I danced sober in the dark on a Monday night with 100 other people

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We have turned July into our dancing month, where we will explore different forms of creative expression to music and encourage you to do the same, as dancing can provide an outlet for a lot of built up baggage. Hello Sunday Morning is inviting you to come along on our journey to experiment with the boogie and increase your groove. 

It was sweaty, it was loud, it was electric, and the best part of all? It was Monday night.

We walked into a completely pitch-black room; the walls and floor were vibrating with beats from the speakers and DJ in the corner. When our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, dimly lit by a few community hall EXIT signs, we were just able to make out the silhouettes of the dancers all around us.

For the next hour, we found ourselves slowly losing all inhibitions and moving parts of our bodies that have not moved for a long time. Hips were swinging, butts were bouncing and clapping, laughter and yahoos were made out over the blasting of music from old school swing music to classic ’90s hits from Destiny’s Child.

What is this magical dance universe, you may ask?

No Lights No Lycra started in Australia and has grown to provide this community experience in countries all over the world. Check out your area to find your nearest NLNL:

“The dance night grew through word of mouth and within a few months the hall was full of people who shared the same yearning for a dimly lit space to dance as freely as they do in their living rooms.” 

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Who says you need alcohol to dance? 

The darkness at No Lights No Lycra helps you forget about that self-consciousness that stops most of us from expressing ourselves fully. Naturally, you may feel a little tense at the start as we are so used to worrying what other people might think of us. But give it 10 minutes and you’ll notice the endorphins crawling over your skin and words belting out of your mouth as you sing along and crawl out of your protective social shell to move in ways you never knew you could.

There’s no other feeling like it, a smile was glued on my face, a stitch prevalent in my rib cage and my legs ached until the next day.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend to a friend? Absolutely.

Do I think dancing will cure the world? One Monday night at a time.

Have you got a list of things you’d like to try? If you want to share an experience with us that inspires others to start doing the things they have always wanted to do, we would love to hear about it! Email your story with photos (if you have them) to info@hellosundaymorning.org

I stood at the front of a room and danced the Brazilian Samba

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Hello Sunday Morning’s Experiments Challenge is all about trying something different, something you have never done or have always wanted to do. For July, our month of dancing, we sent our marketing intern Cara to take on the Brazilian Samba … 

I haven’t taken a dance class since I was about seven years old, aside from one failed attempt to learn Salsa last year. Maybe the Samba will be easier, I thought, after watching a two-minute video clip on YouTube.

My roommates and I showed up to the dance studio in tee shirts and athletic leggings with water bottles in hand. We were prepared to sweat. The studio was on the upper level of a brick building decorated with an abstract mural of bright yellow, blue, and pink. The inside was just as eye-catching: banners of multicoloured flags hung from the ceiling, posters covered the walls, and hula hoops and baskets of feathers lined the hallways.

Before our Brazilian Samba class started, we had a look around the studio. In one of the rooms, women wearing beaded scarves around their waists were practising belly dancing. I wondered if anyone in our class would be wearing pieces of the extravagant feathered Samba costumes I had seen in the YouTube clip.

When we entered the wood-floored dance studio where our lesson was to be held, everyone else was wearing workout clothes sans carnivalesque embellishments. Phew. People started stretching, so I put my leg on a nearby ballet barre (with some difficulty) in an attempt to appear as though I knew what I was doing.

Our dance teacher, an energetic Brazilian woman, burst into the room and immediately turned on the stereo. She instructed us to walk around and “feel the music.” So fifteen of us gathered in a circle and sashayed around the room. We were told to move our arms in small circles at first, then back and forth across our bodies.

When our warm-up was over, we spread out across the room, facing the mirrored wall at the front. The first move we learned was a basic footwork pattern that involved three steps. This won’t be so hard, I thought. From my spot in the back corner of the room, I tried to follow the instructor’s movements by staring at her feet, then at mine.

