At-risk drinkers are an important group to reach, Suzuki said, because they make up a larger cohort than problem drinkers and are significantly easier to help.
“Clearly, at the population level, there are many, many people who exceed safe limits for drinking and respond better to minimal intervention,” Suzuki said. “People who are average drinkers don’t necessarily have to stop drinking. They need to moderate their alcohol consumption and control it and stay below these thresholds.”
For those who need to cut back, effective tools include drinking tracking apps and conversations with a primary care doctor, which have been shown to reduce drinking behavior for six months to a year.
Scott Hadland, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, said pandemic-related changes in alcohol use have not affected all ages uniformly. The stress, coupled with travel restrictions and lockdowns, have encouraged older drinkers to have a glass at home, where there are fewer social controls to curb binge drinking. The story has been different for younger drinkers. Studies have shown that teen and young adult alcohol use declined during the pandemic, largely because teen drinking typically occurs at parties and in social settings that eased COVID restrictions. Similarly, for college-age drinkers, the closure of bars and dorms limited situations that might have led to heavy drinking.
As a neuroscientist who studies binge eating, alcohol-induced blackouts, and the effect of alcohol on the adolescent brain, Silveri was already familiar with the many facets of drinking. Funded since 2004 by the NIAAA, she and her team have acquired hundreds of MRI images illustrating alcohol-related changes in the brain. As she thought about her own life and behavior, she was inspired by the increasingly “sober and curious” movement and events that require participants to give up alcohol for a specific period of time. In 2021, she tried “Dry January”.
“I think about alcohol every day (occupational hazard), so I thought, ‘This is a good experiment for me, personally and professionally,’” Silveri said. “After Dry January, it was easy to get through February, then March and April. I’m like, ‘How about a year?’ I felt better and empowered. It also gave me a voice and an appreciation for people who want to cut down or quit alcohol, but also face so many challenges: pressure from friends and family, limited options in social gatherings, and signs of alcohol that are everywhere. .”
Any approach to cutting down or stopping drinking needs to be personalized, he said, employing practices that might be right for one person but might not be for another. Exercise can help. Mindfulness, yoga, and exploring forgiveness, of self and others, are potentially powerful mental and emotional supports that are increasingly supported by empirical research. And don’t underestimate the value of getting enough sleep.
For Silveri, the translational nature of her work, which allows her to see the impact of alcohol from the molecular level to people’s brains and behavior, has encouraged her to bring her knowledge to the clinic. So she went back to graduate school to get a degree in counseling.
“It’s been an interesting journey, as a researcher, community educator and advocate for the destigmatization of mental illness, and as a mother,” Silveri said. “I run a full-time neuroscience major and am a full-time graduate student pursuing a degree in mental health counseling, and I have two children. I don’t have time for anything that affects the energy I need to keep all the balls in the air.”