As with any dark habit, excessive alcohol use has a way of seeping into your life. The statistics are startling: Each year, an estimated 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol use the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the US. Those who survive may suffer from fractured relationships, poor work performance and ailing health.
In fact, according to Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., substance abuse specialist at Henry Ford Health, the whole spectrum of alcohol use has consequences. Consume more than one or two glasses daily (one for women, two for men) and you’ll increase your odds of developing an alcohol use disorder that could include everything from depression to hypertension.
Not only is alcoholism a physiological addiction (meaning your body has come to rely on the substance to function “normal”), it’s also a psychological crutch. But alcohol overuse isn’t insurmountable with these five strategies for getting—and staying—sober:
- Don’t quit cold turkey. Alcohol is an addictive substance. When you’ve been drinking regularly, withdrawal is inevitable. The scary part: Nixing alcohol cold turkey can have life-threatening consequences. “The central nervous system becomes hyperactive, leading to tremors, insomnia, headaches, sweating, and in extreme cases, seizures and potentially death” explains Dr. Bulat. “So, if you drink every day, do not stop abruptly and be sure to seek medical supervision.”
- Call in support. Developing a network of people who support your sobriety can help you stay dry. Not only do victims of alcohol addiction learn to manage cravings and develop coping skills, they also have a team of people to call on when they’re in danger of slipping. Addiction counselors may also be beneficial since they can help you understand triggers and devise a system for staying sober.
- Create new routines. To effectively break old habits, you need to adopt new ones. So rather than hitting up the local watering hole on a Friday night, take up Zumba. Skip happy hour and go to the gym. And say “no” to the monthly pub crawl and plan a game night or movie marathon instead. You might even want to take up a new hobby to stay busy and avert cravings.
- Practice self-care. The opposite of addiction is self-care. “Eating a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep and staying active all go a long way in helping you achieve sobriety,” says Dr. Bulat. “Exercise is especially effective at curbing cravings since it floods the body with feel-good hormones.” Activities such as yoga, karate and Tai chi also teach balance and self-control.
- Consider medications. There are a variety of medications available to help you curb cravings and maintain your sobriety. Ask your doctor which medicines are best for your particular circumstance and whether he or she can refer you to an addiction specialist.
Not sure whether you really have a drinking problem? Talk it over with your primary care provider. “There are a number of screening tools to identify alcohol abuse. When you continue drinking despite severe negative consequences, that’s a big red flag,” says Dr. Bulat.
The silver lining: Curbing your drinking can have a beneficial trickle-down effect, particularly if you have other chronic medical conditions. “Once people get in treatment, their health improves,” says Dr. Bulat. “They might discover they no longer need medication for some of their chronic medical illnesses, including hypertension or depression, if things continue to improve with their health.”
Addiction specialists are available to help both on an inpatient and outpatient basis.
To find an addiction specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/addiction or call 1-800-422-1183.