In honor of Valentine's Day, let's talk alcohol and sex

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we did our Googling and pulled together a moderately less-than-scientific infographic for your enjoyment, summarizing what we know about alcohol and its effects on our sex lives.

The bottom line is: alcohol acts like Bridget Jones’ constraining underwear.

To recap her quandary in case it’s been a while since you’ve seen the movie: she mulls what to wear on her date, because constraining Spanx-like underpants increase the chance of getting to a desired sexual encounter, but make it less sexy once you’re in the moment.

Alcohol can get us in the mood, but worsen sexual performance and enjoyment for both men and women. It can make us more attracted to others, but sometimes it makes us attracted to people we wouldn’t normally be attracted to. Finally, it lowers our inhibitions, but that in turn can lead to worse decisions about risks like unprotected sex.

The bottom line: for best results, quit or stick to moderate drinking, folks.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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What is a hangover, and why do we get them?

Hangovers get worse as we get older, and it’s one of many reasons people decide to quit or cut back on drinking. About 76% of people reported getting mild or moderate hangovers after moderate drinking in one test. It’s a familiar pain for anyone who occasionally drinks too much.

But the rumors fly about how to cure hangovers (see “Hungover: the Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure" for an exploration of many ideas), and there are few clear pieces of guidance out there.

Here’s what we found after doing a little digging:

  1. Hangovers are not caused by dehydration. This is one of the most common misconceptions about hangovers (one I believed, before I did the research). Dehydration is one aspect of why your head hurts, but it’s not the main reason. Drinking water will help in some cases, but isn’t a cure. In fact, one study found no correlation between hangovers and dehydration.

  2. It doesn’t matter in what order you drink what type of alcohol. Scientists have helped us all out and actually studied this. Beer before wine is just as bad as wine before beer. It does, of course, matter how much alcohol you consume, relative to your own body size. The drunker you get, the worse your hangover will be.

  3. Hangovers are partially caused by a toxic compound. When you process alcohol in your liver (and in other places), the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase turns alcohol into acetaldehyde. Before it is broken down further into acetate, acetaldehyde lingering in the body leads to memory problems, sleepiness, lack of coordination, sweating, and nausea. Acetaldehyde is also a known carcinogen.

  4. Hangovers are partly caused by inflammation. Hangovers appear to be correlated to high levels of cytokines, which your immune system uses to communicate when it’s battling inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medicines can also help with fighting the symptoms of a hangover.

Hangovers are a natural consequence of your body breaking down alcohol, and they get worse the more you consume. The only way to avoid them entirely is not to drink at all, or drink in moderation.

Under the influence of alcohol influencers?

A handful of alcohol companies have gotten in trouble recently for breaking rules regarding the use of influencers to promote their brands. Some brands worked with influencers younger than 25 (apparently, there are rules against this, so that alcohol doesn’t seem cool to teenagers); Diageo had some influencers promoting their brand who failed to tell people they were getting paid to do so.

It’s a common advertising tactic, and when it’s transparent and authentic, it can be quite effective. But as a consumer, it’s important to know that some influencers are paid to promote certain brands so that you can decide if you give weight to a celebrity’s endorsement or not.

Here are some good things to know about when and how alcohol brands are getting promoted to you on social media.

  1. There are many different angles a promotional post can take.There are a few types of alcohol influencers on the rise: celebrities, comedians/actors (people who can make a funny video, which makes that brand seem more appealing) cocktail mixologists (who generate recipes that use certain brands), and founders (influencers who own their own alcohol brands and either started a new social media presence for the brand or already had a strong one).

  2. It’s not just the big brand names working with celebrities anymore. In fact, there may be a better logical match between micro-influencers and smaller breweries and distilleries. These posts can come off as more authentic when the brand being promoted is new, unique, or unheard of.

  3. It’s supposed to be disclosed. Influencers are, both by FTC ruling and Instagram policy, required to disclose their partnerships with companies to people. Instagram offers a “paid partnership” tag; the FTC appears satisfied when influencers put #ad in their post text. But either way, you should be able to tell looking at a post if someone has been paid to promote a particular brand of beer, wine vodka, etc. or not! After all, some posts aren’t paid for at all.

