A message from Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. Shannon McDonald, FNHA Deputy Chief Medical Officer
"Sober for October" is a thing in many countries – and we think it's a very good thing – so this year we're jumping on the bandwagon, as it were, and doing it as a group! Please join us – participating FNHA staff members – in not drinking, or at least reducing, our alcohol consumption for the month of October. The goal of the Sober for October movement is to think about our social drinking / sometimes-automatic alcohol consumption and, going forward, after October, to consume less and be healthier for it. After all, "less is best" when it comes to alcohol and other substances including sugar or commercial tobacco. So … are you with us? Who's in? Let us know in the comments section below that you'll be doing Sober for October with us! We'll also be posting shorter Sober for October messages on various alcohol-related topics throughout the month. Please read them and comment, ask questions, share your stories! Make sure to use the hashtag #SoberforOctober in your post!
First and foremost, as Indigenous physicians, we want to remind Indigenous people that drinking alcohol carries some risks, and that we can always reduce our chances of harm. We understand that people may find drinking alcohol pleasurable and relaxing, however, we caution that it should not be used regularly or heavily – and it should not be used at all by pregnant women. Instead, we encourage everyone to make healthier lifestyle choices.
And please, let's find a way to talk more easily about alcohol consumption, like we do about sugar or tobacco, for instance. Remember that drinking too much alcohol is a health issue, not a moral issue, and that being judgmental or stigmatizing alcohol use is harmful, not helpful. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, long-lasting change is most likely when it's self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking, while the least effective strategies are those motivated by feelings of guilt, fear, shame or regret.
Pleasure seeking or using coping strategies is normal human behaviour; we just need to make sure our pleasures and strategies are positive and will keep us healthy and well in the long run. For example, is drinking that glass of wine at night the best coping strategy, or are there other things that would be better for us, like taking an Epsom Salt bath, snuggling with our pets, or listening to relaxing music? The key to replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is to take it one day at a time, think positively, and be patient with ourselves. Focus on even small successes, and not on setbacks. Don't fall into the shame-and-blame trap, which helps no one.
There are a number of things you can do to be successful at not drinking alcohol during Sober for October! We recommend that you get a group together to support each other and provide accountability. Invite friends, family or work mates who don't drink or who want to take this challenge themselves. If you are in the habit of going for drinks with friends after work, try a different activity that will not involve alcohol, such as going for a walk or to the movies with friends instead. Take note of the situations that trigger your desire to drink and be prepared for them. Fill up on water or tea and have some fruit or soup. Don't quit doing Sober for October if you slip – just start again, like you would for a diet! Watch for our upcoming post on ideas for alternative healthful coping strategies!
You can try to avoid places where alcohol is being served, but if this is not possible, enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage while reminding yourself of the many important benefits of not drinking alcohol for a month. Watch for our upcoming post on these benefits and on creating delicious, fun mocktails!
A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) done by the University College London on the health gains of taking one month off alcohol (the only study so far), showed that participants' insulin resistance – a marker for diabetes – improved by about 25%, their blood pressure went down to the same extent as if they'd taken prescription drugs to treat high blood pressure, and they lost about 2kg/4.4lbs on average. Blood tests for liver function and inflammation all showed small but significant improvements, and proteins in the blood called growth factors, which are linked with some cancers, dropped significantly over the month. But remember – taking one month off is not the answer, it's just a start. Happily, the vast majority of study participants, when contacted six months later, reported that they had cut back on their alcohol intake because they felt so much better after having done a month off. Watch for our upcoming post on the many positive effects of limiting or quitting drinking!
As physicians, we can only guide our patients, warn them about the risks, and give information on healthy ways to reduce stress. We encourage you to learn more about alcohol use and where to find help if you think you may need it.
Are you with us? We look forward to hearing about your experiences here on our Facebook page, so please feel free to share them in the comments! Remember to use the hashtag #SoberforOctober in your post!
And be sure to watch for our posts throughout the month of October on various alcohol-related topics. They will help you keep on track! Dr. Nel Wieman will share tips on how to stick to the Sober for October plan; Dr. Kelsey Louie will run through the risks of alcohol and reasons to limit alcohol consumption, including dramatically fewer injuries and accidents; Dr. Sean Wachtel will share on the many incredible health benefits of limiting or quitting alcohol; and Dr. Unjali Malhotra will share about the risks of alcohol to women in particular.
Here are some helpful links:
Alcohol Reality Check in British Columbia: www.alcoholreality.ca
Alcohol Best Practices Portal: http://cbpp-pcpe.phac-aspc.gc.ca/public-health-topics/alcohol/
Other helpful links include: