How Russia beat vodka

Russia, like the USA, has had a turbulent history with alcohol. Since Tsarist times, some argue, the leaders of the country have encouraged or at least not discouraged alcohol consumption because of the tax revenue it provided. The 1914 vodka shortage appeared to lead to the unrest and eventual revolution of 1917. Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a “dry law” reducing production and restricting sales of alcohol in 1985, with similar results to those of the US’ own Prohibition. Then after the Soviet Union fell, alcohol prices dropped 30%, which led to an increase in consumption.

So it was a shock to many to see that between 2003 and 2016, the WHO concluded, alcohol consumption fell by more than 40% in Russia. Researchers also highlighted that life expectancy in Russia increased significantly over the same time period.

Our question was: how’d they do it?

We’ll cut to the chase: here’s what they did:

  1. The Russian government raised taxes on alcohol

  2. In addition, they introduced a minimum price per unit

  3. They also restricted sales of alcohol at night (after 11:00pm) and in certain regions, after instituting a system to carefully track alcohol production and consumption

  4. They introduced an alcohol advertising blackout

  5. They added policies to make certain public spaces, like parks, alcohol-free

It’s encouraging that some forms government policy can have such a powerful effect on alcohol consumption, given how hard it can be for governments to reach people with health messages. Of course, some give the credit entirely to Putin’s healthy image in the public mind, and there may be other factors, like changing work culture, that made the shift possible.

We’re not out in Russia yet, but if you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Wait, what? MEN trying for kids shouldn't drink?

Apparently, it may be the case.

We posted last month for FASD awareness month to encourage pregnant mothers-to-be to avoid alcohol entirely, because of its potential to cause harmful defects in children.

A new meta-analysis of parents’ alcohol consumption and their childrens’ health showed that regular drinking by dads in the three months before a child’s birth increased kids’ risk of congenital heart defects by 44%.

The study’s authors recommend that both men and women stop drinking for at least 6 months before trying to have kids to avoid the risks.

The study also raises questions about many studies that have claimed alcohol has protective effects on the heart. After all, doesn’t it seem logical that the same thing that causes congenital heart defects in babies would be harmful, not helpful, to their parents’ hearts?

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Book review: Beyond Addiction

We just finished reading Beyond Addiction, and we really enjoyed it.

Beyond Addiction is quite different from anything else we’ve read in the space because it’s directed at the family members of the person struggling with a substance abuse issue, rather than the person themselves.

It was good to step back and consider the perspective of the family member for a bit, and get some straight, evidence-based answers about the best ways of helping someone else.

In some ways, it was what you’d expect the right answer to be. It reminded me a bit of consulting training that involved practicing speaking to clients in an empathetic, relatable way (instead of being a bit of a cold analytical fish, as new consultants are prone to be).

But in a situation where you’re either deeply concerned about a loved one’s drinking, or very angry at a loved one’s carelessness and destructive behavior when drunk, it can be hard to think clearly about the best way of pushing for change. That’s where a book like this can be quite helpful.

Here’s why we liked the book:

  1. It felt practical. Like many of our favorite books, it was not dogmatic that everyone must hit rock bottom and then immediately embrace sobriety. It teaches that relapses are to be expected, not feared; that respectful conversation works better than attempts to force change through shouting; that there are options for treatment. This practical flexibility seems thoughtful and more likely to encourage people to change.

  2. We share a lot of the same underlying understanding about how alcohol use disorder works. Addiction is a spectrum. Alcohol use disorder has a variety of causes in each person - genetic, environmental, social, and more. Dopamine plays an enormous role in addiction, and in particular in making it harder to find healthy substitutes for drinking.

  3. It felt empathetic. It acknowledged the frustration and despair many parents or spouses may feel in pushing their loved ones to change, and anticipated concern that taking this practical, thoughtful, empathetic approach might not get through to their loved ones. It also felt like the authors understood the experience of the loved one addicted to a substance, too - acknowledging that they do perceive a benefit from using the substance; understanding that they will react poorly to feeling forced into any particular course of action.

  4. We thought it was fascinating to think about the journey of the loved one or family member in the same way as the journey of the person struggling with AUD. The family member has to take care of themselves, too. The family member has to analyze what drives the subject’s behavior to figure out the best way to help them. The family member has to monitor their own happiness to ensure they aren’t pushing themselves too hard. The family member can help by thinking of rewards the subject would really appreciate for sticking with their goals, and can help them set realistic goals. It was interesting to see that these authors believe that the family member has a lot of similar work to do in order to be helpful. It makes sense - if you truly want to help someone, you have to truly empathize with them.

All in all, we thought this was well worth reading for anyone who wants to help a loved on quit drinking (or abusing another substance - this book isn’t restricted to alcohol).

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Does it help to raise alcohol prices? Evidence says yes.

