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You Don’t Have to Binge Drink to Hurt Your Health

For many people, alcohol is part of life. Whether it’s to unwind after work, celebrate a promotion or toast a wedding, there are lots of opportunities to drink. Most people have heard about the dangers of binge drinking, which is consuming five or more drinks in one sitting, usually within a few hours. But many people aren’t aware that regularly consuming alcohol below this level could still classify you as a heavy drinker.

How many drinks does it take to be a “heavy drinker?” The answer might surprise you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers heavy drinking to be more than seven drinks a week for women and more than 14 drinks a week for men. If your normal routine is a couple of beers a night after work and a few more while out with friends on the weekend, you could be setting yourself up for some serious health problems.

Consequences of Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking increases risk for:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems
  • Cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
  • Long-term memory problems and cognitive issues, including dementia and poor performance of complex tasks
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol dependence or alcoholism

While psychological and biological factors can make some people more likely to indulge in heavy drinking than others, moderation is still the best policy. That’s because the liver can only metabolize one ounce of alcohol (the equivalent of two standard drinks) every hour on average.

When the body takes in more than this amount, the excess builds up in the bloodstream, leading to chemical changes that can affect the body’s organs and permanently damage physical and mental function.

While alcohol is a big part of many social and cultural events, it is possible to drink in moderation, or not at all, and still have a good time. Try setting a limit for a given week or setting a limit before you go to an event. Then keep track of the number of alcoholic drinks you have in order to keep yourself accountable. You can also try alternating alcoholic drinks with a glass of water or seltzer, or keeping a non-alcoholic drink in hand if you think you might feel pressured to drink more than you feel comfortable with.

The LHSFNA has developed a number of alcohol-related posters, health alerts and other materials that are available through our Publications Catalogue. The Fund is committed to helping signatory contractors keep their jobsites safe and free from alcohol (and other drugs) as well as helping LIUNA members who may have a problem. The Fund can also assist in all aspects of drug-free workplace programs whether it is policy review, employee or management training, implementing testing programs or addressing rehabilitation. For more information, call the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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