Women are drinking more during the pandemic, and it’s probably got a lot to do with their mental health



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Shalini Arunogiri, Monash University; Caroline Gurvich, Monash University, and Jayashri Kulkarni, Monash University

COVID-19 has significantly affected our collective mental health.

For many people, social disconnection, financial strain, increased obligations in the home and ongoing uncertainty have created distress – and with it, a need for new ways of coping.

One way people may choose to cope with stress is through the use of alcohol.

We’re now starting to understand the degree to which alcohol use has increased in Australia during COVID-19. While the data aren’t alarming so far, they suggest women are drinking at higher levels than usual during the pandemic, more so than men.

This trend is likely linked to the levels of stress and anxiety women are feeling at the moment – which, research suggests, are disproportionate to the distress men are experiencing.




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Alcohol consumption and COVID-19

Early reports of increased alcohol purchasing raised the alarm that we might see an increase in alcohol use across the population during lockdown.

However, recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests overall, alcohol consumption remained relatively stable during April. Only 14% of Australians reported increased use of alcohol in the previous month.

But women are over-represented in this group. Some 18% of women reported increased alcohol use in the previous month, compared with only 10.8% of men.

14% of Australians reported they were drinking more than usual during April.
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Similarly, preliminary results from our COVID-19 mental health survey of 1,200 Australians in April found a significantly higher proportion of women had increased their alcohol intake: 31.8%, versus 22.5% of men.

Why are we seeing this disparity between women and men? The answers may lie in what we know about why women drink, and in the disproportionate burden of stress women are facing as a result of COVID-19.

Women tend to drink for different reasons to men

In Australia in 2016, 14% of men and 7% of women drank alcohol to risky levels.

Although fewer women than men drink alcohol regularly, alcohol consumption among women has increased in the past decade, particularly in middle-aged and older women. This mirrors international trends that suggest women may be catching up to men in terms of their alcohol consumption.




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Overall, Australia has observed a reduction in risky drinking across the population, with increasing numbers of young people choosing not to drink.

In contrast, women in their 50s are the only subset of the Australian population with rising rates of alcohol use. In 2016, data showed for the first time, they were more likely to drink at risky levels than younger women.

Drinking has become more normalised among women in this middle-to-older age group, potentially contributing to the rise in alcohol use. Alcohol has become a commonly accepted coping mechanism for distress, with women feeling comfortable to say “I just had a bad day. I needed to have a drink”.

This highlights a theme that frequently underpins problematic alcohol use in women: what’s termed a “coping motive”. Many studies have found more women drink alcohol to cope – with difficult emotions or stressful circumstances – as compared to men, who more often drink alcohol in social settings or as a reward.




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Women’s alcohol consumption catching up to men: why this matters


Women seem to be struggling more during the pandemic

With this in mind, it’s unsurprising we’re seeing increased alcohol consumption among women during COVID-19. International data show women have been more likely to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Australian data show loneliness has been more of a problem for women (28%) than men (16%) during this past month under lockdown.

Caregiver load has also been a source of stress, with women almost three times more likely than men to be looking after children full-time on their own during COVID-19.

Many women have had to work from home while looking after their children.
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While we don’t have enough evidence yet to tell us conclusively whether family violence incidents have increased during the pandemic, this may add to the mental health burden for some women during COVID-19.

Further, younger female workers are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis in the wake of COVID-19. The fact women make up a majority of the casual workforce makes them highly vulnerable at this time.




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Together, it seems COVID-19 is having a different mental health impact on women compared to men. And this is likely to be intertwined with their increased drinking during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether we’ll see higher rates of problem alcohol use or dependence in women after the pandemic remains unclear. However, we know women who drink at unsafe levels experience complications more quickly, and enter treatment later, with perceived stigma a barrier to help-seeking.

It’s vital we draw our attention to these gender-specific differences in mental health and alcohol consumption as we formulate our mental health pandemic plan.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Shalini Arunogiri, Addiction Psychiatrist, Senior Lecturer, Monash University; Caroline Gurvich, Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Neuropsychologist, Monash University, and Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: it’s tempting to drink your worries away but there are healthier ways to manage stress and keep your drinking in check



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Nicole Lee, Curtin University; Genevieve Dingle, The University of Queensland, and Sonja Pohlman, University of Newcastle

Bottle shops remain on the list of essential services allowed to stay open and Australians are stocking up on alcohol.

In these difficult times, it’s not surprising some people are looking to alcohol for a little stress reduction. But there are healthier ways of coping with the challenges we currently face.

Why do we drink more in a crisis?

People who feel stressed tend to drink more than people who are less stressed. In fact, we often see increases in people’s alcohol consumption after catastrophes and natural disasters.

Although alcohol initially helps us relax, after drinking, you can feel even more anxious. Alcohol releases chemicals in the brain that block anxiety. But our brain likes to be in balance. So after drinking, it reduces the amount of these chemicals to try to get back into pre-drinking balance, increasing feelings of anxiety.

People may also be drinking more alcohol to relieve the boredom that may come with staying at home without much to do.

What happens when we drink more?

Alcohol affects your ability to fight disease

Alcohol impacts the immune system, increasing the risk of illness and infections.

