EP #149

(Revisiting) Overdrinking: Neuroscience, Numbers & Note to Self

alcoholic minimalist podcast

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In this episode on binge drinking and alcohol moderation, Molly Watts delves into her personal journey of overcoming family alcohol abuse and adopting an alcohol minimalist lifestyle. She breaks down binge drinking behavior and its immediate effects, urging listeners to participate in “No Binge November” and advocating for mindfulness in alcohol consumption. Reflecting on her own experiences with moderation, Watts emphasizes the significance of understanding both personal motivations and scientific insights into alcohol’s impact on health. From discussing risks to life expectancy, she underscores the importance of informed decision-making and mindfulness in achieving a peaceful relationship with alcohol, encouraging listeners to pay attention not only to numbers but also to their thoughts and feelings surrounding drinking habits.

Welcome to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I’m your host Molly watts. If you want to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, you’re in the right place. This podcast explores the strategies I use to overcome a lifetime of family alcohol abuse, more than 30 years of anxiety and worry about my own drinking, and what felt like an unbreakable daily drinking habits. Becoming an alcohol minimalist means removing excess alcohol from your life. So it doesn’t remove you from life. It means being able to take alcohol or leave it without feeling deprived. It means to live peacefully, being able to enjoy a glass of wine without feeling guilty and without needing to finish the bottle. With Science on our side will shatter your past patterns and eliminate your excuses. Changing your relationship with alcohol is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello and welcome or welcome back to the alcohol minimalist podcast with me your host Molly Watts coming to you from very wet, Oregon. It has been just wet, wet, wet. Ever since Halloween, we had a we had a dry day on Halloween. And then after that it’s been miserable, rainy, rainy, and so rainy that I actually have a leak coming in from my roof. Isn’t that happy? Hey, it’s November. And if you haven’t heard, if you aren’t in the Facebook group or on my mailing list you you wouldn’t know but I have been battling COVID This last week. First time I got it, you know six boosters, and three and a half years later, I finally succumb. And so if my voice sounds a little froggy. This is not how I normally sound or maybe I sound. I don’t know, I think I sound a little bit less than I usually do. So if you’re new to the podcast, just know My voice will sound a little different hopefully in the next couple of weeks. And this week, we’re going to be revisiting an episode that was actually episode that I did last year coming right out of more sober October. And it is called over drinking, neuroscience numbers and a note to self. The inspiration for revisiting it really came from a conversation that I was involved in on the moderation management Facebook page where someone was trying to extend their more sober October strategies into November and wanted to come up with a catchy name for the month. And my suggestion was no binge November because I thought it might help us around alcohol but also, obviously around foods specifically for Thanksgiving. And after I made that comment, I started thinking about it. And I decided that talking about a no binge November is actually a really great idea because many people don’t know the definition of binge drinking. And knowing that is really important because repeated binge drinking episodes put you at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder. This episode that we’re going to go back and revisit talks a lot about numbers and about overdrinking and about whether or not it’s possible to moderate and the focus on numbers that I put. So before we get there, though, I want to give you some information on binge drinking, because numbers when it comes to binge drinking are very important. And here’s some things that you should know. So binge drinking involves consuming several drinks in a short period of time. And an episode of binge drinking can bring your blood alcohol content up over clearly over the 0.055% that I talk about all the time, but also the legal intoxication level in most states, which is 0.08%. And it can go even higher than that during a binge episode. It can involve life threatening levels, and as a result, you might experience a blackout you could throw up, even pass out and eventually if you keep on drinking you can you can die. Right. And the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism the NIA a defines binge drinking as specifically as an episode of alcohol use that raises your blood alcohol concentration to higher than that 0.08%. So that’s what they use is there is that level right? And for a typical person, an episode of binge drinking would mean that in a two hour period, you would consume for men, five or more drinks and for a Women for Women a For more drinks, so five for men is considered a binge and for for women and this two hour timeframe, I gotta say is very nebulous, because it really, it does not mean that if you stretch it out over three hours, you’re going to be fine. And it’s only within two that it defines a binge. It’s really about raising of the blood alcohol content and doing that in a fast way. And of course, these categories really, they mean that five drinks for men and four drinks for women, they’re really only guidelines, right? They are not hard and fast criteria. Because, as I’ve talked about many times on the show, every time you drink, it’s your own personal experiment, your own personal petri dish, right? Because all of the factors your height, your weight, your age, how much you slept, how much you’ve eaten, all of those things impact how alcohol affects you, and you may, if you’re like me, and you don’t drink very much anymore, you may have have a lower tolerance to if you binge drink on occasion. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an addiction to alcohol, I want to be clear about that does not mean that you have moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. However, binge drinking is best understood as a behavior. And if you binge drink on a regular basis, you have a higher chance of developing moderate and severe alcohol use disorder. Now the CDC estimates that one in six adults binge drinks, all right, and 25% of those one and six, do so at least weekly. That’s, again, on average, consuming four or more standard alcoholic drinks for women and five or more standard alcoholic drinks for men. But the thing is that 25% of people that do binge, they binge even more than that they binge eight or more drinks on a single binge occasion. Here’s where it gets serious. Binge drinking is responsible for more than 40% of the deaths and three quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use. I want you to hear that again. Binge drinking is responsible for more than 40% of the deaths and three quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use. So if we can limit and get rid of binge drinking, we are really going to be taking a step in the right direction in terms of creating a better relationship with alcohol. Excessive alcohol use that binge drinking also has immediate effects. And they increase many of the harmful conditions that we know about including injuries, violence and alcohol poisoning, right. drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of injuries including those from motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings and burns. It also increases the risk of violence, meaning you get into a fight with someone else. Homicide, suicide, sexual assault, alcohol contributes to poisonings and overdoses from opioids and other substances as well. And a recent US study found that more than 40% of people who died violently add alcohol in their bloodstream. Lastly, people who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex, and multiple sex partners. These activities increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. This is really something that I want you to be aware of, I want you to start committing even it because even if you’re not the person drinking eight or more standard drinks, if you are drinking more than four standard drinks for a woman, or five standard drinks for a men in an evening, that is most likely considered a binge. And it is a risky behavior. As an alcohol minimalist over drinking, including binge drinking is simply something that I’m really not interested in doing at all anymore. And one of the reasons I wanted to reshare this episode is because in it I talk a lot about numbers and paying attention to them. And so I hope that you will decide to give this a try this month. Let’s choose to make November no binge November. That means for men I want you to commit to no more than four drinks on any one occasion. And for women no more than three. And if those numbers, even those numbers are too high for you. Which for me, I’ve come to realize that even that third drink too quickly raises my blood alcohol content to a level that is probably approaching the 0.08. Present. I don’t use a breathalyzer. So I don’t know. But I can feel myself getting altered. And I know how it feels for me the next day. It’s possible that for me a binge is now three drinks based on lower tolerance based on what I’m eating based on my age, all of that. You’ll hear me talk about this in the episode, how paying attention to the numbers is important and necessary, in my opinion. And we also have to be willing to continue to do the thought work. It’s not one or the other. That you have to figure out what the whole story is about why we’re binging in the first place. What do we believe we are solving with overdrinking? Right? I hope that this episode, I hope revisiting this is really helpful for some of you, I hope that you will join me in making this a no binge November. And make that apply that to food to keep mindful, decide, make an intention about how you’re going to include alcohol in your life, what foods you’re going to include in your life. Truthfully, being an alcohol, minimalist, it means becoming a better thinker, and choosing to stay mindful, right? I hope you enjoy this revisiting of overdrinking, numbers, neuroscience and a note to self. Make it a great week, everyone. So as I said, as I record this, it’s October 31, and the end of quote unquote, more. So we’re October, which is what I was aiming for. And for me, I set my intentions for five alcohol free days each week. And then my standard one alcohol free weekend per month. What I forgot about when I was setting my intention was that we had rescheduled a vacation. And it was happening right in the middle of the month. And over a long weekend, including a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. And once I remembered that, I realized that I would likely want to adjust that initial plan, which is no problem because as someone who has a truly peaceful relationship with alcohol now, I know that I can include alcohol or not. And being on vacation, I knew that I would, it would probably mean more dining out and I wanted the option to enjoy a drink if I wanted to. So I planned ahead for that. So I you know, I changed my initial plans for more sober October. What I didn’t anticipate was how not having multiple alcohol free days in my week, which, you know, I rarely have anymore, where I don’t have multiple alcohol free days, I didn’t anticipate how that would impact me. Regardless of whether I’m doing more sober October or not. I typically have three to four alcohol free days per week, and I rarely drink more than two days in a row. Now because of the timing of the vacation, I ended up stringing together five days of drinking. Now, none of the days were excessive, and two of them were only one pint of beer. But on day six, when we returned, I could really feel my neuro chemistry as it worked its way back to homeostasis, and the increased anxiety. slight depression and fatigue was absolutely notable to me. And it would be easy for me to look at the overall numbers and conclude that I successfully moderated and from a strict and numbers perspective. I did. I certainly didn’t over drink on any occasion based on blood alcohol content numbers, or on the low risk numbers that I established that I use in terms of binge drinking definitions. And if you’re not familiar with those low risk guidelines, they are