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Addiction

Updated 03 October 2019

OcSober can be great, but it can also highlight drinking problems. Here are the red flags

For many South Africans, OcSober has started. If you find it a challenge to resist alcohol, it might mean that your alcohol dependence is more advanced than you think.

Ever heard of OcSober? This is a challenge not to consume any alcohol for the entire month of October – October + sober, get it?

Many people enjoy their drink of choice mainly in a social setting – that glass of wine with friends after work or a couple of drinks while gathered around a braai. OcSober is therefore more of a healthy, recreational “cleanse” than anything else. For most of us, it's also not that much of a challenge to give up booze for thirty days.

But if OcSober fills you with dread, and it’s something you absolutely cannot imagine pulling off, you might need to rethink your relationship with alcohol.

How much is too much?

Studies in the past have suggested that alcohol in moderation may have positive effects on heart health. Especially red wine has been touted for its health benefits because of the resveratrol it contains, i.e. the antioxidant that gives purple grapes (and red wine) its deep hue.

However, if you're not careful, the amount of alcohol you consume can easily tally up to unhealthy amounts. According to Dr Donald Ford, a family physician from Cleveland Clinic, “a little red wine” can translate into “several glasses”, with the same applying to other drinks like hard liquor or beer.

Moderate consumption is defined as the following: a small glass (125ml) of wine, one can of beer (340 ml) or 25ml of spirits (40% alcohol per volume), according to the American Heart Association.

Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, can be defined as follows, according to a previous Health24 article:

  • For women, consuming four or more drinks on a single occasion
  • For men, consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion

Heavy drinking can be defined as:

  • For women, consuming eight or more drinks per week
  • For men, consuming 15 or more drinks per week

The red flags – are you more dependent on alcohol than you think?

For a lot of South Africans, a couple of drinks per week, or a weekend of binge drinking equates to nothing but innocent fun. But not only can excessive alcohol usage wreak chaos on your weight and overall health – you might be more dependent on alcohol than you think, without realising that there is a problem.

“You don’t have to drink large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis to have a drinking problem. If you drink too much too fast, you have a drinking problem,” states Dr Joseph Janesz, an addiction specialist from Cleveland Clinic.

Here are some of the things to look out for to determine whether you might have a more serious dependence on alcohol:

  • You absolutely can’t face a social event without alcohol – you find social obligations without alcohol tedious and boring.
  • You often black out, lose control or suffer from hangovers because of the amount you drink.
  • You deny that you are drinking too much.
  • You’ve had accidents, injuries or incidents related to excessive drinking – car accidents, a fall, fights or altercations because of drunkenness.
  • If you need to “pre-drink” or “pre-game” before going out, despite knowing that you will be drinking later. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), someone with problematic drinking habits will continue to drink, even when their health is taking strain and they know that their behaviour is problematic.

Where to find help if you suspect a drinking problem

Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa is a helpful first step if you do admit that you have a drinking problem, even if you feel it’s not that advanced yet. You can consult their website for more information or the nearest location to you.

Avoid overdoing it

Whether you agree with the consept of OcSober or not, there are ways to curb your alcohol intake. Not only will this be good for your weight, but also your overall wellbeing. Donna van Zyl, a registered dietitian, gave the following tips:

  • Alternate your alcoholic drinks with a sugar-free low-kilojoule non-alcoholic drink, such as sugar-free frizzy drinks with lemon slices or a Rock Shandy (½ sugar-free lemonade, ½ soda water, lemon and bitters).  
  • Add soda water to alcoholic beverages, such as wine, to decrease the alcohol and kilojoule content.
  • Reduce volumes of alcohol by using smaller glasses and adding lots of ice to drinks.
  • Drink slowly to reduce the number of drinks you consume per occasion.
  • Reconsider your mixers – instead of mixing your spirits with sugary drinks or tonic water, switch to soda water and a dash of lime. 

Besides making physical swops to cut back kilojoules and lessen your consumption, there are also times when you need to realise that alcohol doesn’t have to be part and parcel of every social event:

  • Ask yourself WHY you need to drink when surrounding yourself with specific people. Is it because of boredom or peer pressure?
  • Find a physical activity that forces you to watch your intake, like committing to an activity such as a hike or a road race.
  • When you drink, be mindful about it – ask yourself if you're enjoying that glass of wine because of the taste and experience, or whether you need it to take the edge off a stressful day, event or occasion.

Image credit: iStock