I was comfortable at my spot in the back of the room, where I could watch everyone’s feet in front of me. The instructor wasn’t satisfied with our feelings of ease in our places. She called out one woman from the back and requested that she move to the front of the room. Then, she had me move to the front row as well. To be perfectly honest, I panicked a bit.

I was able to use the mirror to follow along with the rest of the class, and I finally got the hang of it after everyone else had already seemed to master the steps. Then, we were instructed to combine arm motions and hip movements with the footwork. I started looking around the room to see if I could learn the moves by watching my classmates.

By the end of the class, I still couldn’t figure out how to control my arms while paying attention to the fast-paced footwork, given my lack of coordination. I’ll definitely need to return to the studio to give the Brazilian Samba another try, but this time I’ll be finding a spot right in the middle. 

 

Have you got a list of things you’d like to try? If you want to share an experience with us that inspires others to start doing the things they have always wanted to do, we would love to hear about it! Email your story with photos (if you have them) to info@hellosundaymorning.org

 

Independence Day is all about community

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At Hello Sunday Morning, the community is vitally important to us. Our community members inspire us with their personal stories and the unconditional support they provide for others. 

We know from our six years of experience running Hello Sunday Morning that community is one of the most impactful aspects of a society. Thus, we thought it was important to acknowledge today, as people across America are coming together in their local communities and celebrating their national holiday with friends and neighbours.

The Fourth of July

Today marks the most significant holiday for the United States. It was the day the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, formally declaring America’s independence from Britain. Some people refer to the holiday as ‘America’s birthday,’ and it’s celebrated like an enormous birthday bash every year. The Fourth of July is unlike other holidays where families gather and celebrate at home – it’s a day where entire towns and communities come together to take part in the festivities.  

Independence Day falls at the warmest time of year in the U.S. It’s summer, school is out, banks and government offices are closed for the day, and most businesses shut down. The day begins, for many, with preparations for afternoon barbecues or picnics. Some people bake festive cookies and cakes decorated with white icing and topped with candy or berries arranged into an American flag.

Families take their kids to the centre of town for local parades, where everyone is dressed in red, white, and blue, from their hair accessories all the way down to their shoes. You’ll most likely run into a few of your neighbours at the parade, and if not, you’ll certainly see them later at the fireworks display.

For kids especially, the rest of the day is spent anxiously waiting for fireworks. Fireworks displays are put on by all major cities and most small towns, and the community gathers in a park or other public spaces to watch. Anyone who wants to stake out a good spot will get there hours before the sun sets. They’ll bring lawn chairs, picnic blankets, tons of food, and even portable barbecue grills. Parents can enjoy themselves for a few hours while their kids go and play with their classmates, who they’re bound to run into. The evening ends with everyone twirling sparklers in the air before settling onto blankets on the grass to watch together.

We’re inspired by the way local communities come together on the Fourth of July to spend time with family, friends, and those living around them. On a day like today, there’s nothing more important to independence than a community. 

How childhood temperament can predict heavy drinking

An edited excerpt from Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Jenny Valentish. 

unnamed-1.jpg1982. The UK. The Falklands War erupted. The lowest temperature on record was captured by a lonely weather station in east Scotland, at -27.2°C. Unemployment exceeded three million, the highest since the 1930s. The IRA bombed Hyde Park and Regents Park, killing eight and wounding forty-seven. Thatcher’s Tories were top of the opinion polls. In every kid’s Christmas stocking there was a copy of When the Wind Blows, depicting a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union. I was seven.

I don’t want to lose your sense of intrigue straight off the bat, but I was a sickly child, matted with eczema and, later, permanently trailing a hankie. The umbilical cord had noosed around my neck upon my grand entrance, rendering me mute. I brought with me a special delivery of postnatal depression and was soon registered as ‘failure to thrive’.

Around our house they called me the Grizzler. My super-powers included a sixth sense for the acutely unfair, and internal combustions at perceived slights. My parents also bandied around ‘sulking’, or ‘sulking again’, but those words didn’t do it justice. When wronged, their youngest child was a kamikaze pilot in a nosedive, unwilling or unable to pull up. Empires should collapse.