We’ve noticed a rash of articles about alcohol pricing (and taxation, which of course affects the price that people pay), and we thought we’d look into what the hubbub was about - in particular, whether this kind of policy change works.

The short story is: yes. In terms of government policy, some of the most proven techniques to cut back on the health consequences of alcohol are reducing the distribution, restricting the marketing, and increasing the price of alcohol.

Lawmakers in Scotland set a minimum price per unit of alcohol in 2018, and found that led to a 7.6% reduction in alcohol purchases, twice the decrease they expected to see. They saw more reduction in households that typically purchased a lot of alcohol, which is encouraging for the prevention of alcohol use disorders. They also saw a reduction in alcohol-related deaths in Glasgow of over 21%. The results are so strong that a British charity is campaigning to get minimum alcohol pricing rolled out across the country. They’ve also galvanized scientists to start new research regarding the effects of minimum alcohol pricing on the homeless - the potential reduction in alcohol-based harm, and the potential increase in substitution of other drugs beside alcohol.

Alcohol manufacturers in the Philippines saw a similar result with taxation on alcohol, with a 5.1% reduction in drink purchases resulting from a 20% increase in price from 2017-2018.

Alcohol manufacturers aggressively fight policies like these taxes and minimum prices, arguing that they reduce government revenues (a hard argument to make, given the health and other direct costs of alcohol to society far outweigh the direct tax revenue raised by the industry- see our blog post on that topic!) and that such taxes are unfair to the poor (a tough argument to make, considering the clear health harms of alcohol).

The only real problem we see with this solution is a failure to address the underlying causes of the demand for alcohol. After all, if you raise taxes or minimum prices high enough, you’re effectively just banning consumption. And we all know how that turned out in the US during Prohibition. If you don’t address the reasons people drink too much, they will find ways to continue getting that high.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help you address the underlying reasons you drink. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Hangovers only get worse

Ok, so at a high level this isn’t a surprise.

We all know that when we hit about 30, suddenly 2 or 3 glasses of wine is enough to make the next morning… rough. Somehow, we can’t handle what we could when we were 22.

But after all, one of the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder is higher tolerance. Over time, aren’t we supposed to become more accustomed to alcohol? Less susceptible to its effects? Shouldn’t hangovers get weaker?

A new three-part study was trying to investigate the relationship between hangover frequency and hangover severity. It found clear evidence in all three parts of the study that frequency and severity of hangovers were positively correlated - in other words, the more often you have hangovers, the worse they’re likely to make you feel. This was true even after correcting for BAC, demographics, personality, and alcohol intake.

This appears to be evidence that there is actually a reverse tolerance effect - the more often you experience hangovers, the worse they get, instead of better. It’s all the more reason to change your drinking now.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Proof the stress-drinking cycle is real

A lot of pro-drinking memes poke fun at how various low-level stresses lead people to drink (or at least provide convenient excuses to drink).

Drinking can also feel like the way to formally take the load off at the end of the workday. It signals a release of stress, so we start to associate drinking with stress relief. Also, we tend to drink only when we know we can afford to let loose - when we’re not on call at work, when we have no early morning obligations. Over time, that link starts to form in our minds, and before long, we think drinking is a solution when we experience stress.

Studies have shown that drinking actually increases anxiety over time, as your brain fights back against the calming effects of alcohol. But we hadn’t had much proof that anxiety itself leads to drinking, until now.

A new two-part study has shown that stress increases cravings, and cravings increase drinking, in people with alcohol use disorders. The studies tracked journal entries for over 900 days for over 100 people with AUD. The higher the stress level they felt on a given day, the more cravings they had that day, and the more drinks they had… the next day.

One of the most important things you can do, then, to cut back or quit drinking successfully, is to break the mental link between drinking and relaxation. It’s why we have an entire course of exercises on Getting Calmer in Drinker’s Helper. We hope to help you prove to yourself that drinking isn’t relaxing. Prove to yourself that other methods of relaxation can work for you.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Why we embrace the sober curious

We know there’s a bit of… hype right now about short-term sobriety. The “sober curious” movement has made headlines; there’s a burgeoning variety of non-alcoholic craft beverages; there are bars and dance clubs explicitly designed to be drink-free.

It’s a trend, and it’s unfortunately probably not going to last.

But while it lasts, we think it’s a wonderful thing, in contrast to some, who have expressed concern that characterizing sobriety as a wellness movement might mislead some people with more serious drinking problems (or, more accurately, alcohol use disorders) into thinking changing isn’t necessary for them, or might minimize their struggle in the eyes of others.