  4. Alcohol companies often provide specific guidance about what the post should look like. This is so each post they pay for has a certain on-brand look and feel. Malibu or Corona might make sense on a beach; champagne at a glamorous party. When you see one of these ads (because they are, in fact, ads), try to guess what associations the brand wants you to have with that drink. That way, you can be more aware of those messages and decide which ones you want to believe

Keep an eye out for what influencers are saying about alcohol, and if you’ve decided to quit or cut back, as always, please give Drinker’s Helper a try! We provide tracking, insights, exercises and personalized support groups to help people quit or cut back on drinking.

The link between mood disorders and alcohol abuse

A new study recently found a protein that helped lab rats simultaneously become less depressed and decide to drink less alcohol (yes, apparently there are drunk lab rats, guys).

It’s an encouraging development for people who want to quit or cut back on drinking, although a widely available medication based on this finding may still be a ways off.

But the finding highlights that these two problems - an addiction to alcohol and a problem with depressed mood - often go together. In fact, if you have one problem, you are twice as likely to have the other as the general population.

Here are a few things we didn’t know before we started reading up on alcohol addiction:

  1. Alcohol use disorder increases the risk of depression. A 2011 review of the available scientific literature suggested that the most likely cause of the fact that many people have both problems is NOT that some third thing causes both mood disorders and alcohol abuse, but that one causes the other, and in fact that increased exposure to alcohol increases the risk of depression.

  2. .Anxiety tends to come first, then alcohol abuse. While depression is likely to be caused by alcohol use, (and therefore comes second, after the drinking problem) anxiety may come first, according to a couple of studies. One common pattern, then, might be: you become anxious about something. You drink to relieve the anxiety. Then, a combination of your own anxiety, the added anxiety from the alcohol, and the effects of the alcohol itself results in depression. You then drink to feel happier, and the vicious cycle continues.

  3. .If you’re depressed, you’re even MORE likely to have a drinking problem if you’re ALSO anxious. You’re also more likely to use a whole litany of drugs.

  4. A lot of people try to treat their own anxiety and depression with booze. Apparently, about 1 in 4 people who have a mood disorder try to fix it with alcohol (most of them men). This just speaks to how important it is to address both conditions at the same time, instead of trying to treat either (the depression or anxiety OR the drinking problem) alone. People need strategies to deal with depression or anxiety without turning to alcohol, or the drinking will continue. Alcohol is a short term band-aid that gives immediate relief, but that makes things worse over the long term. It’s kind of like an infected band-aid.

So, what should you do about it?

In short, our recommendation is:

  1. Keep an eye out for WHY you’re drinking. If you realize you’re using alcohol whenever you’re worried or sad, you may be in danger of starting to depend on it. You can do this with tracking in Drinker’s Helper, by recording how you feel when you drink or have an urge to drink, and seeing patterns over time.

  2. Develop your skills for responding to fear and sadness. What can you do beside drink? Well, there’s activities to start - like exercising, or gardening, or meditating - that can take the place of drinking. You can also try mental tricks like the kind used in cognitive behavioral therapy, where you challenge the flawed thinking that makes you feel afraid and sad. There are a few exercises in the Drinker’s Helper library about dealing with anxiety and depression that we’ve found helpful in the past.

  3. Ask for help. As always, reach out for medical help if you think you might be depressed or anxious (or, of course, suffering from alcohol abuse disorder). It is a treatable condition, and medication can help. Also, make sure your family and close friends know to look out for you. Often, others can’t tell if there’s a problem of this kind or not, because we’re all too good at hiding it.

.As always, if you’ve decided to quit or cut back on drinking, we’d love to help! We offer exercises, tracking, insights, and support groups to help you quit or cut back on drinking. Get the app below.

Common realizations when you're quitting drinking

People are no doubt well aware of the possibility of withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking. It’s a concept that’s out there in popular culture (Sterling Archer of the hit cartoon Archer constantly jokes about how quitting drinking would LITERALLY kill him, for example - and he’s not wrong, given his drinking level on the show) and people know enough to be careful when they’re stopping drinking cold turkey.

But what you may be less prepared for are some of the more mundane but ultimately longer-lasting and therefore more threatening challenges associated with quitting drinking.

