Q&A on alcohol use: binge drinking + marijuana use; supporting a sober spouse; Ozempic + alcohol cravings; & social anxiety + alcohol
How much alcohol is okay?
Question #1 and #2 are free for everyone. Questions #3 and #4 are for paid subscribers only. If you would like a paid subscription but cannot swing it financially, please message me directly!
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are entirely my own. They do not reflect those of my employer, nor are they a substitute for advice from your personal physician.
I gave up alcohol for the month of November. (I wrote about why here.) I love how many of you joined me! 🎉
If you’re anything like me, not drinking was difficult at times, particularly in social situations. (Last night I attended a tequila tasting with friends, for crying out loud!) But I feel so much better without it.
Trust me, there’s no morality prize at the end of a sober November. But if you’re wondering if taking a month (or even a week or a day) off alcohol is something you’d benefit from, I suggest taking an honest look at alcohol’s effects on your:
sleep, eating habits, exercise routine, and relationships (behavioral health)
mood, anxiety, body image, self-esteem, sense of self-regulation (emotional health)
thoughts, judgment, impulsivity, focus, attention, memory (cognitive health)
headaches, blood pressure, pulse rate, heart rhythm, blood sugar, acid reflux, digestion, joint pains, neurological health, hot flashes, night sweats, sexual function (physical health)
blood pressure, body weight, BMI, hemoglobin, hormone levels, liver function, glucose, hemoglobin A1C (medical metrics)
Then ask yourself: What are the benefits of alcohol you can’t live without? (Note that there is no perfect answer to the question: How much alcohol is okay?)
So, how about you? Did you make it a day/week/month without alcohol this month? What’s your game plan for alcohol consumption in December? Even if your plan is not to change anything at all, setting an intention can help you feel more in control of your habits and health.
To help you contemplate what the holiday season will look like for you, today’s Q&A is dedicated to alcohol use.
QUESTION #1: BINGE DRINKING + MARIJUANA USE
What do you make of the NY Times article that said binge drinking and marijuana use among middle-aged adults are at all-time high levels? -BK from Jacksonville, FL
Yes, the data in the article are pretty eye-opening. A recent study shows that almost 30% of people between ages 35 to 50 reported binge drinking in 2022. Also in this age group, 28% reported smoking marijuana in 2022, up from 13% in 2012. Another recent study showed that alcohol-related deaths continued to increase among people age 65 and up, with deaths among women rising faster than among men.
It reflects what I am seeing in my office, and I am not surprised. We are living through an age of anxiety and political unrest. People gravitate toward substances to self-medicate. Plus, access to mental health services in this country is abysmal.
My best advice for anyone reading this who is suffering from despair and substance use issues is:
Be honest with yourself. It’s normal to rationalize our own self-harming behaviors. It’s easy to explain to ourselves why we’re different from other people, exempt from the possibility of overuse. So take stock of what you are using and how it affects your mental and physical health. Ask people you love what they notice about your consumption—and listen to what they say. Sometimes the hardest part of being human is looking ourselves in the mirror!
Ask for help. Substance use disorders are treatable, but not when they live in darkness. Whether it’s finding an AA meeting online, talking to a trusted friend, or calling your doctor, it's always better to share your story.
Know that there is a better way. People with addiction issues—or those who simply “overindulge”—often can’t imagine life without their substance of choice. But whether it’s wine, sugar, or marijuana you use to self-soothe, change is possible. If I’ve learned nothing else in my 22 years seeing patients, it’s that humans are endlessly capable of doing hard things!
If you like what you are reading, hit the ❤️ button on this post so more people can discover my writing on Substack! 🙏
QUESTION #2: SUPPORTING A SOBER SPOUSE
My husband recently got sober … so it was comforting to read your recent post about alcohol. My question is whether or not I should quit drinking myself to help my husband stay sober? Also… do we need to tell our friends they can’t drink around him? What do I tell my kids - ages 12 & 20? This is all new to me… I don’t want to seem like an alarmist but I also worry about my husband relapsing. - Anonoymous
I am glad my article about alcohol was helpful. Bravo to your husband for getting sober. My best advice is 1) to recognize that you are not responsible for your husband’s addiction or sobriety and 2) to open a line of communication with your husband about what he needs to maintain his sobriety—and what role he would like you to play. There is no playbook here. It’s really about meeting your spouse where he is, and meeting your own needs, too.
Another suggestion is to check out Al-Anon, a wonderful, free resource for loved ones of people struggling with—or in recovery from—addiction. It has helped so many people I see, know, and love. Here is a piece about navigating a spouse’s sobriety. Alateen is for teens living with alcoholism in their family. It’s important to acknowledge the emotional impact of their loved one’s substance use plus the genetic components of alcoholism. Here is my conversation with teen educator Jessica Lahey about how to talk to teens about their own alcohol use. I hope that is helpful.
I welcome suggestions from my subscribers here, too. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful a community can be for one’s recovery.
QUESTION #3: OZEMPIC & ALCOHOL
Does Ozempic (and similar medications) “cure” addictions/alcohol overuse? I have heard that people drink less on these drugs. - Chris