It’s a fair concern, but we still think the likely outcome is more good than harm. Here’s why we support sober curiosity and all that comes with it:

  1. We think a lot of people have mild or moderate alcohol use disorders and will be helped by this movement. Addiction is a spectrum, not a binary. In other words, you’re not “an alcoholic” or “not an alcoholic.” If that were the case, you might think some people will have an awful struggle to quit drinking, and others won’t struggle at all. But the reality is somewhere in the middle for most. They’re somewhere on the spectrum. So it’s an anti-addiction move for everyone to quit or cut back to a low risk drinking level. It’s easier to stop drinking before more serious problems develop (you’ll have fewer or less frequent cravings and a life that isn’t as centered around drinking as advantages). So the more people who take on this problem early, the better!

  2. This movement might make it safer (socially) to make changes. More people probably have drinking problems than believe they do. Because the commonly acknowledged treatment options are so stark (expensive rehabs or religious Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with strangers), many people are hesitant to acknowledge problems in their earlier stages. If the movement makes it easier to tell your friends not to offer you drinks, we think that’s a win, as that can be one of the hardest parts of cutting back or quitting normally.

  3. This movement might actually help some people discover they have problems. If you had told us we’d have cravings for alcohol when we quit, we’d have laughed you off. But we did, and we only found out by quitting. So we think it’s far more likely that this movement helps someone who doesn’t know they have a problem than that it derails some who do. If people find that quitting drinking, even temporarily, is harder than they’d imagined, they might decide to do it permanently or seek further help.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Why we're not big fans of alcoholic seltzer

We’re not big fans of any alcoholic beverage, of course, but we really worry about the implications of this one.

According to this article, sales of White Claw, one of the top alcoholic seltzer brands, were up 265% year over year.

Here’s why we think this could be a bad thing:

  1. It gives drinking a veneer of “health" by promoting itself as low calorie (like light beers that promote themselves to athletes), gluten-free, and low-carb. It’s kind of like those old commercials that used to promote chocolate frosted sugar bombs-esque breakfast cereal as part of a complete breakfast… along with 10 oranges. Alcohol isn’t healthy; this just means you’re choosing a healthier mixer.

  2. A higher calorie beer might have the advantage of making you feel full, and therefore drink less. A light seltzer, probably not so much.

  3. It’s a lot more convenient to grab a mango seltzer than to make yourself a cocktail. That means people who love sweet cocktails might be likely to drink more often, or drink more, than they would otherwise. It’s just lower effort, less time between drinks, less planning required.

We’re not saying it’s less healthy, just saying if your goal is a reduction in the amount of alcohol you consume, this might not be a good idea for you.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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Why some heavy drinkers escape drinking problems

You may be surprised to hear that the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder (the official name for alcoholism), or AUD, do not actually include a person’s drinking level.

Of course, the other criteria are likely to correlate with drinking heavily (developing symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal; thinking about alcohol all the time; letting drinking interfere with responsibilities). But that means in theory, there could be people who drink heavily without having an alcohol use disorder.

So are they really out there, and if so, what makes those lucky people able to drink heavily without developing more serious problems?

A new study of this so-called “Addiction Resistance” has shed some light on why some people who do drink heavily don’t develop the disorder, which at a high level is characterized by drinking in a way that substantially interferes with living a happy, healthy life.

A couple of caveats:

  1. The study was only conducted on young, healthy people, so its results may not apply to older heavy drinkers.

  2. It was survey-based, so there could have been lies or inadvertent misreporting of drinking levels

Now, onto the findings!

You might guess that addiction resistance is down to genetic factors, and that’s likely true. Those in the study with no family members who had a substance use disorders had a higher degree of addiction resistance (ability to drink heavily without developing a disorder). That suggests that there are genetic components that may make some people more susceptible to AUD than others at the same drinking level.

But there’s more to it! Here are a few of the things that help someone resist AUD despite drinking heavily:

  1. Greater emotional stability

  2. Norm adherence (e.g., you like to follow the social/societal rules)

  3. Risk avoidance

Since many of the criteria for AUD revolve around continuing to drink despite obvious problems it’s causing, these attributes make sense. If you tend to avoid risks, you’ll avoid doing risky things like driving to an event where you know you’re going to drink. If you tend to adhere to social norms, you’ll avoid going to work drunk or hungover, which avoids allowing drinking to interfere with your career. If you’re more emotionally stable, you’re less likely to drink in risky ways when something bad happens.

At the same time, these may indicate things to work on if you’re on the other side of the equation. Even for a heavy drinker, there may ways to make your drinking less risky. You may be able to work on ensuring your drinking doesn’t interfere as much with your life.

But we believe most important of all is working on emotional stability. A lack of it can make it very difficult to cut back or quit, because drinking is a common way to escape negative emotions. There are a variety of ways to build greater emotional stability, and a variety of ways to deal with negative emotions more productively.