Although the coronavirus is too new for us to know its exact interaction with alcohol, we know from other virus outbreaks drinking affects how your immune system works, making us more susceptible to virus infection.

So, if you have the coronavirus, or are at risk of contracting it, you should limit your alcohol intake to give your immune system the best chance of fighting it off. The same applies if you have influenza or the common cold this winter.

Alcohol affects your mood

Drinking can affect your mood, making you prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This is because alcohol has a depressant effect on your central nervous system. But when you stop drinking and the level of alcohol in your blood returns to zero, your nervous system becomes overactive. That can leave you feeling agitated.




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Alcohol affects your sleep

Alcohol can disrupt sleep. You may fall asleep more quickly from the sedating effects of alcohol, but as your body processes alcohol, the sedative effects wear off.

You might wake up through the night and find it hard to fall back to sleep (not to mention the potential for snoring or extra nocturnal bathroom trips).

The next day, you can be left feeling increasingly anxious, which can kickstart the process all over again.




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Alcohol affects your thoughts and feelings

Alcohol reduces our capacity to monitor and regulate our thoughts and feelings.

Once we start drinking, it’s hard to know when we’re relaxed enough. After one or two drinks, it’s easy to think “another won’t hurt”, “I deserve it”, or “I’ve had a huge day managing the kids and working from home, so why not?”.

It’s easy to think, ‘another won’t hurt’ when we’ve already had a drink or two.
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But by increasing alcohol consumption over time, eventually it takes more alcohol to get to the same point of relaxation. Developing this kind of tolerance to alcohol can lead to dependence.

Alcohol ties up the health system

Alcohol related problems also take up a lot of health resources, including ambulances and emergency departments. People have more accidents when they are drinking. And drinking can increase the risk of domestic and family violence.

So an increase in drinking risks unnecessarily tying up emergency services and hospitals, which are needed to respond to the coronavirus.




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How to manage your alcohol consumption

Don’t stock up on alcohol. The more you have in the house, the more likely you are to drink. Increased access to alcohol also increases the risk of young people drinking.

Monitor your drinking. If you are getting on board with the new virtual happy hour trend, the same rules apply if you were at your favourite bar.




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Try to stay within the draft Australian guidelines of no more than four standard drinks in any one day and no more than ten a week.

Monitor your thinking. It’s easy to think “What does it matter if I have an extra one or two?”. Any changes to your drinking habits now can become a pattern in the future.

How to manage stress without alcohol

If you are feeling anxious, stressed, down or bored, you’re not alone. But there are other healthier ways to manage those feelings.

If you catch yourself worrying, try to remind yourself this is a temporary situation. Do some mindfulness meditation or slow your breathing, distract yourself with something enjoyable, or practise gratitude.




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Get as much exercise as you can. Exercise releases brain chemicals that make you feel good. Even if you can’t get into your normal exercise routine, go outside for a walk or run. Walk to your local shops to pick up supplies instead of driving.

Maintain a good diet. We know good nutrition is important to maintain good mental health.

Try to get as much sleep as you can. Worry can disrupt sleep and lack of sleep can worsen mental health.

Build in pleasant activities to your day. Even if you can’t do the usual activities that bring a smile to your face, think about some new things you might enjoy and make sure you do one of those things every day.




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Remember, change doesn’t have to be negative. Novelty activates the dopamine system, our pleasure centre, so it’s a great time to try something new.

So enjoy a drink or two, but try not to go overboard and monitor your stress levels to give you the best chance to stay healthy.


If you are trying to manage your drinking, Hello Sunday Morning offers a free online community of more than 100,000 like-minded people. You can connect and chat with others actively managing their alcohol consumption.

If you’d like to talk to someone about your drinking call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015. It’s a free call from anywhere in Australia. Or talk to your GP.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University; Genevieve Dingle, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology, The University of Queensland, and Sonja Pohlman, Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What causes hangovers, blackouts and ‘hangxiety’? Everything you need to know about alcohol these holidays



There’s no way to cure a hangover, even with ‘hair of the dog’.
Louis Hansel

Nicole Lee, Curtin University and Brigid Clancy, University of Newcastle

With the holiday season well underway and New Year’s Eve approaching, you might find yourself drinking more alcohol than usual.

So what actually happens to our body as we drink alcohol and wake up with a hangover?

What about memory blackouts and “hangxiety”, when you can’t remember what happened the night before or wake up with an awful feeling of anxiety?

Let’s look at what the science says – and bust some long-standing myths.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink – or even whether you mix drinks – the effects are basically the same with the same amount of alcohol.




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When you drink alcohol it goes into the stomach and passes into the small intestine where it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

If you have eaten something, it slows the absorption of alcohol so you don’t get drunk so quickly. That’s why it’s a good idea to eat before and during drinking.

It takes your body about an hour to metabolise 10g, or one standard drink, of alcohol.

(There are calculators that help you estimate your blood alcohol level but everybody breaks down alcohol at a different rate. So these calculators should only be used as a guide.)

What causes memory blackouts?

We all have that friend who has woken up after a big night out and not been able to remember half the night. That’s a “blackout”.

It’s different to “passing out” – you’re still conscious and able to carry out conversation, you just can’t remember it later.

The more alcohol you drink and the faster you drink it, the more likely you are to experience blackouts.

Once alcohol in your blood reaches a certain level, your brain simply stops forming new memories. If you think of your brain like a filing cabinet, files are going straight to the bin, so when you later try to look for them they are lost.

How do I sober up?

If you’ve had too much, there’s no way to sober up quickly. The only thing that can sober you up is time, so that the alcohol can be eliminated from your body.

The caffeine in coffee may make you feel more awake, but it doesn’t help break down alcohol. You will be just as intoxicated and impaired, even if you feel a little less drunk.

The same goes for cold showers, exercise, sweating it out, drinking water, and getting fresh air. These things might help you feel more alert, but they have no impact on your blood alcohol concentration or on the effects of alcohol.

What causes hangovers?

Researchers haven’t identified one single cause of hangovers, but there are a few possible culprits.

Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you urinate more often, which can lead to dehydration. This is especially the case if you’re in a hot, sweaty venue or dancing a lot. Dehydration can make you feel dizzy, sleepy and lethargic.

Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining, causing vomiting and diarrhoea, and electrolyte imbalance.

An imbalance of electrolytes (the minerals our body need to function properly) can make you feel tired, nauseated, and cause muscle weakness and cramps.

Hangovers can leave you tired, dehydrated, and with an irritated stomach.
Adrian Swancar/Unsplash

Too much alcohol can cause your blood vessels to dilate (expand), causing a headache. Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration can also contribute to that thumping head the next morning.

Alcohol also interferes with glucose production, resulting in low blood sugar. Not producing enough glucose can leave you feeling sluggish and weak.

Alcohol also disrupts sleep. It can make you feel sleepy at first but it interrupts the circadian cycle, sleep rhythms and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, so later in the night you might wake up.

It can stop you from getting the quality of sleep you need to wake feeling refreshed.

Why ‘hair of the dog’ doesn’t work

There’s no way to cure a hangover, even with “hair of the dog” (having a drink the morning after). But drinking the next morning might delay the onset of symptoms, and therefore make you feel better temporarily.




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Your body needs time to rest, metabolise the alcohol you have already had, and repair any damage from a heavy night of drinking. So it’s not a good idea.

If you drink regularly and you find yourself needing a drink the next morning, this may be a sign of alcohol dependence and you should talk with your GP.

Suffering from hangxiety?

Alcohol has many effects on the brain, including that warm, relaxed feeling after a couple of drinks. But if you’ve ever felt unusually anxious after a big night out you might have experienced “hangxiety”.

Over a night of drinking, alcohol stimulates the production of a chemical in the brain called GABA, which calms the brain, and blocks the production of glutamate, a chemical associated with anxiety. This combination is why you feel cheerful and relaxed on a night out.

Your brain likes to be in balance, so in response to drinking it produces more glutamate and blocks GABA. Cue that shaky feeling of anxious dread the next morning.

What can you do if you wake up with hangxiety?

To ease some of the symptoms, try some breathing exercises, some mindfulness practices and be gentle with yourself.

There are also effective treatments for anxiety available that can help. Talk to your GP or check out some resources online.

If you’re already an anxious person, drinking alcohol may help you feel more relaxed in a social situation, but there is an even greater risk that you will feel anxiety the next day.

Prevention is better than a cure

Have a drink of water between alcoholic drinks.
Marvin Meyer/Unsplash

If you choose to drink this holiday season, the best way to avoid hangovers, hangxiety, and blackouts is to stick within recommended limits.

The new draft Australian alcohol guidelines recommend no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

(If you want to check what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)




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As well as eating to slow the absorption of alcohol, and drinking water in between alcoholic drinks to reduce the negative effects, you can also:

  • set your limits early. Decide before you start the night how much you want to drink, then stick to it

  • count your drinks and avoid shouts

  • slow down, take sips rather than gulps and avoid having shots.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out resources online.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University and Brigid Clancy, PhD Candidate (Psychiatry) & Research Assistant, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hangovers: this is what happens to your body when you’ve had one too many



Elur/Shutterstock

Hal Sosabowski, University of Brighton

Having a few drinks at Christmas is, for some people, as much a part of the festive tradition as presents, decorations or carols. So if you find yourself nursing a hangover on Boxing Day, you might be interested to know what’s actually going on inside your body and why you feel so bad.

We tend to drink because in low doses alcohol is initially a euphoriant, it makes you feel happier. It does this by causing the body to release dopamine and endorphins, chemicals that stimulate the brain’s reward system. But, after a while and as you drink more, it ultimately suppresses some brain activity and slows down your heart and breathing.

The effects of the initial intake of any alcohol is the first of many stages of narcosis, the last of which is death. There just happens to be a large window between an effective dose (which has you thinking you are far more witty and handsome than you actually are and, later, running down the street with a traffic cone on your head) and a lethal dose (which has you on a mortuary slab).




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Note that even before you arrive at the typical drink drive limit, you might experience excitement, uncoordination, impairment, speech slurring, swaying and loss of inhibition. And yet you’ll still legally be able to drive a car. Small amounts of alcohol affect the limbic system in the brain, which result in aggression and the Friday and Saturday night melees common in many town centres.

