I know you probably woke up wondering: how does our casual alcohol habit impact blood sugar, hormones, and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder?
Okay, maybe you didn’t wake up wondering that. That was just me. Either way, let’s go there today.
First off, what we consider an occasional drink here and there may actually be more than we realize. Female alcohol use disorder increased by 83.7% from 2002 to 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. High-risk drinking (which is only 3 drinks in a 2 hour time period or over 8 drinks per week) increased by 58%, and alcohol related deaths increased by 85%!
It is no secret that I love a good glass of wine. My husband and I spent our anniversary in California wine country last summer – we love it that much.
BUT as mental illness continues to climb (despite more Americans being medicated than ever before), we have to look at all the potential triggers.
Sure, wine does have some health benefits, but the studies on benefits are usually done on small quantities – not the excess that is so acceptable in most of our social circles.
While many women drink to lower stress levels and calm unpleasant emotions, long term it could be wreaking havoc on mental well-being. Here are some of the effects of too much alcohol on our mental health:
- Lowers levels of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter
- Increases cortisol, the stress hormone
- Contributes to blood sugar problems, which can trigger anxiety and mood instability
- Reduces levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which limits the brain’s ability to self regulate and bring a sense of calm
- Depletes the body of necessary B vitamins, crucial for mental well-being
- Contributes to gut dysbiosis, which impacts mood
- Disrupts healthy sleep cycles, a major issue for those of us with bipolar
Believe me – I know it’s easy to get into the habit of having a glass or two to unwind with some Netflix. It can seem like a harmless habit, especially if you aren’t “feeling” tipsy. And if you don’t have an addiction, what’s the harm, right?
I encourage you to try an experiment. It’s not too late to utilize the concept of “Dry January.” Many people these days are becoming sober curious and starting their new year without alcohol, myself included. One of the first things people experience is that their sleep is deeper and they wake up well-rested.
Here are some suggested swaps for your nightly vino:
- Sparkling seltzer, like La Croix or Topo Chico. Luckily there are new brands popping up all the time. Try to avoid anything artificial sweeteners, as they are a migraine trigger for many and can impact insulin resistance and gut dysbiosis, which are two things we don’t want.
- Warm decaf tea. I love anything with cinnamon and chamomile can be very soothing.
- “Goldenmilk latte” – I blend together 8 ounces coconut milk, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and a dash of black pepper. Then I heat in a small saucepan on the stove, pour into a mug, and add raw honey to taste. Sometimes I add collagen protein or cacao powder.
- Iced decaf cold brew with your favorite creamer
- If you’re wanting something sweet on your palate (which is the main reason I personally love to have a glass of wine), have a square of dark chocolate. You will get the antioxidant boost and sweet treat without the alcohol.
If your casual drinking habit is an attempt to cope with or avoid unpleasant emotions, that is a sign that you may need to do some deeper digging. Finding a licensed counselor may be helpful in order to process the feelings you are trying to avoid. I write about that topic and “mommy wine culture” in more detail here.
I’d love to hear from you – have you tried Dry January? Have you given up casual drinking and experienced benefits? Share below!