Here are just a few we’ve seen in our experience, and our friends’ and members’ experiences:

  1. You have way too much time on your hands. What is this time? This is the time you used to spend passed out on the couch from too many mimosas. This is the time you used to spend at parties with people you didn’t like all that much, getting wasted. This is the time you used to spend recovering from brutal hangovers the morning after a big night. That’s why one of the most important things to do early on is identify other ways to spend your time.

  2. Alternative addictions pop up to take alcohol’s place. When we first quit drinking, I found myself suddenly spending 2x the norm on online shopping. My need for dresses hadn’t risen, but I was filling the hole left by alcohol with something else that gave me that rush of dopamine to the brain. Others find themselves eating more, or eating worse food, to try to compensate for the loss of something that gives pleasure. It is important to seek out other rewards, but important to make sure they are things that are good for you (your health, your bank account, etc.) long term. Try exercise, for example!

  3. You feel emotional, and it’s not just mourning the loss of booze. Guess what? Alcohol is a great way to avoid feelings. It delivers a dullness and a light euphoria for a short amount of time that makes it a common form of self-medication for anxiety. But when alcohol is no longer around, you are confronting hard days, bad weather, mean people, career frustrations, money problems, and more without that boozy shield. It’s hard. It sucks. And it is also part of life. Building up your skills to confront problems without drinking is one of the most important things you can do when quitting

These are just a few of the patterns we’ve seen. Please feel free to leave a comment if you’ve seen others.

As always, if you are considering quitting or reducing drinking, please give Drinker’s Helper a shot! We’re designed to help people in this situation in a variety of ways (a support group, motivational exercises and more!) and we hope we can help you.

How people quit or reduce drinking: Setting goals

We’ve been around for a little while now, and we wanted to start sharing some of what we’re learning from our community of members with you. Of course, we won’t share anything specific to any person or small group - just overall averages and percentages. But we think even this high-level info can be helpful to get a sense for what people do when they set out to quit or cut back on drinking.

Let’s start with setting goals. What does that look like?

Here are just a few things we’ve learned about the goals people set in Drinker’s Helper:

  1. People seek help with just cutting back on drinking, not just staying sober. Only 25% of those using Drinker’s Helper have set weekly drinking goals of 0. It’s often overlooked that people who are cutting back on drinking (not just those who are quitting) still want encouragement, advice, and support. It’s tougher than you might think!

  2. People will generally set a reasonable drinking limit, if you advise them as to what that is. We’ve seen less than 5% of our members set daily drinking limits higher than those recommended by the NIAA, and less than 6% set higher weekly drinking limits. It’s encouraging that given the right information, people will make good choices!

  3. People like to start out with a pledge. Fully half of our members set a pledge on their first day using the app. A pledge is a promise to stay sober for a certain number of days. Making a formal pledge can help to strengthen commitment to change, and staying sober can help a person see what life without alcohol is like, and understand their own level of addiction to it.

  4. People are generally able to stick with their goals. We were delighted to find that 78% of our members who checked in were within their drinking limits. Obviously, for those who don’t check in, we have no way of knowing how they’re doing. But it’s encouraging to see that something - the tracking, the goal-setting, the group, the commitment - appears to be working for them.

We’ll keep coming back to you with more insight on what we’re learning in the Drinker’s Helper app. For now, if you are interested but haven’t explored the app yet, please do check it out! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with a combination of drink and urge tracking, insights, a personalized support group, and our library of exercises.


Quitting drinking without AA

A lot of people wonder if it’s possible to quit drinking without Alcoholics Anonymous, the organization that is the leading provider of services to help people quit or cut back on drinking.

Surveys have found that about 75% of those who’ve recovered from drinking problems did so without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many people, in fact, recover without any formal help at all. In some cases, people believe there isn’t a good program for them, because all they know about is Alcoholics Anonymous (which, per previous posts, isn’t always suitable for everyone) or a formal rehabilitation program (which can be quite expensive, out of the reach of many people who need help).

If you’re not going to get formal treatment or go to Alcoholics Anonymous (or to a similar alternative group - see previous posts on this topic), you should seek out out a few things those programs typically provide that can make it easier to quit drinking.

  1. A strong support system: All these existing institutions that help people quit drinking provide a community that allows people to see that they’re not alone in battling addiction to alcohol. It can be encouraging to know that others believe in you and support you in achieving your goals. You can get this from a partner, from family, or from friends.