‘It’s not the end of the world!’ Mum would exclaim, in an ascending tone. Dad’s favoured description of Mum was ‘wittering’. Mum’s nickname for Dad was ‘Eeyore’. We all did the Myer Briggs personality test one time and came out as introverts with tempers rising. Our default setting was: ‘Expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised.’ Addendum: ‘Any pleasant surprise will be a massive fluke and should be dismissed as such.’

What I’m describing here is temperament. Temperament is observable from birth, and it’s the foundation upon which personality is built. The dim light in which I view 1982 gives some insight into mine. 

There’s an episode of the 2012 ABC documentary Life at Seven called ‘Tackling Temperament’. The Australian children it follows have been the subjects of a longitudinal study since birth, and now it’s time to test their response to frustration with ‘The Painting Experiment’.

In groups of three, the children in the documentary are given the task of painting a picture of flowers. Midway through they’re distracted by a researcher, who calls them over to inspect the real floral arrangement more closely. While their backs are turned, one girl – who’s in on the trick – scribbles on their artwork, then slips back to her own easel.

Initially, each child is dismayed to discover their ruined painting – and they’re suspicious, of course.

Child 1 is subdued. She says she knows the other girl did it, but she keeps going with her painting regardless. By the time she skips out of the room, the insult is forgotten.

Child 2 finds another blank page beneath the first and, pleased with his own ingenuity, starts over from scratch.

Child 3 wants to get to the bottom of it, but eventually her desire to continue wins out. ‘I know,’ she decides, ‘I could colour the background in.’

Child 4 is angry. She stamps her foot. ‘That just can’t happen,’ she says. The researcher leans in: so what should Child 4 do? ‘I don’t know,’ she whimpers. Does she have an idea? ‘No.’ She rejects the suggestion of turning over the paper to the clean side, claiming that won’t work.

‘How did it happen?’ Child 4 repeats, aghast. Eventually she’s persuaded to start over, but the sense of injustice lingers.

Perhaps Child 4 adopted a permanent explanation for this ruined-painting scenario. This is a mindset described by psychologist Martin Seligman in his book The Optimistic Child. A positive thinker will regard a setback as being temporary: ‘This picture has been ruined but at least I had only just started.’ A pessimistic child will tell themselves a story with finality to it: ‘This is hopeless. Just my luck. This happens every time. People always have it in for me.’

This type will also have what’s called an external locus of control: the belief that they are a passive victim of their circumstances, rather than the architect of their own destiny. Every time a reasonable solution is offered, they’ll play the ‘yes, but’ game, preferring to nurse that sense of unfairness like Gollum and his ring.

Something might go really well yet by the end of the day it’s catastrophised, remembered as an unmitigated disaster. They might similarly revise their entire childhood, levelling out all experiences to the baseline of the worst. In my memory, for instance, my childhood is like Nordic noir: everyone’s withdrawn and secretive, the sky is overcast, and people drift about wearing thick woollen jumpers (Dad never turned on the central heating). At any moment someone’s liable to walk out into a snowdrift and never return.

That’s the past. As for the future – which in Child 4’s case is the option of turning over a sheet of paper and starting anew – they’re harbingers of doom.

In defence of Child 4, certainly not all pessimistic or reactive children will grow up wanting to funnel the world up one nostril. There are plenty of coping techniques that, with a bit of encouragement, an individual can employ to regulate their moods.

The ruined paintings of the Life at Seven kids were a minor setback. In the case of experiencing childhood trauma, having low resilience – like Child 4 – can be a huge risk factor for adult anxiety, depression and problematic substance use.

One of the most thorough studies of childhood personality began in Melbourne in 1983 and is ongoing. The psychologists and paediatricians behind the Australian Temperament Project have been following the children of 2443 Victorian families. They’ve found that the features of temperament most likely to have long-term influence are persistence, flexibility and reactivity/emotionality, with the biggest predictor of adult behaviour being self-regulation.

