Conscious Consumption

Are you a social, only-on-the-weekends kind of drinker? Even occasional alcohol habits matter more than you think.


Published:

Illustration by Dan Bob Thompson

Doctors have your number — your LDL, BMI, PSA, BP, and Lbs.

Now, they’re being asked to focus on another figure: how much you imbibe.

Doctor’s-office conversations about drinking should happen more often, a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report says, because that confidential talk is shown to reduce drinking.

At least 38 million adults tipple too much. It’s a topic of growing concern — so much so that medical schools teach future physicians how to broach that topic, among others.

“Some people may think they’re fine because they don’t drink all week and only on the weekend,” says Dr. Maryjean Schenk, vice dean of Medical Education at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine. “But it’s also about how much you consume, the dose, and the health effects of that.”

Many people don’t know what constitutes binge drinking, which can be as harmful as too-frequent consumption.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more alcoholic beverages within 2 to 4 hours for men and four drinks or more for women in that same time period. Risky frequency is considered to be 14 drinks a week for men and seven drinks for women, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and U.S. Department of Agriculture say.

Curtailed adult-beverage consumption could have widespread ramifications. Alcohol misuse ranks third among preventable-death causes in the United States (right behind tobacco use and being overweight or obese).

Overindulging also leaves a range of human wreckage in its wake. It can contribute to gastritis, liver disease and cirrhosis, pancreatitis, some cancers, anxiety, and depression. Alcohol is also a factor in falls, drownings, fires, vehicle crashes, homicide, and suicide, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says.

At WSU, first- and second-year medical students take an 18-month course on interviewing skills that can help patients feel more comfortable sharing information. “You ask questions and you interpret,” Schenk says. Doctors learn to ask related questions for clues to patients’ habits.

Doctors may have less opportunity to discuss drinking with younger adults, who generally have fewer doctor visits. If they come in for a sore throat, Schenk says, you should ask about drinking. But what to say?

“My doctors have never gone beyond the usual ‘how-much-alcohol-do-you-consume’ question,” says Mallory Tomaro, a 28-year-old Detroit-based attorney. “I think a reminder from a doctor [about recommended maximums] would be helpful, because American cultural-drinking norms are so different from what is medically optimal.”

Tomaro adds, however, that frequently overburdened doctors seem too busy to go beyond the basic inquiry.

“In my opinion,” she says, “alcohol screening and counseling would ideally come from a less strained part of the health care system, [perhaps a] para-medical worker.”

Andrea Haas, 30, a downtown Detroit project manager, says she also finds doctors ask the how-often question with no follow-up. “Maybe because I don’t drink too much,” she speculates.

Tomaro and Haas agree that a conversational nudge toward healthful behaviors would be welcome.

As Tomaro says, “Learning about recommended alcohol limits and subsequent regular reminders are an effective way for people to be deliberate about how much they drink.”

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

The Art of Yoga

A local instructor on Crohn’s disease and her path to healing

Meet the Robot Helping to Save Real Lives

SimMan 3G is improving health care one mannequin at a time

Hot Topics in Health

An emergency training workshop, healthcare for Detroit’s homeless, and the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria

Be Careful Before You Spritz Your Perfume – You Could Be Breaking the Law

According to a local court ruling, overpowering fragrances are an infraction of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Former American Idol Contestant Who Is Singing in Remission

Manny Torres on music, faith, and his recovery from testicular cancer
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. 7 Michigan Breweries Worth a Trip
    Check out these must-visit locations during your summer travels
  2. To Market, to Market
    Michigan Wine & Cider Festival at Eastern Market May 24
  3. Your Guide to Michigan’s Odd and Unusual Festivals
    We rounded up some of the state’s most niche events, celebrating everything from fishflies to...
  4. Hour Media’s Real Estate All-Star Party 2017
    Hour Media's Real Estate All-Stars celebrated at the fourth annual Real Estate All-Star Party...
  5. Meet the Southwest Detroit Pizzeria Serving Sospeso
    PizzaPlex in southwest Detroit is challenging what it means to be a new business on the block
  6. Dry Times: Looking Back 100 Years After Prohibition
    A century ago, Detroit became the first city in the nation to prohibit alcohol
  7. An Hour With... Candice S. Miller
    Macomb County Public Works Commissioner
  8. The Gentleman’s Guide to Style
    From grooming to shopping, a comprehensive directory for stylish men in metro Detroit
  9. Motherhood in Metro Detroit
    From pre-pregnancy thoughts to developing unconditional love, several local women give a glimpse...
  10. The Michigan Opera Theatre Pays Homage to a Negro League Baseball Legend
    The program honors Josh Gibson while exploring themes about discrimination and race