  2. Accountability: When you turn up to a regular meeting, expected to account for your behavior over the past week or month, you feel a sense of responsibility to stick to your goals. You can get this on your own by really tracking your drinking, so you can see progress over time; and rewarding yourself when you do well. You can even rope in friends to help keep you accountable.

  3. A wake up call: If you’ve firmly decided to quit drinking (or get back down to moderation limits), then great. If not, AA and rehab can provide a helpful push to make sure you’re committed to making changes. Seeing others struggle with more serious problems can provide helpful motivation. If you’re going to quit drinking on your own, it can help to do your research on the health consequences of long-term heavy drinking. Scare yourself with the possibilities, so that they don’t become realities.

  4. Strategies to deal with urges: Each of the programs provides attendees with tips and tactics to figure out how to deal with the stresses of life without alcohol. If you’re going to quit drinking on your own, without AA or rehab, you need to develop your own strategies. Read books about how others have quit. Write down what works for you. Stay away from your worst triggers, and make plans to deal with others

We hope you are successful in your journey to quit or cut back on drinking, and if you want some lighter-weight help, we hope you’ll consider using Drinker’s Helper, our app which we believe provides all of the above in your pocket.

Apps to help people quit drinking

While we of course hope that you use and love Drinker’s Helper, we also want to be sure you have all the tools at your disposal to quit or cut back on drinking. Many of our members use multiple apps, and we want to let you know about some of ones we’ve heard work well.

The benefit of using an app (or more than one app!)

Here are some of the top rated apps that can help you quit or cut back on drinking:

  1. Sober Grid (rated 4.9 stars): This app is great for finding people near you who are also trying to go sober, and getting encouragement from the community. It also helps you track your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment by hitting particular milestones.

  2. I am Sober (rated 4.8 stars): The core of this app is a sobriety counter that helps you track how long you’ve been sober and celebrates successful attainment of sobriety milestones. People also seem to love the motivational quotes, and the ability to make daily personal pledges to strengthen their commitment to sobriety.

  3. Nomo (rated 4.8 stars): Although it also has a simple sobriety clock, this is one of the most feature-complete apps in terms of offering many different tools to quit or cut back on drinking. They offer games to distract yourself instead of drinking, a journal, community encouragement, milestone celebrations, the ability to find accountability partners and talk to them, and more.

We encourage you to explore the apps that are out there and find what works for you. There are quite a few apps that are designed to help people quit or cut back on drinking. You can see more profiled here on Healthline).

Our app, Drinker’s Helper (rated 4.5 stars), combines three important pieces of the process: support groups, tracking and insights, and motivational exercises.

We have our own unique take on all three. For the support groups, we think it’s important that you talk to people similar to you, so we match you with others who have similar past drinking habits.

For the tracking and insights, we think it’s important not just to track drinking, but also to track urges to drink and the circumstances behind each. That helps you get an idea of what drives you to drink, so you can more effectively fight our urges.

Finally, for the exercises, we drew from two evidence-based therapies: cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy.

We believe that using the app, you can get valuable support to quit or cut back on drinking. Join today!

Moderation programs

It’s not as common to hear about people working to moderate their drinking (vs. quit drinking entirely), as many of the more prominent programs that help problem drinkers focus on total abstinence from alcohol.

However, cutting back on drinking is a much more palatable goal to many people, and some may avoid seeking help until it’s to late because they don’t want to go fully sober.

Moderation programs can be especially good for people who have not yet developed a dependence on alcohol, but instead merely drink in a risky manner.

While we at Drinker’s Helper always advocate for sobriety (it’s just easier in the long run, in so many ways), we believe moderation can work for a lot of people and setting a moderate drinking goal in our app. We also believe there are a few additional programs out there that do a great job helping people stick to moderation goals:

  1. Moderation Management: We especially love this program because its founder focused heavily on cognitive behavioral therapy in developing their strategies to help people stick to moderation goals. There are online forums as well as in person meetings, online drink tracking, and resources in the form of handbooks to help you quit or cut back.

  2. ModerateDrinking.com: This online, self-directed web app program helps people stick to moderate drinking goals, and has been proven effective in a randomized clinical trial funded by NIH/NIAAA.

Both Moderation Management and Moderate Drinking are included on the SAMHSA National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), which means they have been shown to be effective for some people to quit or cut back on drinking.

