Alcohol use: Will you start the new year hung over?

Effects of alcohol on New Year's Eve can go far beyond the Jan. 1 headache

Alcohol use: Will you start the new year hung over?

Drinking lots of alcohol to welcome the new year is a tradition that’s not good for your overall health. It’s important to understand that alcohol use can affect your health in a variety of ways, beyond the next-day hangover.

3 harms of heavy drinking

For men, heavy drinking means more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, it’s more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week.

If you drink this much, you could be putting yourself or others at risk. Here are three ways drinking alcohol can be harmful.

1. Increased risk for injuries and death

Drinking too much alcohol can make you more likely to harm yourself or others. Alcohol slows your reaction time and makes you less coordinated. It affects your judgment. The more you drink, the worse these abilities become.

Alcohol is involved in many fatal burn injuries, drownings, severe trauma injuries, sexual assaults, suicides, lethal falls, and deadly car crashes.

2. Health problems

Heavy drinking has been linked to a list of health issues, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer

If you have a health condition and drink a lot, then you may not be able to care for yourself like you should. This can make your health problems worse. Heavy drinking can also lead to risky sexual behaviors. You’re more likely to have unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These put you at risk for sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.

3. Alcohol use disorder

About 17 million people in the United States have an alcohol use disorder — a term doctors use when your drinking becomes harmful or causes distress. There are many symptoms. Examples include:

  • Drinking interferes with responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  • Giving up activities you used to enjoy so you can drink.
  • Wanting to cut back but being unable to do it.
  • Getting into dangerous situations while drinking such as driving, swimming, or having unsafe sex.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, talk with your health care provider. Many different treatments are available.

Learn more: Chemical dependency treatment at Sanford Health

If you drink, try to keep it within a safe range. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Alcohol and aging

Many older adults enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer while watching the game on TV. Having a drink now and then is fine. But don’t overdo it. As an older adult, alcohol may affect you differently than it does younger adults.

As you age, you become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. After age 65, your lean body mass and water content drop. Plus, your metabolism slows down. Alcohol stays in your system longer. As a result, the amount of alcohol in your blood is higher than it would have been when you were younger.

Older adults also are more likely to have hearing and eyesight problems. They have slower reaction times, too. This puts them at higher risk for falls, broken bones, and car crashes tied to drinking.

Some health problems in people older than age 65, and the medicines used to treat them, can worsen with alcohol’s effects. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

Heavy alcohol use can also lead to other health problems, such as cancer and liver disease.

It’s also linked to depression and suicide.

Medicine interactions

Medicines taken by older adults are more likely to have serious interactions with alcohol and other medicines. These include many prescribed and over-the-counter medicines and herbal products. Medicines and alcohol can interact even if they’re not taken at the same time. That’s because the medicine may still be in your blood when you have a drink.

What’s a safe amount?

The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism advises that people older than age 65 who are healthy and who do not take any medicines have no more than seven drinks a week. And no more than one to two drinks on any given day. One drink equals:

  • 12 ounces of beer, ale, or wine cooler
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor

How to cut down

If you want to limit your drinking or your health care provider suggests it, try these steps:

  1. Write down your reasons for cutting back. These might include wanting to improve your health or to sleep better. Other reasons may be to improve relationships and to stay independent.
  2. Track your drinking habits for at least 1 week. Write down when and how much you drink every day.
  3. Set a drinking goal. You may decide to cut down to 1 drink a day. Or not to drink at all. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it every day.

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Posted In Chemical Dependency, Healthy Living