healthy drinking

TL;DR: Drinking and smoking: the health risks

We’ve posted before about the health issues associated with moderate drinking.

We think it’s an important topic to cover because while we think moderate drinking is a perfectly reasonable goal, it’s still not as good health-wise as no drinking at all. It’s like chocolate cake in that way. A lot is really bad; none at all is best; just a bit is in the middle, but can be easier to achieve.

But this study of historical data highlighted the cancer risks associated with moderate drinking. See the full article for more details, but here’s what we learned:

  1. According to the research, drinking at the moderate drinking limits for women (7 a week) translated to about 10 cigarettes a week in terms of cancer risk.

  2. That sounds alarming, but the actual percentage point increase in lifetime cancer risk is only 1%-1.4%.

  3. The study didn’t take into account some other risk factors for cancer among the population.

Read the article and decide for yourself if moderate drinking or sobriety is for you - it’s important to make an informed decision either way!

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Download the Drinker’s Helper app today!

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Health risks of even moderate drinking

While most studies agree heavy drinkers are in for it, health-wise, we’re sure you’ve also seen headlines purporting to prove that drinking actually protects the heart (typically, those claims revolve specifically around red wine). Sometimes, these studies showing health benefits from moderate drinking don’t correct for other variables that could explain health differences between non-drinkers and moderate drinkers.

A new study has attempted to correct for some of these variables (age, sex, body mass index, etc.), and found drinking just 7 to 13 drinks a week (within moderation limits recommended by the NIAAA) can increase risk of stage 1 hypertension by 1.5 times. See the full article here.

In Drinker’s Helper, we do support moderation as a goal for those who are concerned about their level of drinking and possible addiction to alcohol. But that endorsement of moderation comes with acknowledging that any drinking at all does have health risks.

Think of it like a sugar addiction. Moderating your sugar intake is good, and probably means you’re beating the addiction, but quitting entirely would be better for your long term health.

Just sharing what we’ve learned! If you’re looking to cut back on drinking, or ultimately looking to quit, try out Drinker’s Helper today!

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How you can track your progress in Drinker's Helper

When quitting or cutting back on drinking, it’s important to set goals and track your progress.

Many apps offer helpful trackers for the purpose of counting days of sobriety. Drinker’s Helper is a little different, primarily because we also support people who are trying to cut back on drinking, in addition to those who quit entirely.

Here’s how we help people quit or cut back with Tracking & Insights.

We help people set and track drinking against their limits:

  1. We guide people to set daily and weekly drinking limits that are in line with what the NIAAA recommends as a healthy drinking limit. Only 2 in 100 people who observe these limits have an alcohol use disorder, according to their research. People can also set a limit of zero, of course, if their goal is total sobriety!

  2. When people track their drinks, they can see whether they are on track or not for the week vs. their goals. If someone has a heavy drinking day, for example, they might be off track for the week, but can catch up if they stay sober the rest of the week.

We help people motivate themselves with signs of progress:

  1. We help people see their streaks over time (how long they’ve stayed within their limits). This is one of the most important ways people can motivate themselves in the app. We let them know when their streak has gotten longer.

  2. People can also set a pledge in the app to stay sober for a certain number of days. This is one way to motivate themselves to complete a short-term stint of sobriety. They can be anywhere from a single day to a full year. We believe this can be one of the best ways to start out using the app!

  3. We also help people compare their progress to others using the app. That way they have a better sense of whether they’re checking in often enough, or doing enough exercises, compared to the community.

We help people understand why they’re drinking:

  1. Our insights give people a better sense of why they’re drinking. When people track a drink, they also track where they were, who they were with, and more. Then they can see over time what their top drinking situations are. It helps people to discover their triggers, so they can plan to deal with them. This helped us out a ton when we were first using the app ourselves.

  2. Finally, we also help people track urges to drink. It’s important to be able to track what gives you urges to drink, even if you don’t give in. This helps you get an even better sense of what triggers make you want a drink.

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What is a "drink"?

When figuring out if you’re drinking too much, you might look up something like “how many drinks is too many?”, or “how many drinks per week to stay healthy?”

When you do so, you’re likely to realize that many definitions rely on a certain number of drinks. But what is a drink? After all, the gigantic bachelorette party jug full of strawberry daiquiri certainly seems to get you more drunk than the tame glass of wine at home.

So: what is a drink, and how many is too many? The guidelines for moderate or healthy drinking vary by country, it turns out. We’ve sampled just a few in our guide here:

US: (Source: NIAA)

  • What is a drink? A drink is a 5oz glass of wine, a 12-oz glass of beer, or 1 shot of liquor (so cocktails that are doubles count as doubles!). This is because all of those contain roughly 14g of alcohol based on typical % by volume (12%, 5%, and 40%, respectively).

  • What is healthy drinking? Healthy drinking (or low-risk drinking for developing alcohol use disorder) means:

    • For men: no more than 14 drinks per week or 4 per day

    • For women: no more than 7 drinks per week or 3 per day

Canada: Canada’s system is similar to that of the US, with distinct limits for men and women, but has higher weekly and lower daily limits. (Source: Canadian Center on Substance Abuse)

  • What is a drink? A drink is a 12oz glass of beer, a 5oz glass of wine, or a 1.5 oz shot. All of those contain roughly 14g of alcohol.

  • What is healthy drinking?

    • For men: no more than 15 drinks per week or 3 per day

    • For women: no more than 10 drinks per week or 2 per day

UK: The UK guidelines are stricter (actually some of the strictest on record), and don’t vary by gender. (Source: NHS)

  • What is a drink? The UK thinks of alcohol in terms of units, not drinks. A unit represents 8 grams of pure alcohol, so a lot less (about half the size, actually) than the US standard drink at 14g.

  • What is healthy drinking? Healthy drinking is no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. It’s a little harder to do the math, but that’s about 8 5oz glasses of wine, 12oz glasses of beer, or 1.5oz shots per week.

Australia: Australia splits the difference, with a UK-like non-gendered units-based system that is closer to the same definition of a ‘drink’ that Canada and the US use.

  • What is a drink? A drink is 10g of pure alcohol, lower than the US/Canadian definition. That means a 1.5oz shot is about 1.4 drinks, as is a 5oz glass of wine or 12oz glass of beer.

  • What is healthy drinking? The guidance is simplest of all - no more than 2 drinks a day, for anyone (which translates to no more than 14 per week). That’s about 10 5oz glasses of wine, 12oz glasses of beer, or 1.5oz shots per week.

There you have it. Somewhere between 8 and 15 drinks a week is considered low risk, depending on your gender, based on current guidance.

If you are looking to quit or cut back on drinking, you can set a limit and track your drinking against it in Drinker’s Helper. Check it out and download it here.

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