Tag Archives: smoking-and-substance-abuse

Cheers! Tips for Safe Alcohol Use During the Holidays

By: Ariel J. Warden-Jarrett, M.D., FAAFP

The holidays are a time for family, friends and celebration. Unfortunately, it’s also when people sometimes drink too much, with consequences ranging from fights and falls to serious traffic accidents.

People often put themselves at risk because they believe myths about alcohol use ─ common but incorrect beliefs. Let’s look at some of the most common alcohol myths, and then we’ll tell you how to safely enjoy a few drinks during the holidays.

Alcohol myths

I’m in control. At first, alcohol acts as a stimulant, and you may feel happier and confident. But at this stage, alcohol has already reduced your inhibitions and impaired your judgment. As you drink more, you are likely to underestimate alcohol’s effects, making you feel “bullet proof” while seriously eroding your ability to think clearly and control your behavior.

It’s okay, I’m just drinking beer. One 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor have the same amount of alcohol. It’s not what you drink, it’s how much you drink that matters.

I can still drive. You may think you are safe to drive as long as you’re not slurring your words or acting erratically. However, the coordination needed for driving is compromised long before the signs of intoxication are visible. Plus, the sedative effects of alcohol increase your risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.

I stopped drinking, so I’m fine. It’s easy to misjudge how long alcohol’s effects last. After you stop drinking, alcohol in your stomach and intestine continues to enter your bloodstream, impairing your judgment and coordination.  Your liver can only process about one standard drink every hour, so the effects of drinking can drag on for hours.

I can sober up quickly if I need to. It’s widely believed that coffee, a cold shower or fresh air will get you sober. It’s also wrong.  These things may help with drowsiness, but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. There are no quick cures; only time will help.

I ate a big meal, so I won’t get as drunk.  Eating before drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol by the body, but it can’t prevent you from getting drunk. Eventually, the stomach will empty from dinner and alcohol absorption will pick up again.

Tips for safe alcohol use

Whether you’re attending or hosting a holiday party, here are ways to consume alcohol safely.

  • Pace yourself. A standard drink is one 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor, and you should have no more than one per hour. And no more than four drinks per day for men or three for women.
  • Slow down. Sip your drink.
  • Space your drinks. Make every other one nonalcoholic, such as water.
  • Eat food before and while you drink to slow down your absorption of alcohol.
  • Make plans to get home safely. Remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn’t had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least.

If you’re a party host:

  • Offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food.
  • Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends.
  • Don’t serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest.
  • Don’t let anyone who is drunk drive home.

For more information on celebrating the holidays safely, visit http://www.RethinkingDrinking.niaaa.nih.gov



Ariel Warden-Jarrett, M.D.Dr. Ariel Warden-Jarrett is an MPCP partner and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She practices in the Bowie office.

Maybe Not So Safe: New Evidence On E-Cigarettes

When e-cigarettes were introduced in the U.S. in 2006, they were promoted as a safer alternative to smoking. Users inhale nicotine-infused vapor, without the mix of carcinogenic chemicals found in regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers (which produce large, fluffy clouds of vapor) have gained popularity among current and former smokers, as well as those who have never smoked, including teenagers. The idea that e-cigarettes are safe is so widespread that some smokers are switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, there isn’t much research linking them to specific diseases. However, most doctors would probably agree that sucking clouds of nicotine-laden vapor (propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin) into your lungs is probably not a good idea.

But now, two recent studies suggest e-cigarette users risk harming their airways, suffering bacterial infections, and compromising their immune system.

Airway inflammation: In experiments with mice, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System found that mice exposed to e-cigarette vapors were more likely to suffer inflammation of their airways. They also observed that e-cigarette vapor appeared to make bacteria – including the antibiotic-resistant MRSA “superbug” ─ more dangerous. Twenty-five percent of mice infected with MRSA died after exposure to e-cigarette vapor, compared to zero mice that weren’t exposed. In fact, the vapor seemed to make bacteria thrive.

The study did not link e-cigarette vapor to specific diseases. However, scientists noted that some of the physiological changes observed in the mice are also found in the airways and blood of cigarette smokers, while other changes are found in people with cancer or inflammatory lung diseases.

Bacterial infection: In a second study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health exposed mice to e-cigarette vapor and then subjected them to Streptococcus pneumoniae, bacteria responsible for pneumonia and sinusitis, or the virus for Influenza A.  Mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor were significantly more likely to develop compromised immune responses to both the virus and the bacteria, which in some cases killed the mice.

Since e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, it isn’t known what their long-term effects may be, but public officials aren’t waiting to find out. At least 38 states place restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and more than 100 cities have prohibited the use of e-cigarettes in public places. Also, the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has proposed regulating them as tobacco products.

More research is needed, but the two studies cited in this article do suggest that e-cigarettes are not the safe alternative to smoking people once thought they were.

Patricia Jett, M.D.Dr. Patricia Jett is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and practices in MPCP’s Annapolis office. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She received her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed her residency program in Family Practice at Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Rethinking Drinking: What’s the Healthy Choice?

James Chamberlain, M.D.

I am often asked questions about alcohol use, such as how much is safe and are there any health benefits. I tell my patients that drinking in moderation is fine. Alcohol is a part of our social fabric and there is nothing inherently bad about it. I tell my patients they don’t have to give up their glass of wine with dinner or a beer or two at a party, as long as they aren’t driving home. But I remind them that there are well-known downsides to excessive alcohol use and I urge caution for anyone who chooses to drink.

Clearly, the key is moderation. According to the Mayo Clinic, that is one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces

Risks of Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week for women and for men older than age 65, and more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men age 65 and younger. Binge drinking is four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.

Heavy drinking can increase your risk of serious health problems, such as:

  • Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
  • Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child

When to Avoid Alcohol

In certain situations, even moderate drinking may pose health risks. Ask your doctor whether you should avoid alcohol if:

  • You’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • You have liver or pancreatic disease
  • You have heart failure or you’ve been told you have a weak heart
  • You take prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
  • You’ve had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures)
  • Any time you are going to get behind the wheel
  • In combination with a variety of medications – always consult your doctor about the “drug interaction” potential of your medication with alcohol

Warning signs of problem drinking

  • You feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking
  • You lie to others or hide your drinking habits
  • Your friends or family members are worried about your drinking
  • You need to drink in order to relax or feel better
  • You “black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking
  • You regularly drink more than you intended to
  • You have had problems in relationships, with work or with the law related to drinking
  • You have had medical problems related to alcohol use

Are There Benefits?

Over the years, several studies have suggested possible benefits for moderate alcohol use, including:

  • Reducing risk of developing and dying from heart disease
  • Lowering risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
  • Reducing risk of diabetes
  • Slight reduction in overall mortality for moderate drinkers when compared to non-drinkers

The key again is moderation. Many people find it difficult to stay under one or two drinks a day. A glass of wine or a beer each evening followed by heavier drinking on weekend nights is too much. It’s the average consumption per day that matters. If you know you will be drinking on the weekends it’s best to avoid those weeknight drinks. And everyone should be aware of the signs of problem drinking and seek help if they find themselves unable to control their alcohol use.
Talk to your family doctor if you are concerned about your drinking. We can help you figure out if it’s a problem and get you the help you need if it is.

Additional resources:

James Chamberlain, M.D.Dr. James Chamberlain is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. He received his medical degree from University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1985 and completed his residency program in Family Practice at The Medical University of South Carolina in 1988. Dr. Chamberlain sees patients in the Queenstown office.