Someone with poor self-regulation has little capacity to control their reactions, which include physiological responses, such as a churning stomach when something is upsetting, but also their interpersonal attitudes. Take me. I was one of those kids who, if a friend came over to play and a row started, would rather endure an hour of anvil-heavy, atom-buzzing silence until their mother arrived to take them away, than try to rectify the situation. Not much has changed. Fast-forward thirty years and there I am necking two beta-blockers before resigning from a job, in order to firmly get my points across without hurling a stapler or letting loose a spittled string of expletives.

So why do some people fail at self-regulation?

In part it’s hereditary, but it’s also down to the home environment. When a child’s stress-response systems are activated – which means an increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure and release of stress hormones – some calm intervention by a caregiver can bring these responses back down to baseline. If these skills are not observed and learned, the habit of self-regulation will not be routed into the neural pathways. Failure to learn might be through parental neglect or through watching parents catastrophise minor issues.

Conversely, pandering to a child’s every whim can mean they’ll never experience disappointment and how to adapt to it. Increasingly, drug and alcohol counsellors are seeing clients in their thirties and forties who are living back at home with enabling parents who never learned to tell them ‘no’.

The danger in both cases is that defeat can become comforting. There’s a familiar cycle of disappointment and then – if you grow up to coddle yourself with drugs and alcohol – self-soothing. In time, defeat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things are not for the likes of you. Something simply cannot be done. There is no point.

In summary, what we know to be high-risk factors for problematic substance use include low resilience, poor self-regulation, low self-efficacy and reactivity.

This is why it’s vital for any adult addressing their alcohol or drug use to specifically address their resilience and self-regulation, perhaps through counselling methods, such as CBT. Turn it into a game, if necessary: how quickly can I laugh off that slight? How many good things happened to me today before that wrong turn into shit-town? What advantage can I milk from this unexpected situation? What have I learned? Our temperament may be acquired through our genes, but our attributes are gained through our own free will.

unnamed.jpgWoman of Substances is available as a special offer here. The author’s blog is here.

 

How to be okay with being alone

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Being alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. 

Most of us are constantly surrounded by people, whether you live in an urban environment or if you’re in a relationship, work at a social company, or exist in the digital world of social media.

But sometimes we crave time away from everyone, or we may end up in a situation where we are involuntarily spending a lot more time on our own – whether that’s because of a breakup or moving to a new city.

It is imperative to learn how to enjoy your own company because like it or not, you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life.

When you start to feel lonely, it can help to think about all the things you can do with no one else around. You can talk to yourself, you can watch a sad movie and sob your heart out, you can dance in the kitchen naked, you can be as messy and as gross as you like and no one will be there to judge you!

Get to know yourself

Psychologist and author Wayne Dyer says, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” You might find out that you like yourself a lot. If not, you’ll know why, and by being alone, you give yourself the opportunity to work on it.

How can you really know yourself if you have never really spent time with yourself?

How can you know how YOU will react to something, how YOU would spend your day, how YOU would process a big decision without the influence and perspective of someone else?

Do things YOU love doing

Go for a surf, practice yoga, take a long walk, go camping alone, swim in the ocean or cook a delicious meal.

Traveling and exploring by yourself, for instance, is one of the best things you can do alone and can be the most rewarding for personal growth. You’re put into situations where you cannot rely on anyone else and you may find yourself out of your comfort zone, or experiencing things you thought you never would without anyone else’s support or opinion or mood to influence your experience.

Solitude is also the best time to get things done. You can be the most productive on your own with no distractions, so if you have a project you’ve been wanting to start on, or an idea brewing in the back of your mind, being alone is the perfect time to work on it!

Have a creative project

Creativity is often found in the mists of solitude.

Ideas for creative personal projects include:

  • writing music;
  • planting a veggie garden;
  • building furniture;
  • knitting or crocheting a throw or scarf;
  • making scented candles;
  • drawing;
  • painting;
  • scrapbooking.

