The Worst Times to Drink Alcohol, According to Dietitians
Have you ever noticed how alcohol hits you differently depending on the time of day and situation? Even your stress levels, hydration levels, and how much you've eaten can come into play. Well, you're not imagining things—certain factors can exacerbate alcohol's effects on you. That's why it's experts say it's important to be aware of the worst times to drink alcohol and to be mindful overall of when you choose to indulge in an adult beverage or two.
A 2017 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that alcohol consumption has been steadily on the rise in America since the 1990s—especially for women, minorities, and older adults. Not only that, but a May 2020 poll found that people started imbibing even more following the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, a person's average drinks per day increased by 27% compared to before the pandemic, while binge drinking spiked by 26%.
Clearly, it's time for Americans to take a long, hard look at their drinking habits—especially given that consuming alcohol comes with a number of both short-term and long-term health risks, including high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, a weakened immune system, and certain cancers.
That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a glass of wine or a craft cocktail now and then—the key is to be smart about how much you're drinking and when. Here are the worst times to drink alcohol, according to experts, and for more healthy tips, check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
When you've already had a couple.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as one per day for women and up to two per day for men.
"Drinking in excess is never a good idea, no matter when you're doing it," says Dr. Josh Axe, a certified clinical nutritionist and founder of Ancient Nutrition. "Binge drinking is going to impact your energy levels, brain function, cardiovascular health, mood, sleep patterns, and more."
According to the Sleep Foundation, binge drinking—which entails consuming four or more drinks in about two hours for women or five-plus drinks for men—can be especially detrimental to your sleep quality. That's important to keep in mind, given that sleep deficiency can negatively affect your mood, memory, cognitive performance, immune system, and blood sugar regulation.
Needless to say, as a general rule, it's best to savor that one or two boozy bevs, depending on your gender and size, and then cut yourself off.
Don't forget to read up on tips for choosing healthy drinks, while you're at it.
When it's still early in the day.
Sorry, day drinkers—but those Sunday Funday bloody marys and mimosas aren't doing you any favors.
"Alcohol can cause sluggishness, fatigue, lack of motivation and concentration, low energy, and low mood," says Dr. Axe. "If you drink early in the day, you aren't likely having a productive, healthy day. You're also less likely to eat balanced, healthy meals, to exercise, and to engage in stress-relieving activities."
This is particularly important to keep in mind if you still have work to do or any other mentally taxing tasks to complete that same day. One study, which tested male medical students' cognitive abilities in the afternoon and then in the evening, found that they did much worse on their afternoon test under the influence of alcohol compared to without, whereas there was little to no difference between their results in the evening regardless of whether they drank or not. Researchers concluded that this suggests there is a "circadian variation" in the effects of alcohol.
"If you're at a day-time event, stick to one drink and enjoy it slowly," adds Dr. Axe. "Then move on to hydrating beverages like lemon water or seltzer."
Here are the Side Effects of Giving Up Alcohol, According to Science.
When you're bored.
Experts say boozing when you're bored can easily become a vicious cycle.
"If you're drinking out of boredom, you need a new hobby," says Dr. Axe. "This is an unhealthy action and it can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, more boredom, and in turn, more drinking."
Instead of reaching into the fridge for a beer when you have nothing to do, Dr. Axe suggests going for a walk outdoors, listening to some music, or cooking a healthy meal—like one of these 100+ Best Healthy Recipes.
When you're stressed.
What's the first thing you do after an overwhelming workday? If your inclination is to pour a drink, you might want to think twice.
"Some people use alcohol as a crutch when they're feeling stressed or anxious," says Dr. Axe. "This is dangerous because it can lead to a vicious cycle and will not help to relieve stress levels. In fact, it can increase anxiety, stress, and feelings of hopelessness."
Research shows that alcohol can actually exacerbate the effects of stress. This is likely in part due to the fact that alcohol stimulates the release of stress hormones—like cortisol, while also shifting how the body perceives and responds to stress.
Right before you go to sleep.
Since alcohol is a sedative, you might assume that having a couple of drinks in the evening will help you get a better night's rest—but as it turns out, the opposite is actually true. According to The Sleep Foundation, while alcohol can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness at first, it's also linked to poor sleep quality and duration. Essentially, since it causes you to fall into a deep sleep pretty fast, that causes an imbalance between your slow-wave sleep and REM sleep cycles. This, in turn, typically means more sleep disruptions—and disruptions to your REM sleep can lead to drowsiness and poor concentration the next day.
For these reasons, The Sleep Foundation advises avoiding alcohol for at least four hours before you hit the hay.
So, when is an ideal time to imbibe? According to Dr. Axe, beyond following these aforementioned guidelines, the best time to have a drink is when you can be present and mindful. That way, you're more likely to be aware of how much you're consuming, and can feel satisfied after just one.
"If there's a less damaging time to drink, it would be when you're able to fully enjoy the drink for its taste, perhaps as part of a healthy dinner with a loved one," explains Dr. Axe. "Drinking alcohol now and then—maybe one to two 2 drinks per week, is ideal."
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