Is Alcohol REALLY That Bad For You?

Nutrition // Susie Purcell // 8 August 2016

A glass of wine with dinner or a few beers with mates is a part of life for many Aussies. While enjoyable, alcohol can be unhealthy when not managed properly. Susie, our Support Crew guru, has worked in drug and mental health for 12 years, and today answers the question: Is booze really THAT bad?

What’s So Bad About Alcohol?

We often talk about alcohol in the 12WBT Program in the context of the question asked by members, “What can and can’t I drink while on the program?” We don’t tell our members to drink or not drink, instead we ask you to weigh up the worth of its nutritional value and calorie density, and also recommend factoring drinks into your daily calories.

How harmful alcohol can be to our bodies depends on how much you drink, your age and numerous other factors.

Some of the consequences of excessive alcohol use are an increased risk of:

·       Liver disease

·       High blood pressure

·       High blood fats (triglycerides)

·       Heart failure

·       Stroke

·       Fetal alcohol syndrome (if you’re pregnant)

·       Certain cancers

·       Injury, violence, and death

Plus, of course, drinking too much alcohol piles on the calories – which can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes.

How Does Alcohol Impact Weight Loss?

One of the obvious side effects of alcohol is that it adds calories. While many of us have a handle on the calories we eat, we often don’t know how many calories are in our drinks.

While alcohol doesn’t contain fat, pure alcohol does contain seven calories per gram. That’s more than protein and carbs, both of which contain four calories per gram. A couple of beers or wines can easily add more than 300 calories to your day - the equivalent of 30 minutes of jogging!

It isn’t just the calories though. The way alcohol effects our system, how it’s processed and the impact it has on our metabolism also matters. Plus, what we usually eat alongside alcoholic drinks isn’t always great – nuts, pretzels, chips, fries, anyone?!

What is a Standard Drink?

A standard drink affects everyone in different ways.

Most of us understand how much we can safely drink before getting behind the wheel of a car, but often don’t understand how much we can drink before it can be harmful to our health and wellbeing. Here’s how to calculate what a standard drink is for you.

12WBT have put together this handy Standard Drink Guide. Print it out and stick it on your fridge!

Why it Can be Tough to Cut Down on Alcohol

Just like any habit, we need to understand what’s known as ‘The Habit Loop’ and realise the cues that trigger our cravings and then the routines we adopt to satisfy those cravings.

Once developed, habits tend not to disappear. They’re encoded into the structures of our brain, which is a huge advantage for some things (for example, imagine having to relearn how to tie your shoe laces every morning!) but not others. The problem is that our brains can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a not so good one. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch having a drink, or three, every night, this routine tends to remain in our head.

Firstly, analyse the situation where you find yourself wanting a drink, by breaking it down. Think about what you were doing when you felt like an alcoholic drink? What were you thinking? What were you feeling? If you can keep yourself occupied and ride out the wave of craving, eventually the craving will dissipate.

Some methods for breaking habits and dealing with cravings includes the four ‘D’s:

  1. Delay
  2. Take a Deep breath
  3. Drink a glass of water
  4. Do something else (distract yourself)

I’m Having Difficulty Managing my Alcohol Use

While it can be very confronting to recognise that your alcohol use is at a level that needs to be addressed and managed, taking that action is a really honest and responsible thing to do. Your 12WBT journey is an opportune time to do this, and the breakthroughs that you can make by addressing and managing your relationship with alcohol can be hugely empowering and life changing! There are ways to help when you’re at an event or party.

The REACH OUT website has these ideas:

•    Set limits for yourself and stick to them

•    Try having a ‘spacer’ – alternating non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks

•    Eat before or while you are drinking

•    Have one drink at a time, so you can keep track

Taking control over your drinking is absolutely, without doubt, 100 percent worth it – so be brave, be honest and take action!

Where Can I go For Help?

We recommend you talk to a medical professional. A GP is always the best place to start if concerned about your physical or mental health. As well as making an assessment and diagnosis, your GP may be able to provide a referral to a psychologist or other allied health care professional under Medicare.

Even if it does take a little time to find someone you feel safe and comfortable with, it is possible to find some support and assistance and you don’t have to deal with these feelings on your own.

Other Referral Information can be Found at:

http://au.reachout.com/find/getting-help/who-can-help-you

http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/contact-numbers/help-and-support

http://www.adin.com.au/help-support-services

http://www.adf.org.au

http://au.reachout.com/tough-times/alcohol-and-other-drugs/alcohol

Family Drug Support:http://www.fds.org.au/

http://www.substance.org.au/referrals/referral-pathways/alcohol-and-other-drugs-/national-service-directories/

http://www.alcohol.gov.au/

http://www.aa.org.au/

Susie from the 12WBT Support Crew has a Bachelor of Social Work (hons). As well as being a qualified fitness professional, she has worked as part of the Support Crew for the past two years. Susie also worked in the area of drug health and mental health for 12 years in various positions, including counselling, project management, service development, research and service management.

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