That’s why we have two whole courses in our Library dedicated to Staying Calm and Getting Happier. We know how important it is to successfully cutting back or quitting drinking, both from research and personal experience.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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The rise and rise of non-alcoholic beer

Apparently, non-alcoholic beer is set to become a $25B market by 2024. We’re inclined to celebrate, because we know how having tasty substitutes can make the first month or so without drinks much, much easier.

The driving factors behind the growing demand include:

  1. Growing awareness of health consequences of drinking (woo!)

  2. General health consciousness (NA beers tend to have fewer calories - also woo!)

  3. Liquor bans in some places

  4. Religious beliefs among young people

  5. More plentiful and easily accessible products (sweet!)

We didn’t know much about the market, not being huge beer fans ourselves, so we did some research.

Turns out there are a lot of options, and some are easily available nationwide, including:

  1. Some NA beers are available on alcohol home delivery app Drizly: Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA, Beck’s (a very well-known German brand), Kaliber (an Irish brand), and Buckler (a pale Netherlands beer).

  2. Several NA beers are available on Amazon.com in the US, including Heineken Zero, Erdinger, Clausthaler, and Kaliber.

  3. Several brands have created their own online shops:

    1. Gruvi, which offers both non-alcoholic beer and wine, is now available for purchase online around the US (check out getgruvi.com). It uses a different process than most other NA beers, which may make the flavor different.

    2. Wellbeing Brewing Company is solely dedicated to craft non-alcoholic beer, and is so wildly popular several of its selections are currently sold out on its online shop.

    3. Athletic Brewing was founded by someone who quit drinking and felt annoyed by the lack of options for NA beer in his new sober social life.

    4. If you’re more into craft beer, Bravus is a non-alcoholic craft brewery with an amber ale, IPA, and oatmeal stout.

  4. Two Roots Brewing, known for its cannabis-infused non-alcoholic beer, is introducing a lager, a wheat beer, and an IPA in California BevMos this month.

We’re glad there are tons of tasty, non-alcoholic beer options for people who are cutting back or quitting drinking.

Beyond just finding substitutes, you can get empathy, encouragement, motivation, and insight by using Drinker’s Helper, our app designed to help people cut back or quit drinking. It’s like a self-help manual and a support group rolled together into one. Try it free for a week!

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September is FASD awareness month

September is a lot of things in the sobriety community - some celebrate Sober September (where people don’t drink for a month to re-set, like Dry January), it’s Recovery Month (acknowledging mental health and substance abuse issues), and we just learned it’s also Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness month.

Here are the key points we’ve learned from perusing the coverage of FASD awareness month:

  1. It’s more common than you might think. FASD, which refers to a set of symptoms adults can have due to their mothers’ drinking during pregnancy, affects 2-5% of kids in the US. That’s about as common as autism, but the condition is not as well-known.

  2. FASD can be hard to detect. A lot of people don’t even know they have it), because it can be confused with so many other things, especially behavior problems. One article painted the picture of the symptoms like this: the child struggled with “sitting still, loud noises, making friends and math.” Sounds like a lot of kids, doesn’t it? Most of the symptoms are mental in nature, and sound a lot like the effects of alcohol: people with FASD have problems with memory, problem-solving, learning, and self-control.

  3. Moms aren’t always informed about the risks. A lot of people think that some amount of drinking while pregnant is safe. But it turns out alcohol is even more dangerous to babies’ developing brains than other drugs including pot, opioids, cocaine, or meth.

  4. There is no cure. Right now, there isn’t a cure for FASD, but there is ongoing research aimed at reducing the effects. And soon, there will be an app designed for parents to learn how to cope with the behavioral problems FASD causes.

If you know you’re pregnant, the message from the public awareness campaign is clear: don’t drink until your baby is born. The symptoms are lasting and can cause real developmental challenges for your kids.

If you’re looking to take a break from drinking, whatever the reason, we’d love to help you do it. Drinker’s Helper is an app that offers over 100 motivational exercises and a peer support group to help you cut back or quit drinking. Try it free for a week!

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The costs of drinking outweigh the benefits (for society)

A new study found that alcohol is a net drain on society, costing $2 for every $0.21 it brings in in taxes.

What kinds of harms are those? According to the CDC, they include:

  1. Medical costs (due to disease, like liver disease, heart disease, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in babies, several forms of cancer, due to deliberate acts of violence under the influence, or due to injuries caused by accidents sustained while operating cars or other machinery drunk)

  2. Lost productivity (people not showing up to work, or not being as productive as they could be, due to drinking; un-employment or under-employment)

  3. Criminal justice system costs due to prosecutions of drunk drivers and people who drunkenly assault others

The study’s authors advocate for raising alcohol taxes as a way to discourage the heavy drinking that causes most of the problems, and as a way to ensure that producers and heavy drinkers bear the brunt of the cost.

