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Leah Odze Epstein

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Drinking Alcohol: In With The Guidance, Out With The One-Size-Fits-All Rules

Posted: 01/17/12 01:40 PM ET

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report stating that binge drinking is a bigger problem than they thought. According to their statistics, "More than 38 million US adults binge drink, about 4 times a month."

So what are we going to do about it? Apparently, all the blanket recommendations, measurements and equations are falling on deaf ears. No wonder, when we're all so different.

Rebecca Johnson, a writer, was recently interviewed in Time magazine about her unconventional approach to drinking. At one point, she went to Hazelden, a popular rehab facility, for counseling, but she felt they were pushing an "either-or model." They suggested that she go away to rehab for a month, telling her she should never drink again. The all-or-nothing approach didn't work for her, so she tried regulating her drinking with the help of a program called Moderate Drinking.

In my own experience, drinking habits that worked for others just didn't work for me. I used to be jealous of my friends who could have a glass or two of wine a night, no problem. I tried that, wanting to have a carefree attitude, but instead felt wracked with guilt and fear that I would become an alcoholic like my mother. Instead, over the years, I've learned to set my own guidelines.

For instance: I only drink wine. Not by myself. Mostly when I go out or have dinner with my husband or friends. Usually no more than two glasses, because I know that when I have three I get tired, and the next day, I have a hangover.

Occasionally, I break the rules, but these rules work for me. I can have my wine and have my fun when I go out, minus the panic and fear that I'm going to become an alcoholic.

I'm not suggesting that we do away with guidance. Most of us need mentoring, and appreciate all the information that scientists, researchers and others share. Guidance is fine. Strict, all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all rules are not.

Ultimately, we each have to find our own balance. It may take years. For some people, abstention is the only way. For others, a looser approach is fine.

Last week, a government committee in the UK came up with a great, workable idea to help combat their binge drinking problem. They're admitting, actually admitting, that the current drinking recommendations, with their talk of units per day, are conflicting and hard to understand. Think about it: Who's going to bring a measuring cup to a bar, or tell the bartender to pour the extra wine out?

Instead of setting rigid standards, the committee recommends that people have at least two drink-free days out of the week.

For those who like to drink, and who aren't struggling with addiction, this is a great idea, a jumpstart to becoming more conscious so they can start to set their own guidelines. The day or two of not drinking helps people create routines that don't center around drinking. Instead of resenting Big Brother, people can feel like they're in control of their own lives.

Leah Odze Epstein is a writer and co-founder of the Drinking Diaries. She is currently working on a young adult novel about a character who is the daughter of an alcoholic. She has reviewed books for BookPage and Publisher's Weekly, among other publications. She also writes poetry, and her poems can be found on the website Literary Mama.

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