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Take steps to cut caffeine, alcohol use

Smoking isn’t the only potentially damaging habit that people look to break as they make New Year’s resolutions. Drinking – whether it be too much alcohol or caffeine – also often make the list.

Two researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions offered the following advice:

ALCOHOL

Seventy percent of Americans drink alcohol at least once a year but only about 7 percent develop a physical dependency, said Kimberly Walitzer, a senior research scientist and deputy director of the research institute. Still, many “risky” social drinkers should consider “safer drinking,” Walitzer said in an interview this week.

Those who develop a physical dependency often see their tolerance for alcohol increase over time and have withdrawal symptoms after they stop: the shakes, nausea, sweating, or headaches and vomiting that last more than a day after drinking. They need to stop drinking, Walitzer said.

She recommended those who think they have a problem take the following steps:

1. Be aware of how much you drink Figure out what triggers your drinking and what consequences have come from your drinking.

2. Share your feelings Tell your family and friends you’re concerned about your drinking, and seek their input and support.

3. Find a mutual help group Alcoholics Anonymous (buffaloaany.org) and Secular Organizations for Sobriety (sossobriety.org) run almost daily meetings across the region.

4. Seek professional care Pastors, physicians and talk therapy counselors can help improve awareness and understanding, and inpatient care sometimes is needed for those who have hit a low point in a battle with alcohol.

Social drinkers at risk of dependency should consider “safer drinking” as a resolution, Walitzer said: Set a limit on alcohol before they start, alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and, if they can’t live within those self-imposed limits, visit the website rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

Walitzer also cautioned that “buzzed driving” can be as dangerous as drunken driving, and encouraged anyone who has consumed alcohol to refrain from getting behind the wheel.

CAFFEINE

“In moderation, caffeine is not especially harmful and can even be beneficial,” Kathleen Miller, a senior research scientist, said in an email. “Higher doses are another story. For most full-grown adults, acute effects of caffeine intoxication (anxiety, jitters, racing pulse, elevated blood pressure) generally kick in around the 500 mg level (that’s four to five cups of coffee). For smaller adults, children, or people who are caffeine-sensitive, a safe limit may be only half of that.”

If you wonder if you’re consuming too much caffeine, Miller gave the following tips:

• Know where your caffeine is coming from: A generation ago, we mostly got our caffeine from coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. Today, almost anything can be caffeinated – energy drinks, gum, candy, snacks.

• Pay attention to portion sizes: A home-brewed cup of coffee (100 to 120 mg caffeine) isn’t the same as a Starbucks venti (415 mg); a standard 8-ounce Red Bull (80 mg) isn’t the same as a 16-ounce Monster (160 mg) or a 5-Hour Energy shot (212 mg).

Cut back

1. Consider reducing your caffeine intake gradually. This approach can minimize withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue.

2. Swap out high-test coffee for lower-caffeine beverages – decaf coffee, green or white tea, hot chocolate – or alternate with healthy noncaffeinated beverages like water or sports drinks.

3. Develop alternate strategies to fill the void left by caffeine. We often use this mild stimulant as a substitute for the things we really need – sleep, nutrition, better coping mechanisms to deal with stress.

Eliminate caffeine

1. Be aware that decaffeinated coffees and teas still have some caffeine, although it’s far less.

2. Scan product labels for hidden “natural” sources of caffeine, such as guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, or green tea extract.

3. Work with your doctor to develop a safe and healthy nutrition/exercise plan for a caffeine-free lifestyle.