Alcohol is also a vasodilator, which means it widens blood vessels, diverting blood from the body’s core to its extremities. This results in the characteristic flushed cheeks you can get from consuming alcohol and also the red nose often sported by dyed-in-the-wool drinkers.

What could possibly go wrong?
Wave break media/Shutterstock

Initially, drinking alcohol is self-reinforcing. What might seem a good idea initially seems an even better idea after you’ve had a few. Alcohol is absorbed quicker than most things since some is absorbed in the stomach (rather than the small intestine). It then spreads throughout the body and is distributed to all organs including the brain and the liver, where the body makes a valiant attempt to break down and dispose of the alcohol.

To do this, the liver produces enzymes, small molecules that help either make or break down important molecules. In this case, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down the alcohol (ethanol) into acetaldehyde (ethanal), which is then further broken down into acetic (ethanoic) acid and then to carbon dioxide.

Energy is also released at all stages of the breakdown, which explains why heavy drinkers can sometimes be overweight. In fact, long-term alcoholics often get most of their calories from alcohol and eat very little. This can make them overweight but curiously undernourished because they are consuming empty calories and no vitamins or protein, which can produce a general appearance and feeling of illness.

Why you vomit

The first stage breakdown product, ethanal, is an emetic, which means it makes you want to vomit. As you drink and become more euphoric, your blood ethanol level is being monitored by the area postrema, the part of your brain which checks your blood for things that shouldn’t be there. If you eat some food which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, it’s your postrema that has instructed your body to get rid of the offending comestibles.

Ethanal has the same effect. The postrema works to very fine tolerances, and as soon as your body contains enough ethanal, and the threshold that nature has set is reached, the postrema instructs your stomach to contract and makes you sick. Trying to stop this is like trying to hold back the tide. You may have noticed the very short time between drinking enthusiastically and realising that it’s a question of when, and not if, you are going to vomit.

Disulfiram (Antabuse) is a drug used to treat chronic alcoholism that stops the subsequent breakdown of ethanal after you drink, causing an immediate hangover and explosive vomiting. It’s effectively a form of aversion therapy.

Hangover causes

Unfortunately, there’s no drug to treat drunkenness itself – or a hangover. Once you are intoxicated you just have to wait it out. The liver can metabolise between 8g and 12g of alcohol in an hour and the only way to become less drunk is to stop drinking so the alcohol can diffuse out of your brain and your liver can complete the breakdown.

Aside from the vomiting, we don’t know exactly why we feel so terrible when we’re hungover, but it is thought to be another effect of ethanal and congeners, the non-alcoholic chemical clutter that is a by-product of fermentation. These include oils, minerals and other forms of alcohol such as methanol (wood alcohol), which can cause you to go blind in high doses.




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Darker drinks have higher amounts of congeners. Red wine also causes a particularly vicious hangover since it contains a vasoconstrictor, which constricts your blood vessels and causes that throbbing headache. Meanwhile, vodka might be more forgiving since “pure” vodka is just alcohol and water.

The only other thing that might help reduce your hangover after a heavy drinking session is a glass of water before bed. Alcohol stops your pituitary gland producing the anti-diuretic hormone vasopressin, which normally restricts urine production. This means you end up losing more water than you take in, causing dehydration that irritates the blood vessels, leading to headaches.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to console your post-Christmas blues with roast dinner leftovers and your favourite holiday film.The Conversation

Hal Sosabowski, Professor of Public Understanding of Science, University of Brighton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hangovers happen as your body tries to protect itself from alcohol’s toxic effects



A night of revelry can mean an uncomfortable day after.
Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

Daryl Davies, University of Southern California; Joshua Silva, University of Southern California, and Terry David Church, University of Southern California

Debaucherous evening last night? You’re probably dealing with veisalgia right now.

More commonly known as a hangover, this unpleasant phenomenon has been dogging humanity since our ancestors first happened upon fermentation.

Those nasty vertigo-inducing, cold sweat-promoting and vomit-producing sensations after a raucous night out are all part of your body’s attempt to protect itself from injury after you overindulge in alcoholic beverages. Your liver is working to break down the alcohol you consumed so your kidneys can clear it out ASAP. But in the process, your body’s inflammatory and metabolic reactions are going to lay you low with a hangover.

As long as people have suffered from hangovers, they’ve searched in vain for a cure. Revelers have access to a variety of compounds, products and devices that purport to ease the pain. But there’s a lot of purporting and not a lot of proof. Most have not been backed up well by science in terms of usefulness for hangover treatment, and often their effects don’t seem like they’d match up with what scientists know about the biology of the hangover.

Drain enough cups of booze in one session and you know what’s bound to follow.
Laura buron/Unsplash, CC BY-ND

Working overtime to clear out the booze

Hangovers are virtually guaranteed when you drink too much. That amount varies from person to person based on genetic factors as well as whether there are other compounds that formed along with ethanol in the fermentation process.

Over the course of a night of heavy drinking, your blood alcohol level continues to rise. Your body labors to break down the alcohol – consumed as ethanol in beer, wine or spirits – forming damaging oxygen free radicals and acetaldehyde, itself a harmful compound. The longer ethanol and acetaldehyde stick around, the more damage they can do to your cellular membranes, proteins and DNA, so your body’s enzymes work quickly to metabolize acetaldehyde to a less toxic compound, acetate.