It’s okay to be reflective and even sad when alone

It is often a perfect time to be alone when you’re in a mood, as we tend to get irritated and take out how we’re feeling on others.

An article on Lifehacker, Why Bad Moods are Good For You, explains that bad moods are actually an essential part of the normal range of moods we regularly experience.

“We should recognise they are normal, and even a useful and adaptive part of being human, helping us cope with many everyday situations and challenges. Psychologists who study how our feelings and behaviours have evolved over time maintain all our affective states (such as moods and emotions) have a useful role: they alert us to states of the world we need to respond to.”

Reflection is vital for us to be able learn from the past. If we don’t reflect on something negative that happened, we can’t know how to change it, and if we don’t reflect on something great that happened, we are not as satisfied or as grateful as we probably should be. Reflection also allows you to welcome new ideas and thoughts and is critical for self-improvement.

Take a break from social media

Social media often feeds us this world where everyone is living a ‘perfect’ life, constantly having fun, going out, being social and traveling the world. It’s amazing to be inspired and motivated by these beautiful photos and posts, but it can have you comparing your life to everyone else’s. You may suffer from serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when you see your friends constantly socialising, but the reality is they need their down time too. You can’t say yes to everything and be surrounded by people 24/7, or you won’t have time to reflect, adjust and grow.

Give yourself transition time

Whether you have just had a break up and separated from an ex, moved into a new place by yourself, moved to a new city, a new job or you have come home from a big, life changing adventure, you need to give yourself time to adjust to a new environment, and allow yourself time to grieve the loss of a past time.

Acknowledge the times you crave your own space

Try to be more aware of the times you are getting irritated with someone or a situation, as this could be a sign you just need to be with you for a little while. Plan something to do alone, whether that is just going out for a walk or sitting in a park reading a good book. It could simply be taking a bath and locking the world out for a bit of breathing space. Acknowledging this feeling of wanting some ‘you’ time is vital to be able to step back from a situation and gain some perspective.

How I stopped my wine o’clock habit

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On 1 January 2017, I started an alcohol-free month. It was on the back of a classic ‘new year, new you’ moment (cliché, I know), but there’s something so neat and appealing about a bright, shiny new year. There’s also the bonus of New Year’s Eve, so you can go out with a bang.

I’ve done Dry July the past few years with various degrees of success (last year needed a reset to Dry August). I’ve always admired those strong-willed people who have a month off the booze in sunny February or October. I can cope when we’re knee deep in winter but balk at the thought of giving up alcohol in a nice month.

It’s pretty easy to get into the habit of drinking. I had a general plan for AFDs (alcohol-free days) Monday to Thursday, but too frequently that was pulling back to Wednesday, maybe Tuesday on a bad day. The routine of walk in the door; keys down; glass out and pour is very easy to slip into and so easily sustained when it’s an almost daily ritual with your partner. It just becomes a part of your routine.

What goes hand in hand with frequency is quantity. A couple of glasses at wine o’clock  most nights adds up pretty quickly, right? Throw in a sneaky bubbly on Friday after work and a Saturday night binge sesh, and say ‘hello’ to a couple of empty bottles of Adelaide Hills pinot gris by Sunday.

I was pretty good at knowing how much I could drink and stay under the limit for driving. Sometimes I’d plan my strategy in advance – would I drink up in the first hour and then wait it out? Or would I drink over a few hours and hang in there? It’s an imprecise science at the best of times and obviously impacted by the wine goggles you’re wearing when you’re in the moment.

One of the bonuses of being a successful grown-up is the capacity to afford good quality alcohol. Drinking well adds to the air of sophistication and makes you think you’re a wine aficionado, rather than just someone who drinks too much. I was starting to invest quite a few dollars of my hard earned cash in alcohol and would reason that I work hard, so I deserve to let my hair down every now and again.

