer or other frosty alcoholic beverage is a complimentary addition to these activities whereas for others, consuming alcohol is an activity unto itself. This month’s blog will be focusing on exactly this: alcohol consumption and identifying when it may be a problem.

Alcohol, also known as ethanol or C2H5OH, is the most widely consumed drug worldwide (Gowin, 2010). Alcohol is considered a depressant, which may be a wee bit confusing when you are watching an intoxicated friend streaking naked across the campground. A few drinks can, indeed, increase energy, excitement, and sociability. What is so depressing about alcohol then? Well, the impact of alcohol on our bodies is that it inhibits or “depresses” the function of the central nervous system (CNS) so normal physical and psychological functions are impaired. This is why when a person is intoxicated they often have slurred speech, are more clumsy, and typically can’t think clearly. So, although depressants such as alcohol “depress” the central nervous system they do not actually cause a person to be emotionally depressed while under the influence. It is important to note, though, that when alcohol is abused long-term it can lead to depression and other mental and physical health issues.

There are a variety of factors that influence people’s alcohol consumption including such things as gender, race/ethnicity, cultural background, environment, and psychology. Going into depth about all these variables is beyond the scope of this blog, however, one thing worth mentioning is the media’s influence as this is especially relevant in our industrialized society. What do all beer commercials have in common? You guessed it, everyone is laughing and having a great time. Unfortunately, this gives the message that drinking is “cool” and that if you are not drinking then you are not part of the party. Media influence is especially persuasive during adolescence. In fact, researcher have found that teens who see alcohol use in movies and on television are more likely to start drinking alcohol at a younger age (Moreno, Furtner, & Rivera, 2011). For this reason, is it vital that parents speak to their children about how the media falsely portrays alcohol use and to also discuss the not so glamorous side of drinking.

So, when is drinking considered a problem? Problem drinking means different things to different people and signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency can vary from one person to another. There are, however, some generally agreed upon signs that indicate a problem may be present. These signs include neglecting responsibilities; drinking more than you used to in order to get a buzz; having repeated unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking; experiencing legal problems related to drinking, using alcohol as a means of de-stressing or feeling better; continuing to drink despite the negative impact it is having on the relationships in your life; or experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which could be physical in nature (i.e., nausea, excessive sweating, or shaking) or emotional in nature (i.e., anxiety or depression). Generally, those who have an alcohol dependency require outside support to help stop. This could entail detoxification, medical treatment, counselling, or self-help group.

Taking a personalized drinking assessment can also provide insight into your drinking habits. The one that particularly appeals to us is The Personalized Alcohol Feedback Assessment (http://notes.camh.net/efeed.nsf/feedback). This is an online assessment and is completely confidential and anonymous. It is comprised of 21 multiple choice questions about your drinking that takes 5 minutes to complete. Once your answers are submitted you receive feedback on such things as how much money you spent on alcohol over the last year, how many calories you consumed in alcohol, where your drinking fits in based on others who are of the same gender and in the same age range, how quickly you burn alcohol, and if your drinking is considered a problem or not. If for no other reason than to contemplate what you would have bought with the money you spent on alcohol last year, we believe it’s worth the 5 minutes it takes to complete. If it happens to be a Bugatti Veyron, it might be worth giving us a call so we can help you out.

Kerry & Philippa

Gowin, J. (2010). Your brain on alcohol. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201006/your-brain-alcohol

Moreno, M.A., Furtner, F., & Rivara, F.P. (2011). Media influence on adolescent alcohol use. Retrieved from http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1107538

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