Over time, your ethanol levels drop through this natural metabolic process. Depending on how much you consumed, you’re likely to experience a hangover as the level of ethanol in your blood slowly returns to zero. Your body is withdrawing from high levels of circulating alcohol, while at the same time trying to protect itself from the effects of alcohol.

Scientists have limited knowledge of the leading causes of the hangover. But they do know that the body’s responses include changes in hormone levels to reduce dehydration and cellular stress. Alcohol consumption also affects a variety of neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including glutamate, dopamine and serotonin. Inflammation increases in the body’s tissues, and the healthy gut bacteria in your digestive system take a hit too, promoting leaky gut.

Altogether, the combination of all these reactions and protective mechanisms activated by your system gives rise to the experience of a hangover, which can last up to 48 hours.

Your misery likely has company

Drinking and socializing are cultural acts, and most hangovers do not happen in isolation. Human beings are social creatures, and there’s a high likelihood that at least one other individual feels the same as you the morning after the night before.

Each society has different rules regarding alcohol use, which can affect how people view alcohol consumption within those cultures. Drinking is often valued for its relaxing effect and for promoting sociability. So it’s common to see alcohol provided at celebratory events, social gatherings and holiday parties.

For many people, ‘partying’ is synonymous with ‘drinking.’
Lidya Nada/Unsplash, CC BY-ND

In the United States, drinking alcohol is largely embraced by mainstream culture, which may even promote behaviors involving excessive drinking. It should be no surprise that overindulgence goes hand in hand with these celebratory social events – and leads to hangover regrets a few hours later.

Your body’s reactions to high alcohol intake and the sobering-up period can influence mood, too. The combination of fatigue that you experience from sleep deprivation and hormonal stress reactions, in turn, affect your neurobiological responses and behavior. As your body is attempting to repair itself, you’re more likely to be easily irritated, exhausted and want nothing more than to be left alone. Of course, your work productivity takes a dramatic hit the day after an evening of heavy drinking.

When all is said and done, you’re the cause of your own hangover pain, and you’re the one who must pay for all the fun of the night before. But in short order, you’ll forget how excruciating your last hangover was. And you may very soon talk yourself into doing the things you swore you’d never do again.

Speeding up recovery

While pharmacologists like us understand a bit about how hangovers work, we still lack a true remedy.

Countless articles describe a variety of foods, caffeine, ion replenishment, energy drinks, herbal supplements including thyme and ginger, vitamins and the “hair of the dog” as ways to prevent and treat hangovers. But the evidence isn’t really there that any of these work effectively. They’re just not scientifically validated or well reproduced.

For example, Kudzu root (Pueraria lobata), a popular choice for hangover remedies, has primarily been investigated for its effects in reducing alcohol-mediated stress and hangover. But at the same time, Kudzu root appears to inhibit the enzymes that break down acetaldehyde – not good news since you want to clear that acetaldehyde from your system quickly.

To fill this knowledge gap, our lab is working with colleagues to see if we can find scientific evidence for or against potential hangover remedies. We’ve focused on the benefits of dihydromyricetin, a Chinese herbal medicine that is currently available and formulated as a dietary supplement for hangover reduction or prevention.

Dihydromyricetin appears to work its magic by enhancing alcohol metabolism and reducing its toxic byproduct, acetaldehyde. From our findings in mice models, we are collecting data that support the usefulness of dihydromyricetin in increasing the expression and activity of enzymes responsible for ethanol and acetaldehyde metabolism in the liver, where ethanol is primarily broken down. These findings explain one of the several ways dihydromyricetin protects the body against alcohol stress and hangover symptoms.

We are also studying how this enhancement of alcohol metabolism results in changes in alcohol drinking behaviors. Previously, dihydromyricetin was found to counteract the relaxation affect of drinking alcohol by interfering with particular neuroreceptors in the brain; rodents didn’t become as intoxicated and consequently reduced their ethanol intake. Through this combination of mechanisms, we hope to illustrate how DHM might reduce the downsides of excessive drinking beyond the temporary hangover, and potentially reduce drinking behavior and damage associated with heavy alcohol consumption.

Of course, limiting alcohol intake and substituting water for many of those drinks during an evening out is probably the best method to avoid a painful hangover. However, for those times when one alcoholic beverage leads to more than a few more, be sure to stay hydrated and catch up on rest. Your best bet for a smoother recovery is probably some combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen, Netflix and a little downtime.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Daryl Davies, Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, University of Southern California; Joshua Silva, Ph.D. Candidate in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics, University of Southern California, and Terry David Church, Assistant Professor of Regulatory and Quality Sciences, University of Southern California

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cap your alcohol at 10 drinks a week: new draft guidelines



Further evidence about the harms of alcohol has accumulated over the past decade since the last guidelines were released.
Syda Productions/Shtterstock

Nicole Lee, Curtin University

New draft alcohol guidelines, released today, recommend healthy Australian women and men drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day to reduce their risk of health problems.

This is a change from the previous guidelines, released in 2009, that recommended no more than two standard drinks a day (equating to up to 14 a week).

(If you’re unsure what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)

The guidelines also note that for some people – including teens and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – not drinking is the safest option.