Higher taxes are a proven way to reduce alcohol-related harms.

But we of course think it’s even better to convince people not to drink. The US history with Prohibition tells us that simply stopping people from getting alcohol legally won’t stop them from drinking; if the desire is there, they’ll make their own moonshine. Likewise, cheaper and likely less safe alternatives will spring up, if all we do is raise taxes.

If you want to change the way you think about drinking, we invite you to try our simple app, Drinker’s Helper. We provide motivational exercises, a way to track your drinking so you understand why you drink, and a support group for accountability and encouragement. Try it free for a week!

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Book Review: The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober

Although nothing will surpass This Naked Mind for us, this might be our new next favorite “quit lit.”

We knew we were going to have to read this book when we saw the title.

“The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” perfectly captures the difference between the expectation and the reality of quitting drinking. Sobriety sounds boring, stodgy, and lifeless to most of us, thanks to years of social conditioning (“sober as a judge,” anyone?). The reality is quite the opposite. Drink-free living restores people to who they are, and allows us to better ourselves.

So we love the core idea. The book also makes quick reading, packing powerful ideas into punchy anecdotes. Specifically, we loved:

  1. The section on tips to get through the first 30 days without drinking is excellent. It has wonderful ideas that worked for the author, and a lot of her experience in terms of the challenges of early sobriety (e.g., the misplaced fear of refusing a drink, the need to avoid challenging situations at first, etc.) resonated with us.

  2. It illustrated more clearly than any book we’ve read the gradual nature of the decline into addiction. You don’t wake up one morning in the gutter; you start by waking up somewhere other than your own bed. Or as she puts it, you don’t have the shakes until you do. What’s helpful is that someone who doesn’t have as severe an addiction can still read this book and discover parts that resonate with them at the beginning of the journey. The author also doesn’t flinch from describing the truly terrifying physical addiction symptoms she experienced toward the end; it’d be powerful reading for anyone who’s anywhere along the self-destructive path.

  3. Without proposing any one system, she has a clear understanding of the process of quitting drinking, covering a lot of the consistent elements we’ve seen in other memoirs: attacking the pro-addiction mental voice (the “Wine Witch” in another book; she calls it “Voldemort” - ha!), adopting greater mindfulness, practicing gratitude, and asking for social support. She also has fantastic tips on books, podcasts, Instagram accounts and more that were helpful to her.

  4. We especially liked the social side of her personal revelations in the book. The author goes into how she discovered after going sober that she was actually an introvert who didn’t like clubs and dancing, but instead loved reading and 1:1 conversations. We introverts do tend to use alcohol to loosen up in social settings, and it can be a relief to be ourselves again when we stop drinking. It was nice to see someone articulate that so well.

There are just a couple of pieces we didn’t like as much:

  1. The author’s descriptions of partying during her early career in the magazines seemed, unfortunately, very glamorous. She cites celebrities she met, and despite the grimy details about warm wine or occasional unpleasant surroundings, the tales come off glittery, adventurous and sexy. We wished for some stories that felt equally glamorous from her sober days to balance out the feeling of jealousy we had reading about her early drinking experiences. To be clear, she completely dismantles the glamor later in the book; it just made us uncomfortable early on.

  2. We would have liked to hear more about the author’s experience in AA, which she says she deliberately decided to leave out. It’s understandable that she might have been reluctant to criticize the largest nonprofit organization that helps people quit drinking. Still, we might have benefited from her insight into the process, knowing what else did or didn’t work for her.

All in all, it was a wonderful read and one we would highly recommend to anyone thinking about cutting back or quitting drinking.

We’d also love to help ourselves through our app, Drinker’s Helper. We designed it based on our own experience with quitting drinking, and we hope it will help you, too. It has over 100 motivational exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, a support group made up of peers with similar drinking histories, and a simple way to track your drinking and urges to drink so you can discover your triggers. Try it free for a week!

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Four things that are NOT signs of a drinking problem

Google does a pretty good job of directing searchers to the right tests to determine if they might have alcohol use disorders. We recommend looking at the WHO Audit test or the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder to get an idea of what characterizes drinking as problematic (These are some of the first results you’ll find if you search for something like “drinking problem test”). 

However, for those of us who get our advice from grandmothers, magazines (physical or digital) or other less scientific sources, there are some common misconceptions out there. We want to clear up some of the things that are NOT signs of a drinking problem.

Why? Because if you think these are signs of a drinking problem, you may think you don’t have one when you do.  After all, you don’t drink alone, so you must be fine, right? Wrong!

Here are some habits that seem like they could be signs of a drinking problem, but in fact are not:

  1. You’re not careful about what you drink. Some people think it’s a sign of a drinking problem if they consume a lot of hard alcohol, and conversely think they don’t have a problem if they stick to beer or wine. News flash: alcohol is alcohol, whether you consume it in 12% ABV glasses of wine or 40% ABV shots of pure liquor. Regular wine drinking in ‘social’ doses can easily add up to a drinking problem.

