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Alcohol Use

Have you heard or read that chocolate is good for you? Some studies suggest that dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants and may have an impact on “bad” cholesterol. Still some people should not eat chocolate, for example those who are allergic to chocolate. Of course, if you can eat chocolate, that does not mean that you should go all out and eat lots of chocolate every day. It is loaded with calories and it is SO easy to overeat.

Similarly, have you heard or read reports stating comments such as: 1 drink a day can reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack, or red wine is good for you? Some studies suggest that up to a drink per day can increase “good” cholesterol and offer protective effects against inflammation. Just as with chocolate, some people should not drink, for example those who are fighting alcohol addiction, those who currently do not drink, those on certain medications, etc. Also, just as with chocolate, if you are able to drink, how much is considered moderate consumption? 1 drink per day for men and women. Also, keep in mind that just as with chocolate, alcohol is loaded with calories and it can be easy to overindulge.

Before you decide to run to the liquor store, it is important to think about a solid fact: Alcohol is a carcinogen, which means that it can cause cancer. Increased alcohol use is associated with stomach, colon, and (of course) liver cancer. Alcohol can also worsen depression. Even worse, consumption of more than two drinks a day can actually increase your chances of stroke and put you at higher risk of diseases like hypertension. Binge drinking habitually (more than 4 drinks in less than 2 hours) can increase one’s chances of heart attack by 50%, to say nothing of the increased risk of mortality due to motor vehicle accidents or overdose.

Because of these risks, it’s especially important to recognize when you may be drinking too much. As a physician, I sometimes screen my patients by using the CAGE questionnaire, a tool developed to help determine if a patient may have an alcohol use disorder. It asks four questions based on a mnemonic:

  • Cut down drinking: Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Annoyed: Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Guilty: Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
  • Eye-opener: Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to overcome a hangover?

If my patient answers two of these questions with a yes, then I know to proceed with a further evaluation for possible alcoholism.

In recognition of the numerous risks from cancer and substance abuse, a recent recommendation from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study reports that the only safe amount of alcohol is none. And in terms of reducing heart disease mortality, other interventions,

such as exercise, proper diet, or weight loss are widely recognized across the board to be healthier for you overall than drinking.

Given the serious consequences associated with alcohol, if you choose to have an occasional drink with friends, remember the Roman dramatist Plautus’ words, “Moderation is best in all things is the best policy.” If you have questions about alcohol use, your family physician can help.

Julian Jimenez, M.D.Dr. Jimenez is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.