As a primary care doctor, I receive numerous questions about healthy alcohol usage. Initial research shows that alcohol consumption has increased nationally during the COVID pandemic. Many of my patients tell me they have depended on virtual or outdoor cocktail hours to keep socially connected during COVID-19. Now, as we enter the holiday season, I think it is a great time to review alcohol use guidelines and the potential health impacts of excess consumption.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the United States recommends that men under 65 years of age consume no more than 14 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks in a day to prevent an increase in health risks. Women and adults over 65, recommend no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks in a day. They define a standard drink as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of proof spirits.
But why does this matter? Drinking more than this consistently has been shown to increase a patient’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder as well as other health risks.
These include (but are not limited to):
- Worsening of anxiety and depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Elevated blood sugar
- Worsening of cardiac issues
- Bone marrow suppression
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Weight gain
- Liver disease
As we go into the holiday season and begin a new year I encourage you to reflect on your alcohol habits. Are you within the recommended use guidelines? Are you using alcohol to cope? Do you have health goals that are being impeded by your alcohol intake? Start by cutting back your use to a healthy range or even abstaining for some time. If you find that this is a problem then please seek help from your primary care doctor or contact the Colorado alcohol and drug abuse hotline at 866-235-4572.
As a board-certified Internal Medicine physician, Dr. Longenecker focuses on preventative medicine. “My goal is to keep patients in their best possible health so they can enjoy life. This means addressing diet, exercise habits, and mental health,” she says.