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Drinking Decisions

If you have a history of head and neck cancer, drinking alcohol may increase your risk of a cancer reoccurrence

This section is related to drinking alcohol. While you may not believe that you have a problem with alcohol, even small amounts of alcohol can affect your body physically and emotionally. If you have a history of head and neck cancer, drinking alcohol may increase your risk of a cancer reoccurrence. Hence, you do not have to consider yourself an 'alcoholic' to find help here.

Alcohol is the third leading health problem in the United States. More than 20 million Americans (roughly 10% of the population) have a serious alcohol problem. Alcohol abuse has been found to reduce one's life expectancy by 10 years.

For people with a history of illness, such as cancer or heart disease, even moderate drinking can be harmful. Alcohol can interact with medications, causing serious side effects and even death. Since alcohol use increases the likelihood of a second cancer, it is very important that individuals with a history of cancer consider abstaining from even moderate drinking.

Pleasurable and Unpleasurable Experiences from Drinking Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can result in a number of pleasurable feelings including these:

  • Relaxation
  • Self - Confidence
  • Sense of Peace
  • Happiness
  • Celebration
  • Comfort
  • Forget Worries
  • Pleasurable Taste
  • Lose Inhibitions

Do any of these feelings apply to you? Are there other things you associate with alcohol in a positive way?

Drinking alcohol can also result in a number of unpleasant experiences including:

  • Harmful Interaction with Medications
  • Health Problems
    • High Blood Pressure
    • Malnutrition
    • Liver Problems
    • Sexual Problems
  • Financial Worries
  • Loss of Family, Friends, Jobs, or Relationships
  • Loss of Memory
  • Insomnia / Sleep Problems
  • Depression

Note for yourself whether or not any of the above apply to you -- even if you don't believe they relate to alcohol consumption. Keep these two lists in mind the next time you drink.

How Much is too Much?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men under 65 drink no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks per sitting. Women and men over 65 should have no more than 7 drinks per week and 3 drinks per sitting. Overall, no one should have more than I drink per hour since that is how fast your body can metabolize alcohol. However, if you have a history of problems with alcohol, even one drink may be too many. People who have a history of head and neck cancer have an increased chance of getting a second cancer if they continue drinking.

What is a Standard Drink?

These drinks all contain the same amount of alcohol. You can think of each as a "standard drink":

  • One can of ordinary beer or ale (12 oz)
  • A glass of wine (6 oz)
  • A small glass of sherry (4 oz)
  • A single shot of liquor (1.5 oz)
  • A small glass of liqueur or aperitif (4 oz)

The Alcohol Consumption Worksheet (PDF format, 7k) can help you track your drinking. Each day write down how many drinks you had, what was the occasion and how you felt that day. After a week or so, you should be able to pinpoint your basic drinking pattern. You can tell what the triggers are for your drinking and how you feel while you are drinking.

In addition, as you complete the worksheet, note the places, people or environments that seem to trigger your drinking.

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