Australians are showing some unhealthy and dangerous drinking habits.
Recent alcohol research found that Aussie men were drinking up to 10 standard drinks per occasion and that young women were starving, purging, and practicing other distorted eating habits in order to “save calories” for a big night out.
In light of these unhealthy behaviours, we hope to provide some advice on alcohol consumption to encourage healthier and safer drinking habits, especially among young adults who’ve just started drinking alcohol.
1. Educate yourself about alcohol
What you know about alcohol may be untrue, especially if what you know about alcohol is from TV and advertising.
A recent alcohol poll revealed a big difference between expectations and reality when it comes to drinking alcohol.
The alcohol industry might be the one to blame as their advertising often associates drinking with happiness, popularity and attractiveness, said Ms Caterina Giorgi, FARE Director of Policy and Research.
What alcohol companies don’t tell you is of alcohol’s negative health effects and that the more we drink, the higher our risk of developing them.
For one, drinking alcohol affects how the brain develops in people under the age of 25. Teenagers under 15 years of age are particularly at risk. Alcohol is also really bad on your liver!
Educate yourself on how alcohol affects your body and other alcohol information so that you can make your own informed decisions.
Visit the resources at the bottom of this page to learn about alcohol and, as you learn, share it with friends and family.
2. Set a goal and stick to it
Set goals to limit the amount you drink. For example, never drink alone, drink only 3 days a week or drink only during special occasions. Have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week – never drink on a daily basis.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of how much you drink each week so you can slow down when needed.
The national alcohol guidelines recommend no more than 2 standard drinks a day to reduce your lifetime risk of harm from alcohol. Stay within the low-risk limits when you drink to lower your risk of alcohol-related problems.
Don’t be afraid to say no or turn down a drink from a friend if you know it’s the right decision. Just like this NZ ad below, it’s as simple as saying “Yeah, nah…”. And true friends would not force it on you if you say no.
3. Never drink on an empty stomach
With no food in the stomach, alcohol travels straight to the bloodstream so you get drunk a lot faster. And as blood alcohol concentration rises, the loss of control increases.
If you’ll be drinking, eat something with carbohydrates, natural fat content (such as salmon and avocados), or high protein foods (such as cheese and peanuts).
These help to slow down the rate at which food leaves the stomach. The longer food stays in your stomach, the slower the alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream.
Check out more tips on what to eat before, during and after a big night out.
4. Drink slow and alternate with water
Drink slowly to space out the amount of alcohol you’re drinking and slow down the speed of your BAC rising.
It’s also important to stay hydrated with water. Alcohol is a diuretic and increases urine production, which may lead to thirst and dehydration. Staying hydrated can also help prevent a hangover.
“To limit your alcohol intake, start with a big glass of water and lemon and order a sparkling water in between drinks. This will force you to stay hydrated and limit going overboard on booze,” Dr. Shilpi Agarwal advises.
However, remember that water won’t make you any less drunk or protect your liver, so the best step is always to moderate the amount of alcohol that you drink.
5. Opt for low alcohol drinks
The units of standard drinks of your favourite drinks can add up quickly without you realising it, taking you over the national guidelines for safe alcohol intake.
Choosing lower strength drinks means that with the same number of drinks, you can consume fewer units of alcohol and are more likely to stay within the guidelines, therefore lowering your risk of alcohol-related harm.
‘Low-alcohol drinks’ refers to drinks with an alcoholic strength between 0.5 and 1.2%. There are also drinks with ‘reduced alcohol’ which just means a lower than average alcohol content (e.g. wine with 5.5% alcohol content).
Check the labels on what you drink or learn more on standard drink sizes so you can make better estimations.
6. Choose quality over quantity
Cultivate your taste in alcohol instead of just downing the cheapest or strongest drinks. Learn the names of fine wines, whiskeys, and beers, and what beverage goes well with what foods.
Think about it. Would you rather have lots of sub-par steaks, or savour in some top-notch Kobe beef?
When you find appreciation for something you really like, you’re less likely to binge and more likely to enjoy it in moderation.
7. Avoid mixed drinks
Mixed drinks are harder on your stomach and your head. They’re also “high in calories, but not satiating,” says Dr. Helen Xenos.
Dr. Agarwal suggests wine instead:
“At around 120 calories per glass, red or white wine is a great option for a happy hour because it takes longer to drink than a mixed drink and has more antioxidants than the typical vodka-soda or other mixed drinks.”
8. Avoid binge drinking and unfamiliar drinks
Fascinated by “Naga Chilli Vodka” or “Mac & Cheese Shots“? Think twice before you order – you don’t know their alcoholic content and something could go horribly wrong. Plus, because the alcohol in these drinks is not always detectable, it is difficult to space them out.
Alcoholic poisoning is a serious – and sometimes fatal – consequence of consuming too much alcohol in a short period of time, so avoid binge drinking i.e. rapidly downing 5 or more drinks in a row.
Learn the symptoms of alcohol poisoning from DrinkWise.
9. You don’t need to drink
We often have a ‘reason’ to drink – a party/barbie/footie, to ‘get more confident’ in social situations, or to cope with problems.
Break the habit of associating these with alcohol. You don’t need alcohol to make the party more fun, and it sure won’t fix the problem you’re having.
Alcohol should complement an activity or gathering, not be the primary focus.
Stop treating alcohol as a must-have. Find healthier, non-alcoholic alternatives such as fresh juice, homemade chips and dips, or just enjoy the footie with “Not Beersies”:
10. Appoint a designated driver
If you plan to drink, plan not to drive.
Even if your alcohol tester tells you that you’re below the legal limit, it’s never safe to go behind the wheel when you have alcohol in your system. Breathalysers should be used as a guide only, not as a tool to drink and drive.
Have a designated driver available who will not be drinking alcohol at all and will drive all drinkers home. Otherwise, catch a cab home or crash on a mate’s couch.
Bonus tip: How to avoid a hangover
“If you’re trying to avoid a hangover, stick to clear liquids like vodka over dark liquids like whiskey,” Dr. Xenos says.
A few experimental studies have found that beverages containing the highest amounts of congeners (naturally-occurring by-products of distilling and fermenting that are present in higher levels in dark alcohols) result in more severe hangovers.
Check out our previous posts biology of a hangover and how to cure a hangover.
Resources and references:
Australian Government Department of Health, https://www.alcohol.gov.au/
DrugInfo, “Young People and Alcohol”, https://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/fact-sheets/young-people-and-alcohol-web-fact-sheet
Hello Sunday Morning, https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/