How to tell the difference between 'normal' and 'problematic' drinking
- Alcohol consumption is increasing in the US, and has increased since lockdowns began.
- Insider spoke to Dr Antonio De Filippo about how to identify problematic drinking and how to address it.
- If you find yourself missing or under-performing at work, feeling generally more fatigued, or getting into legal trouble because of your alcohol consumption, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship to it.
- "Approaching them in a non-judgmental way and truly doing it for them is the way to look at this," De Filippo said.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Drinking can be a good way to take the edge off for some or celebrate a special occasion with friends. But increasingly, public experts are concerned some may be drinking to cope with lockdown now that they can't socially drink with friends
Dr. Aiysha Malik, Technical Officer, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organisation, said that alcohol is an "unhelpful coping strategy" in late March. But whether it be out of boredom, loneliness, or to cope with the ongoing stress of quarantine, Americans drinking still drinking in quarantine despite not being able to go to bars or in-person social gatherings.
While a beer to unwind isn't a pause for concern - and some research even suggests it could be protective - the line between what is considered to be "normal" versus "problematic" drinking can be blurry.
"There's less to do, people aren't working, those are little hot spots for more drinking," Dr. Antonio De Filippo, Medical Director at Delphi Behavioural Health Group, told Insider.
Insider spoke to De Filippo, about how to spot concerning drinking and what to do if you or your loved ones need help.
Your social setting can skew your perception of 'normal drinking'
Technically, the healthy amount of alcohol one can consume in a week is seven drinks or less a week for people assigned male at birth and five drinks a week or less for people assigned female at birth.
But, often, acceptable drinking is defined by our social circle, making it easy to lose track of what's healthy and what's not, according to De Filippo.
"What we consider normal drinking sometimes has a lot to do with our peer group because maybe somebody in college might be drinking more because they're going to frat parties, that's not necessarily problematic drinking, but it's a slippery slope," De Filippo said.
Rather than being based on a set number of drinks a night, De Filippo told Insider problematic drinking is defined by how your drinking impacts the rest of your life.
"The biggest thing is how impaired your life is by your drinking and how much it plays in your life," De Filippo said.
Fatigue can be the first sign of a growing problem
While someone may not think they feel the effects of alcohol in their daily life, the first sign of your body being impacted by alcohol is a growing sense of fatigue.
"There are people who drink excessively and are still able to pay their bills and go to work 'function' but over time it does have a tendency to catch up to people," De Filippo said.
This kind of body fatigue can oftentimes be the first of many bodily effects of long-term alcohol use like early-onset dementia and liver disease.
DUIs and missing work are serious red flags
More glaring signs that your life is being impacted by alcohol is when you're unable to perform daily responsibilities.
According to the US Office of Personnel Management, unexplained absences from work, frequent tardiness, overuse of sick leave, and patterns of absence after weekends or holidays are signs alcohol consumption is beginning to impact other areas of your life.
Missing work for being hungover or to drink repeatedly or getting into more serious legal trouble like getting a DUI both can signify a substance use disorder.
Slipping up at work or school are subtle signs of alcohol dependence
While most of the public may not be missing work to drink, there are subtle ways problematic drinking can seep into your daily life.
If you feel yourself underperforming at work or school out of fatigue or an inability to concentrate, this could be the result of prolonged alcohol use.
The US Office of Personnel Management found missing deadlines, incomplete or sloppy work, production quotas not being met, and excuses for late assignments all to be signs of substance use disorders.
If you notice your drinking veering into concerning territory, reach out for help
- The first step to addressing any kind of substance use disorder is to reach out for help.
De Filippo said this can look a number of ways from individual counseling, to attending peer-run Alcoholic's Anonymous or Smart Recovery meetings, to checking into a rehabilitation or detox center where you can safely be weaned off the physical addiction to alcohol.
While it can feel difficult to get help during lockdown, the options are evolving to keep people in need of these services safe. Most therapists now offer telehealth appointments or phone call service, AA meetings observe social distancing rules or occur online, and rehabilitation centers are considered to be essential services.
Approach loved-ones with compassion and care if you want to talk to them about their alcohol use
If you notice a friend or loved one's drinking pattern increasing and impacting their daily life, it's important to approach them with kindness and concern.
According to De Filippo, the worst thing you can do is call them an alcoholic. Instead, asking for their consent to have a conversation about their consumption habits is the best route to take. They'll be more receptive and might process your concern more quickly rather than getting defensive.
"Avoiding treating it as a moral issue," De Filippo said. "When you're dealing with someone who might be a friend, a neighbour - approaching them in a non-judgmental way and truly doing it for them is the way to look at this."
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