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What are the new recommendations based on?

The National Health and Medical Research Council looked at the latest research and did some mathematical modelling to come to these recommendations.

It found the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease or injury is about one in 100 if you drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day.

So, for every 100 people who stay under these limits, one will die from an alcohol-related disease or injury.

This is considered an “acceptable risk”, given drinking alcohol is common and it’s unlikely people will stop drinking altogether. The draft guidelines take into account that, on average, Australian adults have a drink three times a week.

Why did the guidelines need updating?

Recent research has shown there is a clear link between drinking alcohol and a number of health conditions. These include at least seven cancers (liver, oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, colorectal, liver and breast cancer in women); diabetes; liver disease; brain impairment; mental health problems; and being overweight or obese.

Some previous research suggested low levels of alcohol might be good for you, but we now know these studies were flawed. Better quality studies have found alcohol does not offer health benefits.




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Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?


The new guidelines are easier to follow than the previous guidelines, which gave recommendations to reduce both short-term harms and longer-term health problems. But some people found these confusing.

Although most Australians drink within the previously recommended limits, one study found one in five adults drank more than the guidelines suggested and almost half could not correctly identify recommended limits.

The draft new guidelines are easier to follow than the old ones.
sama_ja/Shutterstock

Although women tend to be more affected by alcohol than men, at the rates of consumption recommended in the guidelines, there is little difference in long term health effects so the guidelines apply to both men and women.

The recommended limits are aimed at healthy men and women, because some people are at higher risks of problems at lower levels of consumption. These include older people, young people, those with a family history of alcohol problems, people who use other drugs at the same time (including illicit drugs and prescribed medication), and those with physical or mental health problems.

The guidelines are currently in draft form, with a public consultation running until February 24.

After that, there will be an expert review of the guidelines and the final guidelines will be released later in 2020. There may be changes to the way the information is presented but the recommended limits are unlikely to change substantially, given they’re based on very careful and detailed analysis of the evidence.

What’s the risk for people under 18?

The draft guidelines recommend children and young people under 18 years drink no alcohol, to reduce the risk of injury and other health harms.

The good news is most teenagers don’t drink alcohol. Among 12 to 17 year olds, only 20% have had a drink in the past year and 1.4% drink weekly. The number of teenagers who have never had a drink has increased significantly in the last decade, and young people are having their first drink later.




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Three ways to help your teenage kids develop a healthier relationship with alcohol


However, we know teenagers are more affected by alcohol than adults. This includes effects on their developing brain. We also know the earlier someone starts drinking, the more likely they will experience problems, including dependence.

The idea that if you give teenagers small sips of alcohol it will reduce risk of problems later has now been debunked. Teens that have been given even small amounts of alcohol early are more likely to have problems later.

What’s the risk for pregnant and breastfeeding women?

The guidelines recommend women who are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or breastfeeding not drink any alcohol, for the safety of their baby.




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We now have a much clearer understanding of the impacts of alcohol on the developing foetus. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a direct result of foetal exposure to alcohol in the womb. Around one in 67 women who drink while pregnant will deliver a baby with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is characterised by a range of physical, mental, behavioural, and learning disabilities ranging from mild to severe – and is incurable.

Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking?

If you enjoy a drink, stick within these recommended maximums to limit the health risks of alcohol.

If you have trouble sticking to these limits, or you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out these resources online.




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The Conversation


Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How big alcohol is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is



Australia’s drinking guidelines are currently under review.
From shutterstock.com

Peter Miller, Deakin University

Over recent weeks, the alcohol industry has been drumming up media discussion around Australia’s new drinking guidelines.

Australia’s guidelines on alcohol consumption are under ongoing review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with new draft guidelines expected to be released in November.

The alcohol industry has labelled the current guidelines (two standard drinks per day and four in any heavy episode of drinking) as harsh, and voiced concern the guidelines may be tightened further.




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The global alcohol industry has been increasingly proactive in trying to undermine the ever-improving science on the harms associated with the product they make money from manufacturing, promoting and selling.

This is somewhat unsurprising given the industry would be significantly less profitable if we all drank responsibly.

Drinking guidelines

Panels of scientists develop drinking guidelines around the world by assessing the best and most up-to-date evidence on alcohol and health, and determining consumption levels which might put people at risk.

They then provide the information to health professionals and the public to allow people to make informed decisions about consumption. The guidelines are neither imposed nor legislated.

The current 2009 Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. They recommend no more than four standard drinks on one occasion to reduce a person’s risk of injury and death.

So how are the industry players trying to protect our drinking culture from such “harsh” guidelines?

Alcohol Beverages Australia: who they are and what they’re claiming

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is an industry body for global alcohol producers and retailers, including Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil from the USA, and many others. Bringing together multiple industry groups to lobby government was a key strategy developed by the tobacco industry.

The NHMRC review of Australia’s drinking guidelines was open to public submissions on the health effects of alcohol consumption until January 2017. At this time, the ABA submitted a report claiming drinking alcohol carries health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They requested the review take this into account in drafting any new guidelines.

In their communications with the media this month, the ABA resurfaced their 2017 submission to the process. It seems they have not updated the information to reflect the latest evidence.




