Doc Q: Dr Rhys Young on avoiding unhealthy drinking

unhealthy drinking

Are you an ‘I love a beer at the end of the day’ type person or an ‘I only drink once a week but when I do it’s a wipeout’? Every now and then it’s important to check in with your drinking and make sure it’s healthy and safe because unhealthy drinking is more common than you think!

Dr Rhys Young is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and has a special interest in LGBTQ+ individual & family health. He believes in the importance of good sexual health, STI screening & prevention, including PrEP prescribing.

Alcohol and the LGBTQ community

An unhealthy relationship with alcohol is a serious problem in the LGBTQ community. Looking back, alcohol was deeply tied to LGBTQ history. For decades, the only safe place to express sexuality and gender was queer bars. Today, drinking is still one of our primary social interactions, whether it’s a boozy brunch, a Cab Sav over dinner or a night out on vodka sodas. We use alcohol for celebrations or to self-medicate when dealing with the emotional distress of bigotry and intolerance.

Why do we need to talk about alcohol?

When you think about alcohol and health, most people think of the liver. While that’s true, your liver isn’t the only thing that can be damaged by alcohol. Alcohol causes lots of everyday problems also.

Drinking alcohol before bed might make you fall asleep quicker, but drastically reduces sleep quality. Even just one or two drinks can have an impact. Alcoholic drinks — even sugar-free — also contain a lot of calories. I have spoken to many people who, after months of trying, only started to lose weight once they cut out alcohol. Similarly, for cis-men, heavy alcohol intake reduces testosterone levels leading to low energy, weight gain and depression. We also know the strong link between alcohol intake and mental health. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, alcohol can make things worse and make treatments not work as well.

Some people enjoy a drink to help get them in the mood, but regular drinking can also mess with your sex drive. In those with penises, getting and staying hard can be a lot more unreliable. For my friends with vulvas, you might find it harder to have an orgasm and if you do, it’s often not as intense.

How do I know if my drinking is unhealthy?

National guidelines recommend no more than ten standard drinks a week, and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. Another way of discovering you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol may be looking at when you drink and the consequences. Some people might use alcohol to cope with uncomfortable situations or emotions. You might drink alone or hide your drinking — or take risks like drink-driving or unprotected sex.

What can I do to address unhealthy drinking?

Here are some strategies to consider: avoid drinking alone; try two alcohol-free days per week; opt for drinks with lower alcohol content or a bigger glass for spirits to get more of the mixer; eating a meal before drinking; alternate with non-alcoholic drinks; set a limit on how many drinks you have before you start; rather than coming home to a beer/wine, have another fun beverage like soda water.

When to seek help & what help is available

If you find it hard to cut down then getting help is super important. Remember, alcohol is everywhere in society, so cutting down can be hard. If you are worried about your drinking you can speak to your GP or local health service. Call the Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS) in your state or territory for free 24-hour counselling. Some people benefit from solo or group counselling while others achieve great results via medications. You don’t need to face this on your own!

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