Alcohol Screening Day
Rethinking drinking: A new web site aims to predict your likelihood of developing problems with alcohol
It’s good for you, it’s bad for you: The advice about alcohol consumption is confounding and never-ending. One week the scientists are telling us that a little alcohol could strengthen our bones. The next week, researchers say drinking might give us breast cancer. But one thing’s certain: Alcohol can be addictive, and too much is definitely too much. April 9 is Alcohol Screening Day, a good opportunity to rethink our drinking habits.
A new web site from The National Institutes of Health is aimed to help us determine whether our alcohol intake is problematical, or might even be classified as alcohol addiction.
The statistics presented on the site, based on an analysis of the drinking population, outline the risks more comprehensively than heretofore, giving an interesting snapshot of drinking in America. It turns out that a little more than a third of the population doesn’t drink at all (who’d have guessed that?), and a similar percentage stay within the limits prescribed by the site (to qualify as “low risk” for progressing to alcohol dependency, women must take no more than three drinks a day and no more than seven drinks a week). About 9 percent of Americans break both rules.
There’s a quick quiz to evaluate your alcohol habit. How you answer will fit you into one of four groups: no risk (nondrinkers); low risk (always drink within low-risk limits); higher risk (drink more than the daily or weekly limits); and highest risk (drink more than both limits). Another checklist cites 11 warning signs, from the obvious (“tried to stop but couldn’t”) to the subtler (“found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before”).
A resources section offers nine strategies for cutting back (“pace and space”–have one drink an hour and make every other drink non-alcoholic; “know your no”–when you don’t want a drink, be ready to say a quick, firm “no thanks”) as well as a sizable list of resources like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety.
As you’re calculating your odds, remember that an official drink is a lot less than you think: A mere .6 fluid ounces of alcohol. That’s a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof spirits. A single mixed drink can contain three times this amount; a generous pour of wine can easily double it.
Not everybody is in love with the site, for very different reasons. After Melinda Beck wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal last month, one reader called Rethinking Drinking‘s low-risk limits “absolutely astounding,” suggesting that a lower consumption would be more appropriate, while another reader who splits a bottle of wine with his wife every evening called the standards too stringent, even “alarmist.”
Tell us what you think: Do you or does someone you know struggle with alcohol? How do you reconcile the health risks and possible health benefits of alcohol?