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The most up-to-date evidence has shown previous research was substantially flawed in terms of the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease, blood pressure, breast cancer and overall mortality.

We know consuming any type of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen, along with asbestos and tobacco, for decades.

Any health benefits the ABA demonstrated evidence for is outweighed by the risks.

The current drinking guidelines in Australia recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy adults.
From shutterstock.com

Alongside claiming the benefits of drinking alcohol need to be considered, to make their case, the ABA have compared drinking guidelines across different countries. In doing so, they are seeking to highlight Australia’s guidelines are ‘stricter’ than those of most other countries.

In making sense of these figures, the difference in drink driving levels is worth considering. It takes the average male four standard drinks to reach 0.05 in two hours and around seven standard drinks to reach 0.08. This is a big difference for most of us.

Those countries with 0.08mg of alcohol per L of blood as the legal limit are willing to accept more than triple the risk of having a car accident than Australia’s 0.05.

We need to ask whether these are countries whose health and safety models we want to follow.




Read more:
Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?


This is not a new problem

The industry is using language like “harsh” and “strict” to ferment public opposition to any tightened guidelines.

This spin strategy is predictable. The alcohol industry has been fighting for many decades to preserve profits over public safety, disregarding consumers’ rights to know the contents of their products, and the harms associated.

They fought against the 0.05 drink driving limit in the 1950s, and have successfully stopped Australian governments telling us about the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. For example, while policymakers have proposed warning labels with information about cancer risk be placed on alcoholic drinks, this is yet to eventuate.

The ABA is currently resisting a push to explicitly warn consumers drinking is harmful to unborn babies by means of mandatory labelling on all alcohol containers, suggesting it’s “too much information”.

These examples show how the industry continues to actively muddy efforts to educate the public of the harms of alcohol consumption.




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Notably, we’ve seen all of this before, particularly in the tobacco industry, or “big tobacco”, which has previously employed strategies to minimise health concerns and delay effective legislation.

So it’s hard not to wonder if the ABA are worried about the bottom line of their corporate masters, and therefore trying to influence deliberations through a media campaign, similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry.The Conversation

Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?



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We previously thought moderate drinking could be good for our health. There’s now evidence that says the opposite.
From shutterstock.com

Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

For the past three decades or so, the conventional wisdom has been that drinking alcohol at moderate levels is good for us.

The evidence for this has come from many studies that have suggested the death rate for moderate drinkers is lower than that for non-drinkers. In other words, we thought moderate drinkers lived longer than those who didn’t drink at all.

This phenomenon has been communicated with great impact by the J-shaped curve that shows death rates fall as you move from non-drinking to moderate drinking, before rising again as drinking levels increase.




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Most of us embraced these studies with enthusiasm. But the findings were probably too good to be true. The problem has always been the potential mixing of many other variables – called confounding factors – with drinking.

The concern was that non-drinkers as a group in many of these previous studies were different to moderate drinkers in many ways in addition to their drinking. Non-drinkers may have been unhealthier to begin with (hence not taking up drinking in the first place) or they may have included recovering alcoholics with poor health.

These confounding factors may have made moderate drinkers look healthier than they actually were (relative to non-drinkers) and thus have led us to associate moderate drinking with better health.




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More recent studies have been able to address this challenge of separating out the effect of drinking on health, independent of other confounding factors. And these newer studies tell us moderate drinking is probably not good for us at all.

Instead of the J-shaped curve described previously, the most recent evidence is showing a curve that continues on an upward trajectory.

As you increase your level of drinking beyond not drinking at all, for all levels of drinking, your health outcomes worsen. The curve starts off relatively flat, before rising dramatically, indicating much higher rates of early death as drinking levels increase.

So what is the health cost of moderate drinking?

If we look a recent Lancet study that addressed this issue, we can start to make sense of this cost. This suggests that if you drink one alcoholic drink per day you have a 0.5% higher risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health conditions.

But risk expressed in this way is difficult to interpret. It’s only when we convert this to an absolute risk that we can begin to understand the actual magnitude of this risk to our health. It translates to four more illnesses* per 100,000 people due to alcohol, which is actually a pretty small risk (but an increased risk nonetheless).

While the health implications of moderate drinking have been a point of contention, it’s clear drinking excessively isn’t good.
From shutterstock.com

This risk estimation assumes several things, including that you drink alcohol every single day, so you would expect the risk to be smaller for those who drink every other day or only occasionally.

The latest evidence suggests the health cost of light to moderate drinking, if there is one, is quite small. What was previously thought to be a marginal benefit of moderate alcohol drinking is now considered a marginal cost to health.




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So for you as an individual, what does this new evidence mean?

Maybe it means having to lose the contentedness you have felt as you drink your evening glass of wine, believing it was also improving your health.

Or maybe this new evidence will give you the motivation to reduce your drinking, even if you are only a moderate drinker.

Of course, if you get pleasure from drinking responsibly, and you have no intention of changing your drinking habits, then you will have to consider and accept this potential cost to your health.

But remember, the evidence is still incontrovertible that drinking high levels
of alcohol is very bad for you. It will shorten the length of your life and affect the quality of your life and those around you.