You can use either of these programs in conjunction with Drinker’s Helper, and many of our members try multiple approaches at once to have the best chance of success.

Alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous

When people decide to quit drinking, there’s usually one answer - from friends, family, employers, or counselors: go to Alcoholics Anonymous.

It’s the largest, oldest, and best-known program that helps people fight drinking problems. However, it has some features that might make people hesitate to join or stick with it, and so we’ve compiled a list of alternatives to AA that people can consider, and why they might be attractive.

To be clear, we consider Drinker’s Helper (our app which provides a personalized support group in your pocket, helps with drink and urge tracking, provides insights on your progress over time, and provides motivational exercises) to be a complement to any of these programs, rather than a substitute. Many of our members use multiple approaches as they attempt to quit or cut back on drinking.

First, why might people find AA not to their liking? Here are some of the most common reasons:

  1. It has a religious component. Several of the twelve steps rely on giving up control to a higher power. Non-religious people may find it difficult to start the twelve steps if they don’t believe in a higher power of any kind.

  2. It is perceived to be for people with very serious alcohol problems, who have let their entire lives fall apart due to alcohol. People with milder issues, who still have their jobs and their family life, may be turned off by socializing with people in very different circumstances.

  3. It has a heavy focus on the past. You make amends for past wrongs. You make a real inventory of who you are as a person. This may turn off people who are more action-oriented or who want to stay positive by focusing on the changes they’re making.

  4. It requires a person to admit that they are powerless over their addiction. While it can help some people to realize how out of control their drinking has become, some people (who are more individual responsibility oriented) might be turned off by the idea that they can’t help themselves. At Drinker’s Helper, we certainly believe that a person can do quite a bit to help themselves get free of addiction to alcohol.

Here are some alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous that also offer in person anonymous support groups dedicated to quitting drinking that we think can be very helpful to people:

  1. Women for Sobriety: This one is obviously for women only, but the differences don’t stop there. The other two biggest differences with Alcoholics Anonymous are: 1) They focus on the future, not the past, which can be empowering and 2) rather than admitting powerlessness, they seek to make their members feel empowered.

  2. Smart Recovery: We particularly love this option because it uses so much of cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the two therapies we drew from in creating Drinker’s Helper. It heavily emphasizes developing your skills and strategies to deal with urges to drink.

  3. Secular Organizations for Sobriety: As the name suggests, this organization is not religious. They also heavily emphasize helping yourself through addiction, and sharing stories of how you have managed to stay sober to help others by sharing useful tactics.

  4. LifeRing Secular Recovery: This is a very similar group to SOS that heavily emphasizes building up your mental skills to counteract urges to drink.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful, and if you want additional help on top of what these groups can provide in person at set times, we hope you’ll give the Drinker’s Helper app a try! We provide a personalized support group in your pocket, plus over 75 exercises you can do to motivate yourself to keep going with your goal of quitting or cutting back on drinking.

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A bottle of wine costs $3,150?

That’s the startling conclusion of a new study written up in the Mirror here.

Of course, that won’t be the sticker price. In general, a respectable bottle of wine costs about the following by country:

  • 15 dollars in Australia, Canada and New Zealand (in their respective dollars)

  • 7 pounds in the United Kingdom

  • 12 dollars in the United States

But the study found that the following additional hidden costs of drinking alcohol were as follows:

  1. Memory loss and attention problems (reduced focus, increased reaction time)

  2. Insomnia

  3. Employability (because of the first two, your ability to get a job, or to do well at a job, can be impaired - research has found that memory loss and attention issues in particular persist well into the day after you drink)

  4. Increased risk of depression

  5. increased risk of physical violence

These add up over time, making the bottle of wine a good deal more expensive than list price.

If you’re ready to quit or cut back on drinking, try the Drinker’s Helper app!

How to make popular drinks without alcohol

One of the biggest challenges with quitting or cutting back on drinking is figuring out what to drink when you do want to celebrate or feel special (see previous posts on this topic).

If you’re more into strong beverages like martinis, you’ll have a bit more trouble, but there are a lot of substitutes for sweeter, lighter drinks.

We’ve taken a look at a few popular drinks and figured out the tricks for making something like them without alcohol. Enjoy!:

  1. Daiquiri: These can be paid with fruit (strawberry, mango), sugar, and lime juice, but the missing ingredient is rum, of course. The trick here is rum extract. It tastes like rum but comes in low- and no-alcohol forms.