The interesting thing about drinking is how enjoyable it is in the moment and how shit it is the next morning. I was starting to find that my capacity to drink was pretty good so I could hold my grog with the best of them. With increasing regularity, though, I’d lose my capacity to bounce back and I’d suffer the next day blues with a fuzzy head and blocked nose. I reasoned it might be those nasty preservatives in the wine so I took up organic varieties for a while. Surprise, surprise, this didn’t seem to help.

Women in their 40s and 50s are among the biggest binge drinkers around and are fast catching up to men in terms of problem drinking. Teenagers are taking the rap for the mild-mannered mums who are putting away eight or more glasses per week. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey was released on 1 June this year and showed that for the first time ever, women in their fifties do more high-risk drinking than 18-24 year-olds.

What’s that all about? Are we managing our stressful lives with alcohol? Is it the modern day version of a Bex and a lie-down? What I know is that I needed to interrupt the very comfy pattern I was in.

I’ve never been too good at moderation. I’m the type that will open a bag of lollies or chips and eat the whole lot. The call of an open packet of anything in the cupboard has always been too tempting for me. But for all my shocking lack of moderation, I’m really good at going cold turkey. There’s something I enjoy about the denial, something about the challenge of giving things up that spurs me on.

So here I am over five months later with nary a drop of alcohol past my lips. When I started in January I didn’t really have an end date. Having come this far I’m thinking I will definitely go six months and then see what I think. My biggest fear is that I’ll have one drink and slip straight back into old habits. Just having the fear tells me I might need to go on a bit longer.

There’s been a positive impact on my partner, too, as we no longer egg each other on and enable each other’s drinking. I’ve done Dry July on my own in the past and have found it hard when my partner didn’t do it. Doing it together has helped both of us break bad habits and he’s so proud of how strong I have been.

I hadn’t noticed before how much time I spent thinking and reading about alcohol until my inbox started overflowing with unopened emails from various merchants and wineries. I subscribed to wine clubs and had a steady supply arriving straight to my door without me even having to think about it. My last call from my Vinomofo guy ended with a polite decline and an interesting chat about that time he gave up alcohol for 364 days. He’s calling me back later in the year to see how I’m going.

You don’t realise how much our social occasions involve alcohol until you’re not drinking. I’ve been through family birthdays (including mine), knock off drinks, work events, parties, long haul flights, overseas holidays, free alcohol in the Qantas club (yes, I even withstood free alcohol!). I’ve sat there with my sparkling water or my cup of tea and felt okay about it. I do have an honest suspicion, though, that I’m a lot more interesting when I’ve had a few.

It might not be surprising to know that when everyone is drinking and you’re stone cold sober, it is quickly revealed how uninteresting drunk people are. I’ve been making lots of observations of my unsuspecting drinking subjects in the wild. I reckon three drinks is the turning point. The point where the drinker’s face starts to contort a bit, the words slur a bit, the speech volume goes up a bit and the assertiveness goes up a notch towards aggression. It’s an ugly transformation to witness. Yet somehow in this scenario, everyone tells me I’m the boring one. If only they could see themselves. If only we could see ourselves we would know we are just the same.

I know that the cold turkey approach is not for everyone. If you want some help to reset your relationship with alcohol, head over to hellosundaymorning.org to access to their online supports and community.

Article by Hello Sunday Morning supporter Kathryn Jordan. Kathryn blogs at How to be Fifty

The top six questions about drinking and health answered

From alcohol’s effect on fertility, to how long your liver takes to recover

Gastroenterologist Professor Weltman, helps us answer specific health questions asked by our community on Daybreak.

 

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1. How long does it take for your liver to start to recover once you stop or cut down drinking?

Professor Weltman, Head of the Gastroenterology and Hepatology department at Nepean Hospital, NSW, says the recovery is variable as it depends on the individual.

“Alcohol does not work the same on everyone, so to start off with, it is best to give it 6–12 months before you’re able to see what kind of reversibility is there.”

Consensus in clinical research suggests that the liver is the only organ in the body that is able to regenerate by replacing damaged tissue with new cells, but it depends on the length of time the individual has been drinking and each individual is entirely different. Complications can develop after 5–10 years, though it more commonly takes 20–30 years.

