We all know or have known someone who can't stay out of the sauce, drinks a lot on a daily basis, can't have just one or goes totally psycho when imbibing even if it's only once in a while. Or maybe that someone is you.
It can be difficult to know how much drinking is too much. If you're shitfaced every night, blacking out and waking up in a puddle of your own puke, you obviously need serious help.
Often it's more of a grey area. According to the harm reduction guidelines of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a social drinker is a man who consumes a max of three drinks a day and 14 a week, with at least two days of abstinence. For a woman, make that a maximum of two drinks a day and nine a week, with at least two days off. The discrepancy is because women metabolize alcohol differently, and it's far more damaging to us.
Anything above that is considered problem drinking. Well! According to those standards, I'd say a lot of us have a problem. It's up to you to decide whether you need to cut down or cut alcohol out completely. If you decide to do this, you should find out what to expect and who's out there to help.
A very heavy drinker may experience serious withdrawal symptoms like convulsions and hallucinations, while less serious symptoms include headaches, nausea and clammy skin. Mild troubles that could also plague the less serious drinker may include anxiety, insomnia and bad dreams.
As someone who's had a major love affair with the sauce, take it from me. Being sober isn't actually all that different from being drunk. But it feels way better after.
"[People who want to stop drinking have] to evaluate the benefits of quitting and the risks of staying the same as well as the costs of quitting and the benefits of staying the same . Most people who have problems with alcohol have incorporated it into their life because it does something for them. They have to decide that the negative outweighs the positive. Then they have to make a viable plan . Hanging out with drinking buddies and just drinking coke is't going to work. It takes three to six months to establish a new pattern. To relapse is an important part of change . If you look at alcohol, cigarettes and heroine, 60 to 70 per cent of people have relapsed by three or four months. The only way change really happens is if it becomes part of who you are and what you do."
CARLO DiCLEMENTE , professor of psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, author, Addiction And Change
"When you're trying to stop drinking, avoid energy vampires - people who suck you dry, particularly those who will try to suck you back into the bar scene. There are different kinds of energy vampires. One is the blamer, someone who criticizes you. When you stop drinking, you're really vulnerable, so you don't want to be around people who stimulate that lack of confidence. You'll probably have low energy. You need to protect your positive energy. The drama queen will also drain you. Anything could make you want to drink again."
JUDITH ORLOFF , psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles
"People who abuse alcohol can get up to 52 per cent of their total daily calories from alcohol. Their bodies need more nutrients to detoxify them, and their food intake is reduced, so they set up a cycle of malnutrition. With that you see all kinds of things: problems with energy level, sleep and skin problems. Organs can become involved, and some people become diabetic. Sugar cravings happen to about 30 per cent of those who quit drinking. In recovery, you need to eat more food, and it has to be the best food you've eaten in your life ."
TRISH DEKKER , dietitian-in-chief, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto
"There are particular [acupuncture] points which activate endorphins, and that helps to keep the body going when it doesn't have its fix. Supplement with a good multi-vitamin, some extra B vitamins and vitamin C in the range of 600 to 1,000 mg. Have lots of water. Kudzu [an herb] really curbs a desire for alcohol. You want it standardized to contain 3 mg of daidzin. Milk thistle helps rebuild the liver. Get an extract containing 70 to 80 per cent silymarin. Some amino acids, like glutamine, can also be helpful."
COLLEEN LEO , naturopath, herbalist "Support groups provide the opportunity to make new friends. Somebody who's been there is a different kind of support than someone who hasn't. Self-help groups like AA are actually structured so that at the beginning you receive more support than you give, and then later you're asked to sponsor someone. Providing that support for someone else also helps you maintain your own change."
Gillian Kranias , coordinator, Ontario Self-Help Program
"Harm reduction is about meeting people where they are and not requiring abstinence. It may lead to a more controlled use. Lots of people enjoy drinking. They enjoy the ritual, the relaxation, the pleasure of a mild alcohol high. The harm-reduction ideal outcome would be a relationship to alcohol that maximizes the pleasures and minimizes the negative consequences. A lot of different pieces go into achieving moderation, including learning what your limits are. How many drinks can you have over what period of time? How quickly will you be drinking your drink? I suggest people keep a notepad and make a check for each drink, with the time. It's an exercise in bringing awareness. If you can't be aware, you shouldn't be drinking."
ANDREW TATARSKY , MD, chair of the Moderation Management recovery program and support group network, president, addiction division of the New York Psychological Association