always included in my show notes so you can always find them there. And certainly in comparison to previous trips I used to make to Las Vegas where overdrinking was the norm. Alcohol was definitely a minimal part of my trip. But by not including alcohol free days immediately before I went I set myself up for experiencing a sort of anxiety that I haven’t felt in a long time. And what I learned from the experiences that one of the numbers that has become most important in my life as an alcohol minimalist is stringing together multiple alcohol free days. Those alcohol free days are important because they certainly reinforce the important thought work that I do in my daily life, to get the results that I have in my life, but they are also important for my physical brain and for my sleep. And it’s also why paying attention to the numbers is something that I embrace as being part of my alcohol, minimalist life. Now, I was listening to a podcast last week, Rachel hearts. And if you’ve listened to Rachel’s take break podcast. I know many of you that listen to me Listen to Rachel, I certainly listened to Rachel, her most recent podcast on the question of whether moderation is possible. And it’s a question that we both get a lot people want to know if moderation is possible for them. And she was talking about that. And what she said was the fact that most people are usually focused on when they asked that question, they’re focused on the number of drinks they can stick to. So we are trained to believe that moderation is all about the number, right about wanting to avoid too high of a number that would be considered over drinking. And ultimately, what Rachel was saying, that is that this kind of moderation is actually not an effective way to moderate. And her point was well taken, because if we only focus on a number to stick to, or how much other people are drinking, or what the CDC or the NIH a say the guidelines are, we are in essence, no longer paying attention to our personal experience with alcohol. This kind of moderation is also focused on the action of drinking and not really understanding the why behind it’s happening. If you don’t do the work of understanding, number one, what you’re trying to solve by your drinking. And number two, how your thoughts and feelings are driving your actions. You may succeed on willpower for a while, but ultimately, it’s not sustainable change. Now, Rachael gave an illustration if you’re constantly believing that you need alcohol to help you relax and unwind. And typically that means a couple of drinks. And what happens when you have a really stressful day and extraordinary out of the norm, I level stress day, suddenly two drinks doesn’t sound like enough to solve it, right? So what on that day, you’ll just go ahead and have four. That’s why just putting a number on moderating doesn’t really make sense. And from that perspective, I really appreciate Rachel’s message because for me, learning how my thoughts are actually driving my desire to drink was critical to helping me change my drinking habits. But I have to diverge from Rachel’s message here just a bit. Because what was equally important for me was learning the science around alcohol, which absolutely meant and means paying attention to numbers. It’s not one or the other. For me. It’s a combination of both the thought work, and the numbers that helped me create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. It’s why this podcast has always focused on and uses science to guide us in our decisions and to help us educate our brains so that we understand and can challenge some of the stories that we’ve held on to regarding alcohol. Just a quick break to talk with you more about sunny side. Did you know that Sunny Side uses science to help you reach your goals by focusing on three scientifically proven superpowers that you have. Number one, the power of pre commitment each week, you set an intention for the week ahead. That includes a tracking goal, a drink goal, and possibly a dry day goal. Number two, the power of conscious interference. You’ll learn the habit of tracking each day as soon as you finish it, which creates a mindful pause before you start the next day. And number three positivity. We know that this is a big step that can be tough at times. Right. And that’s why Sunnyside offers coaching through SMS and email to give you support advice and motivation. You can check out a free 15 day trial at www.sunnyside.co/molly. That’s www.sunnyside.co/molly. If you are focused on the numbers, right and you if you’re only focused on the numbers, you might be able to moderate with willpower, but you will never achieve the peaceful part of becoming an alcohol minimalist. And likewise if you don’t pay attention to the number Even when you do the thought work, you can find yourself in a situation like I did, which reminded me that the numbers, in this case the number of alcohol free days I have, or the numbers of days that I include alcohol consecutively, matter to me, and matter to my peaceful relationship with alcohol. In his book, drink the new science of alcohol in your health, Dr. David Nutt talks about knowing your alcohol numbers, just like we know other important numbers in our lives. It’s not stressful, it’s not daunting. It’s just a number that, you know, he explains that the number is really an individual decision based on our own risk tolerance. But with all drugs, of which alcohol is the most widely consumed, used, legal drug, less is always going to be better in terms of negative consequences. Because there are no known safe levels of alcohol. We’ve covered that many times on the podcast. So if you’re going to include it in your lives, and you want to keep the risks inherently low, you will be wanting to stick to those low risk limits. Again, always in the show notes, you can always find what those low risk limits are. He says in the book, quote, We are told by the US government that safe drinking levels are less than one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. This limit isn’t arbitrary. It was established by a group of experts based on all the evidence available evidence, so it’s very solid. But did you know this if you stick to these levels, your risk of dying due to an alcohol related condition is around or a little under 1%. The