Complications of liver disease occur when regeneration is either incomplete or prevented by progressive development of scar tissue within the liver. This happens when a damaging agent like alcohol continues to attack the liver and prevents complete regeneration. Once scar tissue has developed it is very difficult to reverse that process.

2. What impact does alcohol have on fertility for males?

It’s an inconvenient truth that heavy alcohol use reduces men’s fertility; it can cause impotence, reduce libido and affect sperm quality.

A recent study of couples undergoing assisted reproductive treatment looked at male and female alcohol consumption in the year prior to treatment, as well as during treatment. It found both male and female alcohol consumption decreased the chance of a healthy baby and increased the risk of miscarriage.

Although the scientific evidence about how low to moderate drinking affects a man’s fertility isn’t clear, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that men abide by the safe drinking guidelines and women don’t drink at all during this period.

3. What impact does alcohol have on fertility for females?

For women, heavy drinking also affects fertility, increasing the length of time it takes to get pregnant and reducing the chances of having a healthy baby.

The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines also say that:

  • For healthy women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
  • Heavy drinking before pregnancy is also known to affect women’s health. Women who consume large amounts of alcohol (seven or more drinks a week or more than three drinks on one occasion) are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and take longer to get pregnant.
  • For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

4. What are the effects of alcohol on the brain?

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says the short term effects of drinking alcohol can include: difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times and impaired memory. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops. On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she stops consuming alcohol.

“We do know that heavy drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple ‘slips’ in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions.”

A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain, including:

  • How much and how often a person drinks;
  • The age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she has been drinking;
  • The person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history;
  • Whether he or she is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure; and
  • His or her general health status.

5. What does alcohol do to your body after the age of 40?

Professor Weltman says alcohol does not really affect people differently at any age other than babies. It is more the fact that if people have been drinking heavily since they were young, they therefore are more likely to develop the consequences.

“Drinking heavily for a long period of time can cause people to have liver damage, fibrosis scarring, pancreas damage and damage to the brain, like an early cognitive disfunction that is similar to dementia.

“Your coordination can become unsteady and the heart’s rhythm can have disturbances as well as weakening of the heart muscle. Men specifically can develop testicular atrophy, enlarged breasts and reduced sexual function.

“Women can develop osteoporosis, bone loss and muscle loss. It is common for women to see nerve ending problems and damage where they loose sensation in hands and feet.”

6. What are the side effects of medications like Antabuse/Disulfiram, Campral/Acamprosate?

Professor Weltman says Disulfiram only has side effects when mixed with alcohol.

“The concept of the drug stems back from the 1960s: you either don’t take the drug or don’t drink, because when mixed, the reaction with alcohol causes people to become very unwell.

“Campral doesn’t have any side effects and works as a stimulater for the nerve transmitters in the brain to instead reduce the desire to drink.”

According to NPS MedicineWise, these medications are suitable as a long-term treatment for patients with alcohol dependance and should only be used in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Pharmacotherapy is generally used for people with more severe behaviours. In Australia, there are three drugs currently approved − oral Naltrexone, Acamprosate and Disulfiram. NSP Medicine Wise have a different view on the side affects of the drugs, outlined below:

Naltrexone is recommended for patients aiming to cut down their alcohol intake who do not have severe liver disease or an ongoing need for opioids.

EFFECTS: Headache, nausea, lethargy and dysphoria.

Acamprosate is recommended for those who have achieved and wish to maintain abstinence.

EFFECTS: The most common adverse event is transient diarrhoea.

Disulfiram is no longer considered first-line treatment due to difficulties with compliance and toxicity.

EFFECTS: Drinking alcohol within two weeks of taking disulfiram results in the accumulation of acetaldehyde in the blood. This causes unpleasant effects such as sweating, headache, dyspnoea, flushing, sympathetic overactivity, palpitations, nausea and vomiting.

* To find the right treatment for you, speak to your GP and head to the site for more information on medication-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence.


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