Susan woke up one Sunday morning after a fun night out with her friends and vaguely remembered something about winning a guitar she had bid on at the bar. One glance across the room and her prize — and growing sense of dread — was confirmed.

There sat her beautiful, light blue, $1,000 George Strait guitar emblazoned with photos of the country star she wasn’t particularly fond of.

Looking for one last verification as she tried to piece together exactly how this happened, Susan logged in to her bank account and realized it was, in fact, all too real when she saw the $1,000 debit from her account. In the haze of one too many vodka tonics, she bid on and won this expensive guitar that she had no idea how to play.

This, according to Michael Reynolds, a licensed therapist with Centerstone in Nashville, is a classic example of a sign you might be drinking too much. Oftentimes, he says, in addition to the overuse of alcohol and the havoc it can wreak on your system, it’s the ancillary poor decisions following one too many cocktails that are the biggest warning signs, which can quickly escalate into a full-blown problem.

Are you drinking too much?

“Another warning sign we see a lot is alcohol-related minor injuries,” Michael shares. “Maybe you just had a little bit too much, and you fall and bang your head. Little things like that start to happen but can easily get worse and worse.”

In addition to bumps and bruises or a shiny new guitar, alcohol can influence eating choices as well. So, in addition to extra calories and unwanted changes in the function of your metabolism from the consumption of alcohol, a good buzz can talk you into throwing your healthy eating habits out the window. Tiffany Breeding, who has a Ph.D. in Human Performance and is a fitness and nutrition specialist at S2 Performance Studio in Nashville, says that what happens as a result of loosened inhibitions packs a double whammy.

“If you think you are going to not eat as many carbs so that you can save them and drink them instead, you are going to be craving (and eating) things you wouldn’t normally eat,” Tiffany says. “Then, let’s say you go out Saturday night and drink a little too much. Sunday morning comes and you don’t want to work out, but you do want to go to brunch. The repercussions from those extra drinks are going to affect everything the next day.”

Michael also points out the importance of when you start drinking during the day or week. If you tell yourself you are not going to drink until Friday, but on Friday you start drinking at lunchtime, that might signal a problem.

“Are you the first one of your friends to start drinking and the last one to stop?” Michael asks. “If you set limits and then break your own rules, that’s not good.”

Sound a little too familiar? Both Michael and Tiffany offer some ways to keep yourself in check when it comes to alcohol consumption so that you can ensure your occasional indulgence doesn’t jack up your life.

Michael says the most important thing to remember is that if you are going to change a habit, you need another one to replace it. He says the best thing he has come across for help in this area is an evidence-based prevention and intervention program called Prime for Life®.

“Prime for Life has a 0,1,2,3 model that helps you set limits on how much you should be drinking,” Michael says. “Zero is the number of drinks you should have if you’ve ever had any addiction. One is the number of drinks you should have per hour. Two is the average of how many drinks you should have per day and at the end of the week, you want your daily average to be no more than three drinks.”

Are you drinking too much?

He says it’s important for a social drinker who may not have a full-blown alcohol problem to learn to approach drinking with some limits applied. “This scale is so helpful because all of the beer and alcohol commercials tell us to drink responsibly, but they don’t tell us how to do that,” he says.

Tiffany adds that from a health perspective, the amount you can drink varies based on your stature, but for women one to two drinks a day is the recommended limit. “I recommend to my clients that they have water in between alcoholic beverages to help space it out,” she says. “Try not to have more than one drink per hour to help your body have time to metabolize what you are drinking. Think of it just like food. You wouldn’t eat a big huge meal every hour.”

Tiffany also stresses the importance of understanding that your body metabolizes alcohol first. Before you burn any fat or carbs, your body will burn through whatever alcohol you drank, which can stall weight-loss efforts.

“Let’s say your maintenance intake is 2,000 calories, meaning you can eat 2,000 calories and maintain the same weight. All week you eat only 1,800 calories a day, so you are in a deficit, which is a good thing. Then on the weekend, you eat 3,200 calories, you don’t work out, you make different food and alcohol choices and you end up with a net calorie intake for the week of 2,000 calories per day. Just those two days of poor choices can keep you in maintenance mode for the week, and you are never going to get any kind of traction.”

She recommends focusing on creating sustainable habits instead of completely cutting out all alcohol for a month, which can be hard to sustain. “Create a strategy for yourself,” she says. “Tell yourself you can have a drink on Wednesdays and one night on the weekends. If you restrict yourself too much, you set yourself up for a binge.”

As for ways to maximize your caloric intake when it comes to alcohol, she says that any kind of liquor drink will give you more bang for your buck when counting calories. “An ounce-and-a-half pour of liquor is about 120 calories and so is a light beer, but you probably won’t drink as many mixed drinks as you would beer.”

She also recommends ordering a drink in a tall glass so the bartender can add extra soda water to a vodka soda. It adds more water, makes it last longer and ultimately gives you more to drink without the added alcohol of ordering another, she says.

“Also, the mixer is the key. Tonic water, for example, is actually very high in calories. So, I recommend something like a vodka soda with some fresh fruit in it. LaCroix or straight soda water are much better mixers than syrupy ones.”

Michael reiterates that if you do suspect a drinking problem, there are multiple resources at the other end of a phone call. If you’re concerned you or someone you love may have a problem, you can reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline, which is available 24/7/365, at (800) 662-4357.

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