How Much Beer Is Too Much?
Dear Dr. Roach: My husband consumes at least two to three six-packs of beer, maybe more, a day. He drinks from 12 p.m. until about 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., or until I can get him to eat dinner. I try to tell him how he acts, but he thinks he’s fine because he drinks only beer! He ruins all relationships with the children and grandchildren, plus makes me withdraw from any sexual activities. I love him but can’t stand his behavior past noon.
Can you please explain what this much alcohol (beer) is doing to his health? I truly believe his brain is turning to mush. He gets extremely jealous and doesn’t make good sense in the afternoon hours. It is so embarrassing when we have drop-in company or when family visit. I’ve begged and pleaded so many times for him to stop, but he thinks he’s fine. Please tell me what to expect; he’s 64 years old and has been living this way for years. Thanks for any help you can give me. —Anon.
Answer: This isn’t an easy problem to solve. You asked me what to expect, and the unfortunate answer is that if you do nothing, it’s very likely that the problem will continue on until the inevitable health crisis. You are quite correct that alcohol affects the brain as well as many other organs; it damages the liver, the pancreas and possibly the heart, just to name a few critical organs. The fact that he drinks only beer is immaterial — that much alcohol is very damaging to the body. As we get older, our ability to recover from the damage of excess alcohol is reduced. More than one drink per day is considered excessive in someone 65 or older, which he is coming up on.
You have many resources to help you, including his doctor. Al-Anon is one support group to help family members of alcohol abusers. You may find out more at www.al-anon.alateen.org or by checking your local white pages.
Dear Dr. Roach: I have a very itchy throat that tickles and makes me cough no matter where I am. I tried taking OTC allergy meds, but they’re no help. I tried gargling with warm saltwater with vinegar, and keeping my mouth and throat wet, but no help. I take throat lozenges, but it helps only for a few minutes. It’s affecting my sleep at night as well as my work and mood. I’m a caregiver, and my employer thought I was sick and contagious. I have had employers that have laid me off. I’m tired of coughing already, since this has been going on for six months. Please help me. —N.J.
Answer: There are many causes for chronic cough, a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks. The three most common are postnasal drip, asthma and esophageal reflux (GERD). You have tried a few things to treat allergic post-nasal drip without success, so asthma and GERD probably are the most likely causes. Often, asthma has only a cough, with no wheezing. Similarly, GERD sometimes presents with only a cough, without any heartburn sensation.
Rather than try an over-the-counter remedy, I recommend that you see your regular doctor. Although omeprazole or another acid-suppressing medicine may solve your problem, six months is long enough that it is worthwhile to take a more careful look at what might be causing it. I don’t recommend nonprescription asthma remedies.
Occasionally, the cause for cough requires more extensive testing, such as a chest X-ray. It’s very uncommon to have a serious cause, but it’s not impossible. Please let me know what happens.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or write to P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.