  2. Margarita: These are similar to the daiquiris (requiring fruit, ice, sugar, and lime juice), but the missing ingredient is tequila. Most recipes also use orange juice, and if you really want the tequila taste, you can try a non-alcoholic tequila extract (usually used for baking).

  3. Bellini/mimosa: The key here is to replace the champagne with something else sparkling like ginger ale. Otherwise, you need some sugar, lemon juice, and fruit juice (cranberry, peach, strawberry, ).

  4. Aperol Spritz: The key with an aperol spritz is non-alcoholic bitters like SanBitters. You can add lemonade and/or soda to add the familiar fizzy, citrusy effect.

  5. Sangria: Non-alcoholic sangria can have lots of the same flavors. Beside fresh fruit, adding carbonated water and/or spices like cinnamon can help. But the key is what fruit juices to use. Multiple recipes recommend apple juice or apple cider, orange juice, lemon juice, and grape juice.

We hope this is helpful as you figure out your plan to quit or cut back on drinking, and encourage you to explore the Drinker’s Helper app to help along the way.

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Can moderation work?

There is a widely held belief, in the US especially, that if you have a drinking problem (a ‘real ‘drinking problem, or alcohol abuse disorder) that your only option to get better is to stop drinking alcohol entirely. This is partly because of the prevalence of Alcoholics Anonymous as the only brand name treatment for alcohol abuse disorder - they advocate for abstinence and maintain it is the only possible course of action to resolve a drinking problem.

This belief in the US was strengthened by the death of the founder of Moderation Management, a popular online moderation program, in a drunk driving accident (however, it should be noted that said founder had actually returned to Alcoholics Anonymous and was trying to quit entirely at that point).

While there are benefits to quitting drinking (see our previous post on this topic), there is strong evidence that moderation can work well as a goal, and actually has some additional side benefits.

As for the proof that moderation can work, here are just a few examples of studies showing that programs designed to reduce drinking rather than eliminate drinking can work:

  1. One University of New Mexico study followed people 3 to 8 years after completing moderation-focused goal-setting and self-monitoring therapy for problem drinking, and found 65% were doing better than they were originally. It suggested moderation could work for all but the most heavily addicted to alcohol.

  2. A University of Texas study followed up with people a year after an 8-week drinking reduction program, and found they had reduced their drinking by 64%, and that those who still used the strategies from the program were most likely to be controlling their drinking.

  3. Two surveys published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that of people who resolved their drinking problems on their own, without treatment, 40-60% were successfully moderating their drinking.

  4. One study of 59 drinkers showed that moderation techniques as delivered by Moderation Management and ModerateDrinking.com

Now, for the side benefits:

  1. Better awareness of your problem: If you start moderating your drinking (and tracking it, using an app like Drinker’s Helper), you become more aware of how much you’ve been drinking and how strong your desire to keep going after 1 or 2 drinks is. If you simply quit, you miss the booze, but it’s easier to convince yourself that you might not have had a problem in the first place.

  2. More people getting help. More people are comfortable with the idea of moderating their drinking than quitting entirely (in fact, one study found that when people are given the option, 80% choose moderation over abstinence). If you try to ask for a change as significant as quitting entirely, you may just get a no. But once someone is moderating, it is much easier to then contemplate taking that further step.

The most interesting part is that aside from having a LOWER level of dependence on alcohol, one of the biggest contributing factors to success with moderation is BELIEF that you can do it.

So go forth and do it! We believe you can, and we can help, with Drinker’s Helper.

Signs you may have a drinking problem

One of the most common questions we see people worrying about it “am I an alcoholic?” We’ve written previously (search through our past blog posts) about the standard tests one can take to show that you have a drinking problem. They diagnose alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence (used to be considered two things; now it’s just considered one: “alcohol abuse disorder” in varying degrees).

But what are the less scientific, higher level signs that you can look for as someone who’s concerned about your own drinking?

Here are some of the key signs that you might have a drinking problem, alcohol abuse disorder, or alcoholism:

  1. You rely on booze for _____. When you believe drinking is doing something for you, and even worse, when you think drinking alcohol is the ONLY way to get that thing, it becomes very difficult to stop drinking alcohol. You are in a place where you depend on booze, which you definitely don’t need, for something else that you actually do need, like happiness, relaxation, stress relief, fun, etc.