  2. You drink to relax, or to feel happy. While it’s certainly not great to depend on a substance to experience an emotion, it’s not a sign of alcohol use disorder to drink when you’re stressed or upset any more than it is to drink when you’re being social or fun. As a society, we drink to celebrate; we drink to get through hard times. We drink to forget; we drink to commemorate. None of it makes any sense. If you drink enough, for any reason, you will end up with a drinking problem, and you’re especially likely to do so if the genetics aren’t in your favor.

  3. You drink alone. Drinking alone might just mean you’re an introvert. Or it might mean you’re lazy. Or it might mean you just prefer your own couch to the local bar. Whatever the reason, drinking alone by itself does not mean you have a drinking problem, and you can just as easily develop a dependence on alcohol drinking with a crowd as you can drinking alone.

  4. You drink every day. Guess what? As a woman, you could drink one glass of wine a day and be at the “low risk” drinking level given out by the NIAAA (for men, you could have two). You could also have 10 drinks in a night and be in a risky place regarding your drinking. It’s the total amount that matters.

As you can see, a drinking problem isn’t really about a certain pattern of drinking (other than the amount you drink). It’s not about what you drink, on what schedule, why, or the circumstances surrounding your drinking. 

The truth is that alcohol use disorder is characterized broadly by three things (you can find these broad strokes reflected in the DSM-5 criteria):

  1. Failing to control your drinking

  2. Experiencing the physical symptoms of addiction - craving, withdrawal and tolerance 

  3. Continuing to drink despite experiencing obvious consequences for your health, your mental health, your career, or your relationships

In other words, it’s somewhat intuitive, actually. If you’re frightened by physical symptoms of addiction you see in yourself, if you know you’re unable to control your drinking, or if you continue to drink despite problems caused by your drinking in other areas of your life, you have some level of drinking problem.

And that last part - “some level” - is key.

You may have a mild problem or a severe one, or anything in between. If you asked people on the street, many would tell you alcohol use disorder (or they might use the term ‘alcoholism’) is a black and white issue: you either “are an alcoholic” or you’re not. This misconception can prevent people who should change from doing anything until their problem is serious.

If you’ve decided to change, our app, Drinker’s Helper, can be a helpful aid along the way (although let’s be super clear: it is in no way a substitute for medical treatment).

Drinker’s Helper provides helpful tracking and insights to help you understand why you drink (so you can change it), as well as motivational exercises drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, two proven therapies for alcohol use disorder, to help you change the way you think about alcohol. Along the way, you’ll get advice and encouragement from your support group, made up of peers in similar circumstances. Try it free for a week!

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Book review: Mindful Drinking

We found “Mindful Drinking” by Rosamund Dean a practical and clear guide to moderate drinking.

The thinking and approach were very familiar after reading The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction and This Naked Mind; the core of the book is suggesting that becoming more aware of why you drink and monitoring your intake carefully are the keys to moderate drinking.

Here’s what we really loved:

  1. To start, we agree with the premise that mindless drinking is extremely common in our alcohol-fueled society. It’s the drinking out of habit, out of ceremony, without any thought at all, that can be stopped just by training yourself to become more aware of each thought and action.

  2. We also completely agree that mindful drinking requires constant awareness of your behavior and the drivers of it. The author outlines an excellent strategy based on understanding why you drink, tracking your drinking, and avoiding (or developing alternative strategies to deal with) problematic emotional triggers. We love the strategy and we hope to enable this kind of mindfulness with our app, Drinker’s Helper. The author also does an excellent job outlining the difficulty of moderating your drinking, acknowledging that sobriety requires one massive decision where moderation requires thousands of little day by day, hour by hour ones.

  3. We also very much support the idea of taking a short break from drinking at the start (she recommends 28 days), regardless of whether the change you intend to make is moderation or sobriety. The re-set allows you to really know what not drinking is like. It also forces you to break the personal habits that might have led you into mindless drinking.

Here’s what we didn’t like as much:

  1. It didn’t help us understand why the author (or anyone, for that matter) would want to drink at all anymore, given all of the downsides of drinking and benefits of sobriety outlined in the book. We don’t mean this in a judgmental way - we support people who decide to moderate their drinking and think it’s a fabulous path for many people. We just didn’t understand it given the rest of the book; this author goes through the whole journey of understanding how drinking doesn’t really do anything good for you and how annoying and complicated it is to monitor your drinking so carefully as is required for successful moderation, and then leaves it there. What is the reason to drink at all? That’s what we felt was missing, reading this.

