Sober for October or Time for a Change?
Let me start by saying that I don’t abstain from alcohol and I’m not a heavy drinker. I’m British and so alcohol has always been a part of life. Like many women my age, I drank too much in my teens, drank like a fish in university (for my first degree – not when studying nutritional therapy!) and spent many weekends in my twenties drinking to excess. Weekend drinking, which is such a part of our culture, lessened as my social habits changed. As I trained more, I went out less, but always “let my hair down” when I did go out, and yes – I often drank to excess. Fast forward some years, and those occasions are even less (and even harder to recover from). I know I can fall into bad drinking habits, just as we can fall into bad eating habits sometimes. I still enjoy my wine, and don’t want to take it out of my life completely, but I’ve had to be honest and reassess how alcohol fits in with my lifestyle and what I want to achieve. As I’ve had to readjust my habits it’s made me think more and more about how we view and (ab)use alcohol.
In the UK government guidelines recently changed to a limit of 14 units per week (before 2016 this limit was 21 units per week for men); but what do 14 units actually look like?
That’s 6 glasses (approx. one and a half bottles of wine); or 6 pints of beer or 5 pints of cider.
If you drink wine or spirits, then that’s easy to measure when you’re out (175ml glasses and 25ml measures are standard) but pouring at home makes things a little trickier. Wine glasses seem to have got bigger and bigger, and who actually measures what they pour?
Steady or Binge?
Guidelines also recommend that we space out alcohol consumption during the week and not binge drink. For some, binge drinking brings to mind images of Booze Britain young men and women fighting or passed out on the street, but the amount of alcohol that constitutes a binge may be a lot less than you think. Whilst there isn’t a technical definition of how many units constitutes binge drinking, the ONS puts it as over 8 units in a single session for men, or over 6 units for women. For women that’s just 3 glasses of wine or 2/3 bottle.
Easily done in the comfort of your own home!
Do you ever notice how much and how often people drink on TV? I used to think it was a British thing; however, I started to notice it more and more in other series too. When I recently listened to the audio book “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” by Catherine Gray (highly recommended), the author talks about this on The Good Wife. Not trying to bash any programmes here, I love Alicia Florrick! But personally, watching someone pouring themselves a glass of wine, with a big sigh after a tough day, makes it look really appealing, whether consciously or not. And what’s more, it normalises it as a daily ritual.
(I love Amy Schumer’s parody of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights!)
Finding old gems on Netflix I watched Prime Suspect again and was incredibly surprised when they actually acknowledged Jane Tennison’s (played by the fabulous Helen Mirren) alcoholism in the final series….
Is It Wine O’clock Yet?
Although men have traditionally drunk more alcohol than women, it seems they’ve now caught up, or even surpassed them, especially in the case of younger women.
For many women drinking wine has become increasingly habitual on most nights of the week. Despite increased concern over the links between regular alcohol and breast cancer, many of us take a casual, almost jokey attitude towards heavy drinking. You only have to take a brief look in a card shop to see the number of alcohol-based funny cards geared towards women.
Drinking wine, gin and prosecco, and being seen as needing to drink them has almost developed weird bragging rights amongst women in their 30s 40s and 50s.
What’s the Problem?
The main problems we associate with drinking are addiction (and liver damage resulting from that) and with non addictive drinking, weight gain and hangovers. In moderation we are told that it alcohol can be good for us psychologically and that red wine contains the important antioxidant, resveratrol.
However, there are a number of health issues linked to heavy or even moderate alcohol consumption. I’ll come back to these another time. For now I just want to talk about habits…
If you regularly drink alcohol, then you may not be aware of your weekly units. I know in the past I’ve not had a clue and probably had a very conservative estimate of what I drink. Nutritional therapy clients often admit that they struggle completing that part of the questionnaire, and I know few people who can confidently say that they have an idea of their units.
Why not try a drink diary for a couple of weeks? Be brutally honest! Look not just at the total amount of alcohol you drink each week, but also how you space it out over the week.
A Change Can Do You Good
Every now and then I take a break from all alcohol. Sometimes, a couple of weeks, a month or a few months at a time. There’s not necessarily any specific health reason behind it, but I like to give myself a breather. Like with everything else it can be easy for bad habits to creep up without noticing. .
Ditching the booze for a month or so, eg. Sober for October or Dry January, can be a good chance to “reset”. Once you take a little break, it can be easier to reintroduce healthier drinking habits. Or why not start now?
• Set aside 2 or 3 days a week to be alcohol free
• Start to familiarise yourself with units in relation to the particular alcohol you drink
• Remember that 14 units is a limit, not a target!
• Try and give yourself a limit when you go out.
• Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water to avoid the need to chug down when you are thirsty.
If like me you think a temporary break would do you good, then come back for part 2!