Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and What It Can Tell You

Excessive drinking is a safety issue in more ways than one. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10,265 individuals were killed in drunk-driving accidents in 2015 alone. Use of Uber or Lyft may help one avoid driving while intoxicated, however, drinking has other risks we often don’t think about.

Safety Risks of Excessive Drinking

Drinking past the recommended alcohol consumption limit is linked to numerous other safety risks besides car accidents. Injuries resulting from falls are more likely in people who are impaired by the effects of over-drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption is also closely-linked to fatal swimming and boating accidents, as you can easily misjudge your ability to do either when intoxicated. Of course, you are also at higher risk of ending up in jail.

Therefore, it is a good idea to understand the concept of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). In determining whether an impaired driver is drunk, BAC is measured by the police officer who suspects an intoxicated driver. If the BAC is at least the legal limit of 0.08, a DUI charge will be issued.

Importantly, maintaining your BAC under the legal limit is required when planning to drive home after a party where alcohol has been consumed. However, it is important to realize that you can actually become impaired by alcohol with a lower BAC than 0.08 and even charged with a DUI when you are below the legal limit. This is because some people have a more pronounced physiological reaction to alcohol than others.

Calculating your BAC

BAC charts and calculators require an understanding of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink. The following is representative of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

It is a good idea to keep both ounces and percentages in mind when calculating the amount of ingested drinks needed to remain under 0.08 BAC. It is also an equally good idea to recognize that you can still become impaired from alcohol even if you are under 0.08 BAC. Your BAC level at any point in time is not necessarily an indicator of whether you are addicted to alcohol. Instead, it is just an indicator of your level of intoxication—and, therefore, your probable safety in walking, driving, or engaging in any activity that requires quick reflexes (like sports) or complex problem solving.

There are many BAC calculators available online, but I recommend the website, http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org, as a useful resource (as it offers both a BAC chart and calculator).

Your BAC and getting help from a therapist

If it is hard for you to maintain the recommended BAC or you often drink to excess, you may need the help of a therapist to address your drinking problem. Tolerance to increased alcohol ingestion and binge drinking are two signs that you need help to deal with your alcohol consumption. One way to know you have developed tolerance is if you have a blood level of .08 or higher and yet don’t feel any signs of intoxication.

Besides helping you deal with your over-drinking, a therapist can help you to explore other factors (e.g., stress, emotions, family history, and personality) that may be fostering a loss of control over your drinking. It’s never too early (or late) to address a drinking problem.

Drinking Too Much and Trying to Stop?

Most people who drink excessively experience times where they know it is causing problems for them. From too many hang-overs to conflicts with family members and friends, drinking frequently to excess can interfere with your relationships, impact your work and other activities, and basically disrupt your life. Is this you or someone you know?

When a heavy drinker receives feedback from others that they have a problem with alcohol consumption, that feedback often is advice to entirely cease alcohol consumption immediately. But, that just exacerbates the problem. Indeed, it can make a person who enjoys drinking (and/or relies on alcohol as a stress-reliever) feel stuck to the point where that drinker just gives up trying to quit. Long-term habits are truly hard to break, and choosing to entirely stop drinking all at once is not possible for the majority of over-drinkers. You are not a failure.

Abstinence from alcohol – Is this necessary for me?

“How can I make my drinking more manageable without stopping altogether?” This is a question that I often hear in working with people who are struggling to change their relationship with alcohol. My experience is that many people who are heavy drinkers feel that just ceasing entirely from drinking is not a realistic option for them. Likewise, they feel frustrated that the “cold turkey” and “just stop drinking” option is the one most often presented to them.

I don’t argue for (or against) the merits of embarking on the path of total abstinence from drinking for an adult who has had a drinking problem. This can be the right path for one person, but the wrong path for someone else. The important thing is to recognize if you have a drinking problem, so you can take steps to address it.

What if I can’t just stop drinking?

Those with repeated difficulty sticking to their plans of limiting their drinking often experience increased feelings of shame—as well as feeling hopeless about changing their alcohol over-consumption. Working with a trained therapist to change your relationship with alcohol may be the best option if you have been unable to make that change alone.

We—at Portland Psychotherapy—are here to help you figure out the best way for you to take control of your drinking, and find better ways of coping with the pull of negative patterns that push you toward drinking to excess. You do not have to do it all by yourself, and we can help you stick to your goals.

Vulnerability and Recovery

Because I work with people who struggle with addiction, I am particularly attuned to the ways that the public perceives people struggling with addiction and in recovery.  Too often, media portrayals of addiction dramatize or glamorize addiction in unrealistic ways.  These images contribute to a negative perception of addiction and recovery and lead to misunderstandings, fear, and stigma.

In my work, I’ve had the fortune to witness and be inspired by some of the many people who stop using alcohol or drugs each year. Based on this experience, I want to propose an alternative perspective on addiction — that most of us share a lot more experiences with folks struggling with addiction than we realize.

Think of a habit or behavior that you know is not so good for you or gets in the way of who you want to be.  This might take the form of a (more) socially approved of “addiction”.  Things like

  • chocolate,
  • shopping,
  • TV,
  • texting,
  • cell phone games

Have you ever tried to change that behavior?  Was it easy?

Have you noticed what happens when you start entertaining changing a habit?  If you are anything like me, your first thoughts might be something like “I could change if I wanted to,” and “it’s not a good time to change because…”  The truth is that changing is hard and would require being willing to experience a whole lot of difficult feelings and thoughts.