  2. It didn’t explore as much the idea of addressing other gaps in your life. It offered short-term strategies to deal with anxiety or depression (meditate! start gardening!), but what about actually changing whatever it is about your life that’s fundamentally making you unhappy? We found that the surface-level coping mechanisms were very important, but even more important was understanding what we didn’t like about our lives and changing that. That made lasting change easier. Are you spending time on the wrong things? Are you spending time with the wrong people? Are you working in a job you hate? Change that, and you won’t need as many coping strategies.

All in all, we loved the book and found it a clear and practical guide to changing your drinking. Our app, Drinker’s Helper, could actually help to implement some of the strategies from the book, in terms of tracking your drinking and how it really makes you feel. Give it a try today!

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What are you really drinking?

Do you read the nutrition labels on your wine?

Now that you’re thinking about it, you can’t recall seeing very many, can you? I can’t recall seeing a single one.

Turns out that’s a bit of a trick question. Wine (and other high ABV liquor) isn’t required to have a nutrition label.

Leaving aside the sheer insanity of that failure of regulation, that means wine and liquor can have additives in it that you’re not aware of. There are a good number that are approved for use, but do not need to be disclosed to people, like magnesium sulfate, calcium pantothenate, folic acid, polyvinyl-pyrrolidone (PVP)/ polyvinylimadazole (PVI) polymer, and other terrifyingly complex-sounding compounds. It’s unlikely such a drink will have eggs or nuts in it, but if it did, you wouldn’t know unless they decided to tell you.

It also means that you can’t easily compare between options to identify the “healthiest” one. While of course it’s best to not drink at all, wouldn’t you rather know if one wine has low calories or low sugar, or another has high levels of anti-oxidants? Right now, it’s down to what each individual producer decides to disclose, so it’s very hard to make comparisons with one touting the benefits of its beverage and obscuring the downsides.

This strange circumstance is a result of Prohibition. That meant, with some exceptions (wines with less than 7 percent alcohol and beers that don't have malted barley actually fall under FDA rules, per this awesome Vox article), alcohol isn’t regulated by the FDA (which has required nutrition labels on all packaged foods as of 1990, but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which sets different rules, mostly regarding disclosing a beverage’s alcohol percentage if it’s over 14%. Gee, how generous.

Multiple efforts over the years have failed to get these labels applied to alcohol due to vociferous lobbying on the part of alcoholic beverage companies, who for obvious reasons would rather not remind people how many calories are in a typical drink (it’s about 100-200 calories per drink. You do the math on a typical drinking night for you).

We can’t help you track the nutrition content of your drinks, but we can help you track your drinking. If you’re cutting back or quitting, it can really help to set a healthy drinking limit and keep track of how many drinks you have, as well as the circumstances of your drinking. Over time, it can lead you to realize why you drink and seek healthier, alternative ways to get that same feeling. And as one of our reviewers noted, Drinker’s Helper is so much more than a drink counter. We provide a support group of similar drinkers and motivational exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. Give it a try today!

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Alcohol is not your friend when it comes to sleep

What should you never do before bed?

I’d imagine many people might say “drink coffee.” I would have - I’ve avoided caffeine after 7pm since reading up on the factors that affect sleep quality.

But a new long-term, broad study (over 700 participants over 14 years) has found that alcohol is EVEN WORSE than caffeine for disrupting sleep quality.

Here are the details:

  1. People self-reported their consumption of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before sleeping, and wore wrist bands that gave an objective measure of sleep quality

  2. The study controlled for other factors like age, gender, weight, and mental health

  3. In terms of negative impact on sleep, it goes: nicotine, alcohol, then caffeine.

We’ve actually done some more research on this, and it turns out alcohol has a serious detrimental impact on quality of sleep. There’s an exercise we’re putting out soon in the Drinker’s Helper app about “Alcohol & Sleep,” and another exercise, “Better Sleep,” that will go into the things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep (other than not drinking before bed).

If you’re interested in cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Join the Drinker’s Helper community by downloading the iOS app and getting support, empathy, advice, and motivation to stick with your goals.

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Binge drinking, then bingo?

I still remember the horrifying time I accidentally took a sip of “Grandpa’s juice.” It’s still a good reminder that your first taste of alcohol (I think it was probably whiskey?), before the conditioning that makes you more pliable and open to it, is downright disgusting.

My grandfather didn’t binge drink, though, and he eventually quit drinking entirely.

But apparently, this isn’t the case for a lot of older adults in the US. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society recently found that 10% of adults over 65 in the US binge drink regularly (in the last month).

We think of college as peak binge drinking time, but later in life, we imagine things calm down as our responsibilities increase.

In fact, however, older people may be more likely to feel bored, feel a lack of purpose, or feel socially isolated, all of which can encourage the same drinking behavior.

