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Three Ways to Evaluate Your Use of Alcohol, Cannabis

March 29, 2021

By Joanna Chaurette, MD, PhD
Associate Medical Director
Natchaug Hospital

Early last year, the sober-curious movement started trending. People were more conscious and intentional about how, when and why they were drinking. Then the pandemic happened.

Soon, social media posts on perfecting the “Quarantini” cocktail began circulating, and everyone seemed to be joining a Zoom happy hour. Memes of parents with school-age children turning to alcohol to cope with remote learning filled up news feeds. The sober-curious movement was abandoned as the stress of the pandemic became too much.

Substances can often have unintended consequences. While alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially or create a sense of euphoria, it can actually worsen insomnia and act as a depressant. Another example is cannabis. It may help with nausea and anxiety, but it may also result in cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting and cause psychosis. There is no “one size fits all,” and it’s important to evaluate your relationship to alcohol and cannabis.

Here are some practical steps you can take to learn about and evaluate your substance use.

  1. When you reach for a drink, ask yourself, “Why?” Are you bored in the afternoon or lonely at night? Are you using alcohol to relax or unwind after a stressful day? Substances can be used to fill empty space, but they only offer temporary relief. Alcohol and cannabis use can mask underlying mood symptoms when used to cope with insomnia or depression.
  2. “How much” are you drinking? Moderate alcohol consumption is considered to be one drink daily for women and two drinks for men. Keep a journal and quantify the number of servings per day or week. What may be OK for one person may not be OK for another, so avoid comparing yourself to others.
  3. Ask yourself, “Can I stop?” Maybe you have tried a “dry January” or giving up alcohol for Lent. Notice if there are benefits or changes in your energy, sleep and mood. If you have difficulty cutting back on the amount or frequency of use and have withdrawal symptoms, it may be a sign you need help.

Often, I meet patients who enter treatment after something bad happens: an incident at work, legal problems or hospitalization. People often feel judged or shame and believe that treatment means abstinence. An evaluation with a psychiatrist or therapist can help you find the root of the problem. A medical professional can identify underlying anxiety or mood symptoms, evaluate whether dependence has developed and discuss treatment options.

Natchaug Hospital offers outpatient services in Mansfield Center, Dayville, Vernon and Groton. These programs provide medication-assisted treatment and group therapy led by experienced therapists. These programs can provide personalized treatment plans that meet you where you are at to further your recovery goals.

Habits can be difficult to change, but for substance use, there are ways to help.

Natchaug Hospital offers mental health and addiction treatment for children, adolescents and adults through a network of community-based programs in Danielson, Dayville, Enfield, Groton, Mansfield, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Vernon and Willimantic. For more information, please call 1.800.426.7792 or click here.

Dr. Joanna Chaurette is Associate Medical Director of Natchaug Hospital.