Q. My friends have been on my case because I drink an alcoholic beverage (usually a beer or two or three) every night after work. I need it to help me relax and unwind. I’ve also been gaining weight and I’m not sleeping very well. My doctor told me, “Stop drinking alcohol every night with its ‘empty’ calories.” He said a small amount of alcohol might help me go to sleep but studies show that it doesn’t help me stay asleep and may contribute to poor-quality sleep overall. I’ve decided to switch to a couple glasses of wine instead. That’s better, right?
A. Your doctor is correct: alcohol does fall into the category of “empty” calories meaning that it can contribute to weight gain without providing needed nutrients. And it has been shown to interfere with sleep, tending to wake you up after you fall asleep. By the time you “need” alcohol to help you relax and unwind, the likelihood is high that you are already habituated if not addicted.Wine contains alcohol, as you know. It may be a lower percentage of alcohol but it is still alcohol.Some recommendations regarding wine suggest a maximum of 4 ounces of wine no more than 3 days a week. It sounds as if you are way past that already. And most females (you didn’t state your gender) metabolize alcohol less effectively than do males—which means they can get drunk more quickly when they do drink.
To change a behavior that is giving your undesirable outcomes, you need to address the reason you are drinking. Remember: the reason is never the reason. Saying that you drink to unwind and relax is an excuse, not a reason, and likely falls into the category of denial. Millions of people worldwide unwind after work without using alcohol. Physical exercise is one way. The bottom line? If you need to stop drinking alcohol, switching to wine is not the answer.
It’s a bit like the woman who said she’d been drinking huge amounts of coffee (filled with caffeine) all day long and was having difficulty sleeping, to say nothing of feeling jittery ad shaky. She decided to switch to chocolate and was now eating about ½ a pound a day (the results of which were showing up around her waist already).
Addictive behaviors are addictive behaviors. The biggest cure for one addictive behavior is another addictive behavior. It all starts and ends in the brain. Yours. I suggest you follow your doctor’s recommendation and stop drinking alcohol. Period. Find a good 12-step program and address what is going on in your life that has pushed you toward depending on this drug. And do it sooner than later.