Binge drinking isn’t smart for anyone (just because very drunk people make very poor decision-makers). But binge drinking is a lot more dangerous as an older adult than a college-age partier. Here’s why:

  1. An older person may be more likely to be injured in a fail, and drunkenness makes us all more likely to trip and fall

  2. It’s more likely an older person will be on medication that interacts with alcohol

  3. An older adult may be more likely to have a chronic health condition that’s made worse by drinking, like a heart problem

We can imagine other reasons binge drinking may be rougher on a senior citizen. Maybe you have fewer friends to call or are alone if something goes wrong. Maybe you have a harder time recovering from the hangover the following day. But binge drinking poses a lot of risks, regardless of the drinker’s age.

If you’re looking to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an iOS app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking so you can see progress and understand why you drink, and a support group so you can chat with peers who have similar drinking histories. We welcome anyone who wants to change their drinking, whether your goal is to cut back, stop binge drinking, or quit drinking entirely. Try it out today!

The true cost of drinking and driving

Everyone knows drinking and driving is not safe and isn’t worth the risk.

But do you know how much a DUI will really cost you in monetary terms?

Even if you are a first time offender, if you get a DUI it can cost you thousands of dollars when all the fees are said and done.  

Law enforcement works hard to stop drunk driving, and steep prices to pay for everything that comes with a DUI is part of that.

While prices will vary depending on the state and circumstances of the offense, we are going to give you an estimate on just how much a DUI will cost you. These numbers are an average, coming from numbers gathered from law officers and people who received DUIs. 

Court-Ordered Fines:  About $1,500

While technically the fine for a first time DUI offender is only about $400- $1,000, extra penalty fines are usually added on, which hikes up the total fine price.

Attorney Fees: About $2,000

Investing in a good attorney will help ease the sentence and legal ramifications, but that comes at a high cost. This average even includes people who used a private defender. And if you have those extra penalties, the price will increase.

Towing and Storage Fees: About $200

When you are arrested for a DUI, it is protocol for the officer to call a tow truck and have your car impounded at your expense. Unless you have a sober passenger in your car capable of driving, you’ll be paying this fee as well.

Car Insurance Increase: About $1,000 annually

Your monthly insurance payment is going to skyrocket if you are a DUI offender. This increase could last for years after the offense.

Traffic School and Educational Courses: About $450

If you are arrested for a DUI, you will have to attend traffic school in order to re-obtain your license. Many states also require you to complete a treatment program or educational course on substance abuse depending on your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest.

DMV Reissue Fee: About $200

When your license is suspended for your DUI, you will have to pay a reinstatement fee to the DMV to get your license back. 

Additional Court Costs: About $800

Along with the fines you will pay, you will also have to file paperwork with the court and you will have mandatory court appearances. All of which will cost you money.

Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs): About $170

Some states will require you to install an IID on your vehicle after being arrested for a DUI. And the money to install and maintain the device comes out of your pocket. 

Bail: About $200

If you are arrested and put into jail for your DUI offense, you will probably want to get out ASAP. All you have to do is pay more money to get out. 

Total Average DUI Cost: $6,520

And that doesn’t even include health risks or the potential to lose your job or alienate friends and family — the list can go on and on. Definitely not worth it!

If you are aware you have a problem and want an easy, manageable way to get help, there are options out there. 

Apps like Drinker’s Helper can help you cut back, or quit drinking altogether. If you’re looking a step further, there are plenty of places, like Amazon, where you can purchase your own breathalyzer to ensure you don’t put yourself in risky situations.

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How people deal with urges and slip-ups

There are two tough situations you have to confront when you’re cutting back or quitting drinking.

The first, and perhaps the most intuitive, is confronting an urge to drink.

The second, less common but more difficult, is actually having a slip-up into problematic drinking (which of course happens when you have an urge and give into it).

For dealing with urges, there appear to be three strategies that work almost equally well:

  1. Finding an alternative drink

  2. Distracting yourself

  3. Thinking about the potential consequences

They’re completely different strategies, but each can work for the same person depending on the circumstance. When we were first quitting, we leaned heavily on tonic water. We also thought about the near-term consequences when we were considering drinking. Just remembering that awful nauseous, foggy-headed feeling was enough to get us to stay away.

When it comes to slip-ups, there are two diametrically opposed approaches to handling them, and we got an even split as to how often people used each! They were:

  1. Beat yourself up about it

  2. Shake it off

We imagine that some people respond well to negative reinforcement, but we’re personally more in the “shake it off” camp. After all, it’s impossible to change the past. So unless you can learn something from it that will prevent future relapses, it seems best to allow yourself to start the next day fresh, with a clear head and a clear conscience.

If you’re hitting the re-set button, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that offers exercises, tracking, and a support group to help you cut back or quit drinking. Try it out free for the first week!

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