  2. You don’t typically drink just 1-3 drinks in a night: you are in it to get hammered. If you are binge drinking on the regular, you are much more likely to develop an addiction. Also, drinking that much suggests that you have developed a taste for being drunk, not just for being tipsy. That means it’ll be that much harder for you to moderate your drinking, rather than just quit.

  3. Your friends have a nickname for drunk you. This is highly correlated to the previous sign, but a little harder to fudge. If your friends say they love “Drunk Leslie,” you might have a drinking problem. Why? Because that means you are drunk enough, often enough, that it was worth putting a label on it. That means those same people have seen you drunk FREQUENTLY. That’s not normal.

  4. You get worried you may not have enough booze. This is a thought pattern that is hard to conceive of if you don’t have a problem, but very common if you do. When you go to dinner parties, or actual parties, do you worry that you won’t have enough to drink? Do you bring more booze than is required, just in case? If so, you are in a state where you feel as though you need alcohol, or else the evening won’t be worth your while, and you might not be able to enjoy it. That’s not right. You’re supposed to be able to enjoy evenings with friends completely sober. After all, they’re your friends, right?

  5. The thought of life without drinking is horrifying. This is highly correlated to the previous one. If someone suggests quitting drinking, and the thought is enough to make you cry (or want to), then alcohol has become too important in your life. After all, would you feel the same way about having to quit eating sugary foods? Maybe you’d feel sad - but not as though your life was over. It’s time to quit - at least temporarily - and see if your fears are founded or not (hint: they’re not).

If you’re ready to quit or cut back on drinking, download the new version of Drinker’s Helper today!

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Introducing an all-new Drinker's Helper!

Hi all,

We are very proud and excited to bring you v3 of Drinker’s Helper. We believe we’ve made the app not only better, but also much easier to use. Let’s see how:

To begin with, we are making tracking easier. We know many people simply want to set a goal and track their drinking against that goal. Tracking drinks is now quick and easy, entirely free for anyone using Drinker’s Helper. Try it out today!

For our members, things get even better with new visual insights. Members can now more easily get a sense of the circumstances of their drinking as well as understand how it is changing with time. It’s now much easier to see how you’re doing!

We are also introducing a wealth of new content. Over 75 exercises are now available to members in our library, and you can save your favorites to your toolbox for easy access. These exercises cover tips to deal with urges to drink, among other things.

To try out Drinker’s Helper, find us on the App Store today!

Best,
The Drinker’s Helper Team

PS. If you have suggestions for our next version, please contact us.

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How medicine can help

No pill does any good if you decide you want to drink. After all, you can just stop taking it at any time.

But if you are struggling to quit drinking and trying everything you can, medication for alcoholism can help make it easier to quit in a few distinct ways:

  1. Naltrexone works in a fascinating way, by making alcohol produce no pleasure for you. That giddy feeling you typically get either while drinking or in anticipation of drinking is gone. New research confirms that it appears to have no serious negative side effects.

  2. Disulfram makes you feel nauseous if you drink (not just if you drink too much). It can be unpleasant, but that’s kind of the point.

  3. Acamprosate makes withdrawal less unpleasant, reducing the anxiety, insomnia and depression often associated with quitting drinking. If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, you shouldn’t stop drinking without consulting a doctor about the potential health risks, which can include seizures and even death.

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help you! Try out Drinker’s Helper by downloading it here.

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A new surprising risk factor for drinking problems

We all have our own ideas as to what might make some people more likely to develop an alcohol addiction.

Some of it is genetic, for sure; some of it may be drinking because of anxiety or boredom that becomes overwhelming.

But one study found that, surprisingly, perfectionism is a character trait that is correlated with drinking problems.

Here’s the full story, but the TL;DR is:

  • When you’re a perfectionist, you want to be SEEN as perfect, so sometimes, you drink to cover up imperfections

  • When you’re a perfectionist, you want to BE perfect, so sometimes, you drink to cope with having made mistakes any normal person would make

Read up, and if you’re interested in quitting or cutting back on drinking, download the app here!

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New research on alcohol and the heart

Many studies purport to show some kind of health benefit from drinking (usually red wine) in small amounts. These studies often fail to account for differences in income that might actually cause the health benefits (moderate drinkers may be better off than those who don’t drink).

However, more and more studies are showing that drinking generally causes harm. Many delicious things do (bacon, sugary foods, you name it), but it’s good to know what kind of harm alcohol can cause, even in (relatively) moderate amounts.

See here for the details, but the TL; DR is:

  1. Alcohol disrupts electrical signals in your heart

  2. It does so by causing scarring

  3. The signal disruption means that it can cause an irregular heartbeat

  4. An irregular heartbeat raises the risk of heart attack or stroke

If you’re thinking of quitting or cutting back, let us help you! Download Drinker’s Helper here.

What happens when you tell people you've quit drinking

One of the things that makes it so hard to contemplate quitting drinking for good is how heavily socializing revolves around drinking. It’s not just parties; it’s wine tasting as an activity; it’s also brunch, game night, tailgating and networking events, like art gallery openings or work happy hours.

But it’s also hard to tell people you’re quitting (or deciding not to drink at a given event), because people make uncomfortable assumptions.

Here are some typical reactions you can expect when you tell people you’ve quit drinking, and a quick recommendation for how to respond to them:

  1. “Why? You don’t have a problem…”": Friends who say this may be coming from a supportive place, but it’s one of the most dangerous responses, because it can make you question your decision. They may be trying to avoid hurting or insulting you. To respond to them, you need to change the way they think about your choice. Try something like “This isn’t about having a problem. This is about what I want to do. I feel better when I don’t drink.”

  2. “Oh, yeah. You did seem to drink a lot.”: People who say this may be worried about their own drinking, and trying to draw a line that separates their behavior from yours. Try to focus the conversion on the benefits of cutting back on drinking, rather than on the downsides of drinking. It’s easier for them to acknowledge that quitting drinking can lead to weight loss, or fewer awful hangovers, than it is for them to contemplate too hard the idea that drinking too much causes serious problems.

  3. “Have you tried just cutting back?”: If you’re quitting and not just moderating, you may get this one. Friends who say this are trying to avoid mentally bucketing you along with ‘alcoholics’ who ‘have’ to quit. The typical mental image of alcoholics is a tragic one - people who’ve lost their livelihoods or families over devotion to alcohol. You may or may not be in such a dire situation, but even if you’re not, there are good reasons to just quit. Try explaining the problems you had with moderation, like finding it hard to stop after one or two drinks, or finding you ended up craving the few drinks you allowed yourself.

The core of how to respond to these questions is clarifying that what you’re doing is your choice, made by considering the costs and benefits, rather than being something you have to do, or something you don’t want to do.

If you' are choosing to quit drinking (or just cut back!), we can help! Download Drinker’s Helper here.

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What is alcohol withdrawal, and why does it happen?

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms, ranging in severity, that happen when you quit or cut back significantly on drinking.

Withdrawal happens, of all things, because your body is fighting back against the calming effects of alcohol. As you probably know, alcohol is a depressant. When your body fights back, trying to maintain your emotional equilibrium, it therefore makes you anxious and excited to counteract the depressant.

It doesn’t have to be the case that you’re severely dependent on alcohol and quit in order to experience withdrawal - you could be drinking a lot and then drinking less, and you still might get the milder end of the symptoms. However, if you are severely dependent on alcohol and want to quit, you should definitely speak to a doctor before doing so, as that end of the withdrawal spectrum can be so severe it’s fatal.

That’s part of how alcohol gets us addicted - it appears to help deal with anxiety because of its calming effects, and then withdrawal causes more anxiety, and you have to drink to treat symptoms caused by drinking in the first place.

The milder symptoms include:

  • Physical: shakiness, nausea, headache, insomnia, dehydration

  • Emotional: anxiety, irritability

The more severe symptoms (also known as delirium tremens) include:

  • Physical: hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there), seizures, high blood pressure, fever

  • Emotional: confusion, agitation

The symptoms start about 6 hours to a few days after you quit or cut back, and can last for a few days. If you see a doctor, they can help by prescribing medication to deal with the symptoms.

If you decide to quit or cut back on drinking, in addition to seeing a doctor in case of severe withdrawal symptoms, try Drinker’s Helper, our app that helps people quit or cut back on drinking.