Thoughts on new alcohol guidelines
Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs
There’s been lots of buzz – pun intended – around the proposed new alcohol guidelines suggesting limiting consumption to 1-2 standard drinks per week in order to avoid increased health risks, including risk of developing numerous forms of cancers and susceptibility to mental challenges.
Alcohol is powerful stuff. It’s an addictive drug. For many, drinking is a delicious social practice that complements our food and is strongly associated with relaxation and celebration.
It’s important for us to understand how pervasive even small amounts can be. The authors of the proposed new guidelines are hopeful the report will motivate people to reduce consumption.
It’s a nice hope.
Sometimes strict guidelines have the opposite effect. If a proposed regime – be it alcohol, dieting, training, studying – is such that is seems untenable, a person’s reaction can be to eschew the regime completely. Why bother, one might say.
In everything in life there is a balance.
We wrote many thoughts about alcohol earlier this year. And we stand by all those thoughts and recommendations today. Read more here.
If choosing zero to 2 drinks a week is realistic for you, you will certainly reap many benefits. Including – as the report cites – a lowered risk of cancer and mental challenges including depression and aggressive, even violent behaviour.
If adhering to those guidelines seems impossible, three to six drinks per week is considered a moderate risk, with increased risk being when you consume seven or more per week on a regular basis.
Alcohol consumption is complicated.
Whatever your current consumption is, there are many advantages to moderating your consumption relative to where you are now. And every small step you make is very likely to create a positive difference in your physical and mental health.
Reducing the total number of drinks you consume on any given night is beneficial. Reducing the number of nights you drink is very beneficial.
Let’s quickly review our own recommendations for reducing alcohol consumption:
Set a goal to have nights during the week when you do not drink at all. Remember, every night you abstain completely from alcohol, is a night that promises far more restorative sleep. Your brain and body get an opportunity to rebuild and regenerate. Your cortisol will be lower, metabolism higher, mood better, brain clearer, and your workout is more likely to be AWESOME!
Try to stop drinking earlier in the evening. Give your body at least 3 hours to metabolize the alcohol before heading to bed. This may mean no more scotch, or port, or Bailey’s after dinner. Is there something else – non-alcoholic – you would enjoy sipping on?
Stick to one favourite alcohol. People tend to eat more – far more – when they are faced with multiple choices like at a buffet. Alcohol can be the same. Could you cut out the before dinner martini and sip on your red wine instead? Now that summer is over maybe that cold beer or Aperol Spritz can be retired?
Sip slowly. Put your glass down between each sip. Savour and enjoy the taste. Have lots of water on hand to keep your hydration up and slow your consumption. (Bonus tip – this works really well for weight loss too. Put your fork down. Savour each bite. Drink some water!)
Be kind to yourself. Avoid an all or nothing mentality at every turn. Notice how great you feel the mornings after you abstained completely. Celebrate that success use it as motivation to continue the pattern on as many nights as is possible for you. Notice how you feel the mornings after you’ve consumed more than you intended. Try not to berate yourself and get frustrated. Approach it with a patient eye of curiosity. What happened? How did the drinks move – for example – from 2 to 5? What might you be able to do next time to set yourself up for a little more success? Alcohol is tricky. You won’t get it right every night or every week. Celebrate the positive steps and keep trying to repeat those. Positive reinforcement is far more… well… reinforcing!
Ask for help. If you believe you or someone you care about might have a problem with alcohol or drugs, please connect with a healthcare professional. There’s nothing simple about this stuff. There are wonderful, wise experts who can help.