Correction: this article originally said one alcoholic drink per day equated to four more deaths – rather than illnesses – per 100,000 people due to alcohol.The Conversation

Hassan Vally, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alcoholic? Me? How to tell if your holiday drinking is becoming a problem



Holiday drinking can get out of hand before we know it. It’s important to know the signs of overuse.
Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com

Sara Jo Nixon, University of Florida

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when holiday parties collide with collegiate and professional athletics events. What do they all have in common? Booze, lots of it, and often free. It’s no wonder the lead reindeer has a red nose.

Of course, drinking isn’t limited to a single season, but it holds a prominent place during the holidays. Across a few short weeks, consumption of spiked cider, boozy nog, wine, beer, cocktails and variations thereof may be higher than at any other point in the year. One industry study suggested that drinking doubles at this time of year. During this party time, we see up close the drinking habits of our partners, co-workers, relatives and, of course, ourselves.

This holiday season, you might take notice of just how much you drink. You may start to question your motivation for drinking. Or wonder about the long-term effects. While it might be tempting to dismiss these unsettling reflections, as director of the University of Florida Center for Addiction Research and Education, I encourage you not to.

Sometimes one drink is too many.
bogdanhoda/Shutterstock.com

How many is too many?

About one in eight U.S. adults met criteria for an alcohol use disorder in 2013 – the most recent year for which we have data. Compare that to just over one in 12 in 2002. That’s a nearly 50% increase.
Alcohol misuse can lead to interpersonal violence and physical injury and worsen medical and psychiatric conditions. Besides its impact on health and well-being, alcohol misuse costs the U.S. an estimated US$224 billion a year in lost productivity, health care costs, criminal justice costs and others. More than 75% of those costs are associated with binge drinking.

But these statistics don’t answer the question I get most often from friends, family, casual acquaintances and even strangers at parties or on cross-country flights. What everyone wants to know is, “How much can I drink without being an alcoholic?” The answer is, “It depends.”

For starters, stop calling names

To effectively address the question, we must rethink our use of the term “alcoholic.” People have disorders; they are not themselves these disorders. The distinction is not merely a matter of semantics. It is fundamental to eliminating the stigma of substance use disorders and other psychiatric conditions.

Still, the more appropriate question, “How much can I drink without developing an alcohol use disorder?” gets the same answer: It depends. The amount that a person drinks doesn’t directly determine an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. But how can a “drinking problem” not have a definitive cutoff?

That’s because two people could drink the same amount and experience completely different consequences. So, the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder focus on those consequences, rather than number of drinks imbibed.

For example, inability to control your drinking, no matter how much you drink, is a red flag. Having cravings for alcohol is another one. Does drinking interfere with your work, school or home responsibilities? Do you drink in situations in which you know it’s risky to do so?

Of course, the more you drink, the more likely it is that you will experience negative consequences.

There are resources available to help you know if are drinking too much.
and-one/Shutterstock.com

Risky business

Most drinkers do not develop a disorder. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Research shows that Americans are drinking more and for longer each time they drink than ever before. And, adults are continuing to drink into older ages than ever before.

Women, in particular, seem to drink more as they age. A significant percentage of drinkers over age 55 often exceed the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s suggested guidelines for moderate drinking without necessarily meeting criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Whether you have a diagnosable disorder or not, all this drinking can cause problems.

One of those problems is driving. People mistakenly think of this as a young person’s problem. But about one in four adults 45 to 64 and another one in 12 over age 65 report driving after drinking in the previous month.

At blood alcohol concentrations equivalent to one or two drinks, older adults show notable shifts in cognitive performance, neural activity and driving strategies compared to younger ones.

Putting all this in the context of the holidays, it’s not just the pervasive presence of booze that makes us drink. It’s the party culture. If you’re seen without a drink, you are often encouraged to take one. If you lose track of your drink, you get another (full) one.

This excess may meet criteria for a binge drinking episode. For women, that’s four or more standard drinks in a single occasion. For men, it’s five or more. And, as for “standard” drinks, we all know that many of us are typically pouring ourselves two to three times the standard in every glass.

Binge drinking, too, is increasing in older adults. And that matters because it has an immediate impact on driving abilities, fall risk and prescription medications.

Should I take action?

If your alcohol use is gnawing at your conscience, you have options. Talk candidly with a trained professional about your drinking. Access the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website, where you can assess your drinking and seek help. If you believe a friend or relative has a problem, talk with someone who can help you identify next steps.

Here are some ways to be a safer drinker:

  • Before that party, eat something, even if you have to eat it in the car.
  • Make your first drink nonalcoholic. It keeps you from gulping down the first “real” drink and allows your “car snack” time to settle.
  • Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Eat (actually, graze) throughout the evening. Assuage guilt about calories by prioritizing fitness.
  • Disregard peer pressure. Susceptibility to it may lessen with age, but seldom vanishes. When you reach your limit, don’t be swayed.
  • To escape from an awkward conversation, don’t make a beeline to the bar. Take an indirect route through the room, mingling, checking out decorations.
  • Take a ride-share home or to and from a party.

If you think your holiday drinking could be a sign of a year-round issue, discuss it with a medical or behavioral health provider. There are a variety of options, including the support and help of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is free. Online AA meetings are also available. For more information, visit: https://www.aa.org.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

Sara Jo Nixon, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.