I experienced this recently when I quit eating sugar a few months ago.  For ten days I couldn’t concentrate, my emotions felt extreme and unpredictable, and my body ached in places that had not ever been injured.  I experienced triggers, urges, cravings – the whole nine yards.  I felt extremely sensitive, like a buffer between me and the difficult things that happen in my life had been removed. In the process of making this change, I encountered my own vulnerability.

In her now famous Ted Talk, Brene Brown talks about how she didn’t choose just one substance to retreat into to protect her from vulnerability, she used a failsafe combo: a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.  Many of the behaviors that we do routinely may protect us from having to experience our own vulnerability.  But our vulnerability is a part of our humanity – and part of what connects us to each other.

My admiration for folks in recovery comes from their willingness to experience their vulnerability in order to make a change.  Recovery usually involves giving up something that, at least at some level, feels like it keeps you safe and protected. Often it requires making changes to relationships, to daily routines, and to the things we use for comfort.  As if that weren’t vulnerable enough, it sometimes means making amends to people that you harmed in the past.  In my experience, recovery requires a courage of heart that is rarely required of most of us.

Now I am aware that experiments in vulnerability, like choosing to give up sugar, TV, or your cell phone, or making other changes that disrupt our sense of safety, do not capture the experience of overcoming addiction. My intent is not to make light of the experience of addiction or recovery.  It is to suggest that making changes is hard for all of us and that we have more in common with those who struggle with addiction than we may realize.  In fact, I often think that stigma and judgements about others, including people who struggle with addiction, may be a way to distance ourselves from vulnerability. Unfortunately, this also restricts our connection to our humanity.

The truth is all of us humans experience very unpleasant sensations and feelings when we change our behavior — there is no permanent way to keep us safe from that.  We all have vulnerabilities we might prefer to avoid.  By noticing the ways in which we defend our vulnerability, we increase our empathy and humanity, and may even find a little of the courage of recovery in our own lives.

CRAFT: Helping Families With an Addicted Love One

Event Brite Link:

http://craftportland.eventbrite.com/

If you have a loved one with an addiction you’ve probably tried everything you can think of to get him/her to stop:  nagging, threatening, ultimatums, bargaining, attending support groups, etc. You may feel like there is nothing that you can do to get them to stop. Don’t give up, there is hope. An approach called CRAFT has been shown in well-designed research studies to get approximately 7 out of 10 loved ones into treatment. Additionally, CRAFT has been shown to improve the well-being of family members. This highly effective approach does not rely on confrontation or detachment. Instead, you will learn about specific actions you can take to free yourself from their cycle of addiction.

Time and date to be determined

What Questions to Ask When Looking into Addiction Treatment

In late February the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a government agency dedicated to studying addiction, published a free resource on what to ask when looking into addiction treatment programs. This short booklet, which can be viewed online or downloaded for free, lists 5 questions to ask any addiction treatment provider you are considering seeing and offers the reasons why it is important to ask these particular 5 questions. As part of the description of their reasoning the booklet’s authors provide useful information about the types of available addiction treatments, as well as the important elements of effective addiction treatments. In looking over the booklet I began to think about additional questions that might be helpful to ask when pursuing addiction treatment. In no particular order, here are the:

Additional questions you may want to consider. 

  • What is the treatment philosophy or model? Many programs include or heavily emphasize the 12 steps (AA, NA) approach. Although the 12 step model can be very helpful to people in recovery, it may not be the best fit for some. If you are not a fan of the 12 steps, be sure to ask if there are alternative programs available (e.g., SMART Recovery).
  • What resources are available after treatment ends? Check to see if the treatment program offers monthly groups or other services once the intensive phase (i.e., the phase where you participate in treatment frequently) is over. As stated in the booklet, treatment needs to be long enough to work; research suggests that a minimum of 3 months of treatment is needed for many people to stop or decrease drug/alcohol use. This does not mean that you need 3 months of inpatient treatment (i.e., you live at a facility where you receive treatment), but it does mean that you may need to stay in some type of treatment, whether it’s weekly group meetings, one-on-one meetings with a therapist, etc., for at least 3 months. When looking into treatment programs, be sure to ask what treatment is available after the intensive phase is complete to make sure you have the resources you need to be successful.
  • What about family or couples therapy? The booklet briefly mentions that family therapy may be needed as part of treatment, but if you are looking for or think you may need family or couples therapy be sure to ask about them directly. You may be wondering why you would need family or couples therapy. When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol it not only affects the person, but the person’s relationships with his/her family or partner. Many family members and partners have learned how to relate to their loved one when he/she was addicted; it can be quite difficult to learn how to relate to a loved one when he/she is sober. Some family members feel at a loss as to how to best support their loved one’s sobriety, or worse, they may unknowingly interact with their loved ones in ways that are detrimental to their loved one’s recovery. This does not mean that family members cause loved ones to use! The choice to use still resides with the person who uses, but family members can be positive or negative influences in a person’s path to recovery (one type of therapy that works with family members and partners to be allies in their loved one’s recovery is called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT). CRAFT is a highly effective treatment for family members and for people with addictions). Family and couples therapy can help family members and partners heal from their loved one’s use and to learn new, supportive ways of interacting with their loved ones while they are recovering.
  • Depending on your needs, you may need to ask about:
    • Whether the program will meet requirements for assessment and/or treatment that is court-ordered (e.g., DUII).
    • Assistance with job placement, housing, or other needs.
    • Spiritual services. Does the treatment program offer the opportunity to continue with your spiritual practices?
    • Insurance and payment options.

Of course, the above is not a complete list of questions to consider, but hopefully it helps you start thinking about what your own unique needs may be and what questions you want answered before committing to treatment.

Finding the right treatment can be difficult, but knowing your needs and the types of questions to ask, can put you on the path to finding the treatment program that will work best for you.