guidelines explained that this level of risk is comparable to other regular risks such as driving 1% is the level of risk the experts think is acceptable. Now, again, unquote. He also says quote, when it comes to all drugs, including alcohol, and in fact, all risky activities, less is always safer. Looking at the statistics, if you want to maximize your life, the rule would be to not drink a drop. The same goes for if you want to maximize your health, don’t drink at all, because there are no health benefits to it. But if you want the sociability benefits that alcohol brings, it’s a different story. In that case, you need to decide what risks you want to accept, balanced out with pleasure you gain. The risks are determined by how old you are your sex, your genetics, but most of all, how much you drink and how often you drink. What you can do is to work out the dose that gives you the best fun, but with reasonable amount of risk. In your opinion. It’s not a one size fits all rule. And it really is your call and vote that is directly from break the new science of alcohol and your health. So he says there is very much a numbers oriented right approach to alcohol. And if you are currently drinking far more than these recommended limits, then you will benefit greatly from reducing your intake. In Dr. Nets book, he shares graphs and data on what impact certain levels of alcohol consumption mean for life expectancy. And it’s a calculation based on averages, which means that there’s no guarantee it will apply exactly to you. But it’s useful to know or at least you gives you some proportion to the amount of risk you are taking. You’ll see that the more you drink, the much worse it gets because of the exponential nature of the health harms of alcohol. That is the harm increases much faster than the amount you’re drinking. And I will link a in the show notes to that graph in the book so that you can see it. But what it says is basically it like this, it’s based on intake per week, so 10 standard drinks per week and your life is shortened by 0.4 years. If your intake per week is 15 standard drinks your life is shortened by 0.8 years. If your intake is 25 standard drinks per week, which is basically half a bottle of wine per day, your life is shortened by two years. If your intake per week is 50 standard drinks or one bottle of wine per day, your life is shortened by seven years. So from half a bottle to a bottle per day we jumped from two years to seven years shorter life expectancy. And if you are Drinking 100 standard drinks or two bottles of wine per day, your life is shortened by 21 years. So our numbers important when it comes to alcohol, they are to me, because this is a drug, it’s a known drug, and we need to pay attention to how we are incorporating it into our lives. They are especially important when it comes to people who are drinking on the higher ends of these numbers, because you can greatly improve your overall longevity and health by reducing the amount of alcohol that you’re drinking, to ignore the numbers when it comes to alcohol can be dangerous. So I think that we have to at least understand them from a scientific level. What also matters and matters more is how and why we want to include alcohol in our lives. What do you believe about alcohol? And what do you believe it is adding to your life? What feeling do you think you are changing or adding to your life with alcohol? Being an alcohol minimalist means that I’m not focused on whether or not I’ll have a drink or not. The numbers are secondary, because my baseline belief is that I don’t need to drink to change how I’m feeling. And that is really how and why moderating, quote, unquote, will never be an issue for me again, I don’t wonder or worry about whether or not I can moderate, because I truly don’t desire to over drink anymore. And what quote unquote, over drinking looks like for me now is different than it used to be, because of all the thought work I’ve done, because I enjoy incorporating alcohol free days into my weeks. And I have learned how to help myself feel better, no matter what’s happening in my world, because I have learned the behavior map results cycle, and I understand how my thoughts create my feelings, and my feelings dictate my actions. And that gets the results that I have in my life. So the bottom line for me is this. If you want to change your relationship with alcohol, it might be helpful for you to understand some numbers, numbers that helped me understand that drinking enough to raise my blood alcohol content above 0.055% would pass a therapeutic range for alcohol in India increased the likelihood of negative consequences, including anxiety. And so educating myself on that number was important. It helped me challenge this idea that I had that drinking helped me relax and unwind, actually know when I Hofer drank and drank more, and raised my blood alcohol content above 0.055%, I was actually increasing my anxiety, not helping myself relax. Also, understanding that my thoughts created my feelings. And every thought that I have is optional. I have tools now to help myself feel better in any given situation. And alcohol just isn’t one of them. Realizing that alcohol free days are really an important part of my peaceful relationship with alcohol. And I value being able to notice that now. So we can’t take the numbers completely out of overdrinking. In my opinion. We can’t take the numbers out of moderating. We can’t just cling to numbers, and we can’t just do the thought work and not pay attention to the numbers. Alcohol is a drug and the negative consequences of drinking exponentially increase with each drink that we take. We have to be mindful of that. Okay, my friends, that is all I have for you this week. Until next time, choose peace. Thank you for listening to the alcohol minimalist podcast. Take something you learned from this episode and put it into action this week. Changing your drinking habits and creating a peaceful relationship with alcohol is 100% possible. You can stop worrying Stop feeling guilty about over drinking and become someone who desires alcohol less hum join me in making peace with alcohol. It’s my six month online course and group coaching program designed to help you build sustainable change. Give me six months and I’ll help you create peace.