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‘Safe’ Level of Alcohol Consumption is On the Rocks

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Take Stock of Your Drinking During National Alcohol Awareness Month

Bottles of alcohol. Alcohol doesn't have health benefits, new research showed.Mounting evidence shows moderate alcohol consumption offers no health benefits, and heavier drinking increases the risk of serious health problems, including cancers, liver disease, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

A recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies of nearly 5 million people debunked a commonly held belief that moderate drinking — up to two drinks a day for men, one for women — offered health benefits. Analyses of 2021 mortality data by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released this month found that deaths attributable to alcohol were up nearly 10% over 2020. Alcohol-related deaths increased 25.5% between 2019 to 2020.

Less is Better

Reducing alcohol consumption is highly recommended to lower individuals’ risks and improve overall well-being. National Alcohol Awareness Month invites people to take stock of their drinking habits.

“Alcohol is so infused in society, treated by many as a required part of enjoyable times, that its seriously harmful effects are often ignored to the detriment of those who imbibe,” NewBridge Services Director of Addiction Services Derk Replogle said. 

There are small changes you can make to get a handle on your alcohol consumption:

  • Write a list of the benefits of cutting back on drinking
  • Set a limit on how much you will drink and track your consumption
  • Have several alcohol-free days each week
  • Enjoy activities that don’t involve alcohol
  • Don’t keep alcohol on hand
  • Ask for help if you’re struggling

“When you want to stop drinking and have made the decision to stop drinking, but are still drinking, it’s time for treatment,” Replogle said. “The first step is often is the hardest, and that’s asking for help.”

Treatment approaches vary, but all begin with detoxification, the process of eliminating alcohol or other drug from the body. Detoxing can take several days to more than a week. People who have developed a dependence on alcohol may experience severe withdrawal symptoms and need to detox under medical supervision due to the risk of seizures and/or possible death, according to Replogle.

Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual to be successful, and will likely involve a combination of approaches, Replogle said.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is most appropriate for people who have a stable home environment and are willing and able to attend counseling sessions. NewBridge Services provides this type of treatment, with clients attending one-on-one and/or group sessions up to two to three hours a week, Replogle said. NewBridge uses evidence-based practices to help clients alter harmful behaviors and prevent relapse. Individuals can continue working and living at home. Medication and support groups may be part of outpatient treatment.

Intensive Outpatient

An intensive outpatient program is geared for people who need more supervision in their recovery. It provides at least nine hours of service a week, usually broken into three-hour sessions. It can be a stepping stone from inpatient treatment to outpatient care.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is suitable for individuals who face a host of drinking triggers at home and need a more structured living environment. Providing 24-hour supervision, residential treatment is an option for those who were not successful in outpatient programs. People in short-term facilities typically stay for one to three months. Long-term residential treatment is more intense, with residents enrolled for up to a year. In addition to addiction treatment, they learn skills to manage day-to-day life and participate successfully in their community.

Medication-Assisted Treatment 

Medication-assisted treatment is a growing field for treating alcohol abuse as well as other addictions, Replogle said. Medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration can be used in conjunction with evidence-based treatment options to reduce the likelihood of drinking alcohol. Naltrexone, for example, blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Another, Disulfiram, causes a person ill effects if they consume alcohol. 

Addiction and mental illness often go hand-in-hand, Replogle noted. About a third of people who have a mental illness also have a substance abuse problem, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Among people living with a severe mental illness, the rate of co-occurring disorders is 50%.

No matter the treatment option, all require follow-up care to prevent relapse, Replogle said. Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs can play an important role.

“Addiction is a disease that you cannot cure, but you can change your behaviors and embrace sobriety and serenity, leading you to the life you want to live,” Replogle said. To schedule an evaluation with NewBridge, call (973) 316-9333.

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