Monday, May 26, 2008

Who's A Boozer?

I've been thinking about booze a lot lately. About how much is too much, and whether or not I'm pushing the envelope.

If asked, I would consider myself a 'moderate drinker', we have a fairly active social life, out with friends more often than not, and whilst out we have a glass of wine or two. We do after all live in the land of wine, where a bottle of plonk is cheaper than a gallon of gas - particularly these days. It doesn't help that our friends drink and serve fabulous wine, the best stuff home-grown. Besides a glass of red wine of an evening is considered good for your health. What I was starting to research though, is how quickly more than one glass of wine a night becomes a health issue

I know that I don't have a drinking problem. I would not consider myself an alcoholic. However deluded that statement seems, particularly for non-drinkers, I am absolute certain of that fact. I never drink alone, I never 'need' a drink (however tempted I am to jokingly mention this to other parents). If I drive I will not drink. Of course, someone else offering to drive has cheered me up no end on more than one occasion. I very rarely drink to excess these days, though I have been known to 'tie one on' particularly in college where the stories need to remain. I had a series of absurdly noble and gallant boyfriends at University who would never have let me come to any harm whilst hammered. I have done some crazy, idiotic, embarrassing stuff whilst under the influence, but honestly what red-blooded British female has not? Therein lies the dichotomy. Culturally there seems to be a huge difference between the UK and the US. In the UK, particularly over the last 10-15 years you are perceived to be a 'good girl' if you're able to hold your own when it comes to alcohol. Sadly 100% of the socializing I did at College was alcohol-based (yes even, if not particularly, the sports). Over here, women who drink are called a 'lush'. That's not to say I stick out like a sore thumb amongst my Californian girlfriends. Our book club for example has been known to put away a bottle or two. Per attendee.

In reflecting on this subject I wasn't interested in whether I was perceived to be a drunk or not, I wanted to know about the longterm effects on my health. I remember a trip to the ER a few years ago with a broken collar bone. As it was the States, and a Sunday morning, they literally threw the medical book at me. X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds. I think they were just trying to pass the time. I do remember the attending physician giving me an ultrasound for any internal damage (it was a bike accident) and he was pleasantly narrating what he saw. "And there's your liver, which looks great", and I remember thinking "Really?! What are the chances?!"

I came across an interesting article on the BBC website a couple of weeks ago - that I now can't find - was I drunk when I read it? It stated that any more than a glass of wine a night, essentially 14 units a week (my glasses of wine are equivalent to about 2 units) is over the recommended Government limit for health. That made me sit up and think. 'Everything in moderation' is a usual rule of thumb with alcohol. Was my moderation way off the mark?

This article is interesting as it highlights how many women considering themselves 'moderate drinkers' are actually consuming more than three times the recommended weekly limit.

This paragraph in particular:

It's not just young women at risk. The 'typical housewife', who shares a bottle of wine with her husband every night, will equally run into trouble if they do it for long enough.

If they do it for 10 - 20 years they can get alcoholic cirrhosis from that alone.

Dr Record explains, "Indeed I had a patient like this just a few weeks ago who was a dentist's wife. Didn't think she was doing any harm to herself whatsoever."

"Suddenly she became yellow, and she developed serious liver disease, in her case it was irreversible, she went progressively downhill, her kidneys failed, and she died."

Alarmingly I would fit right in there. In actual fact, having done this survey I would rate in the top of 5% of female drinkers in the States. The 'where to go for help' button plumped squarely beneath my result.

I wonder if the same survey based on British female drinkers would render me in the same percentile? I don't think so.

Even so, I often consider being the Mum of a 2yr old, working more or less full time, coupled with everything else we are dealing with presently as a physical challenge. In order to cope I need to be on top of my game, essentially at optimum fitness, training to make life more manageable. I was aware that after a few glasses of wine in an evening I was far more likely to wake up in the middle of the night, usually thirsty and then unable to get back to sleep. Obviously broken sleep was one fall-out, dehydration and resultant fatigue probably another. On those lines, whether or not I would consider myself an alcoholic, (not), it clearly seemed like I could be doing some damage. After all this rather depressing research, what if any are my conclusions? Other than the fact that I don't yet appear to be turning yellow. My Mum would probably suggest 'just drinking halves' (an old family joke). I think limiting myself to two glasses of wine with company, whilst maintaining the social life is probably much better for my health, certainly mental if not physical, than abstaining. Possibly cutting back on the sly martinis with LK at home. Nothing too drastic. I don't think you have to drink to have a good time, but I'm certainly aware it helps. Particularly if you're going to spend time with my friends(!)



Godless Sunday said...

Great post. I ponder this a lot as well. I'm a red wine drinker and I get paranoid about it so badly at times (frickin' Dr. oZ) that I will pull out a measuring cup (1/2 cup) and pour into said cup and then pour wine into my "pretty glass."
But, What the hell kind of life is that? I guess if I can say I only drank 4ounces I get some sort of cancer free card? I don't know. I don't look so bad in yellow.

Little Britainer said...

I've been wondering about this too. I recently tried to cut out drinking during the week - but I found that a glass or two of red had become a kind of adult comfort blanket to me, and I just wasn't able to do it. Quite scary to think of the consequences long term to this apparent dependence - oh well. Cheers!

Expatmum said...

On our local NBC news segment last week the medical correspondant came on to discuss alcohol and women. The anchor jokingly said "Uh oh", to which the medic. corr. replied, "Oh no. Don't worry we're talking about heavy, heavy drinking here. 14 units per week or more". I immediately did the sums and realised she was referring to about two glasses per night. Gulp.
Having said that, Keith Richards' doctors were all shocked last year to discover his liver and heart are perfect!

Lucia's Mom said...

wow, you're full of controversial topics lately! I can't think of anything to say that doesn't sound snobby, except that I know what you mean. When I was in England I probably drank an average of a pint or two a day. I could hold 2-3 pints without any noticeable effect on me. Now, though, after a 2 year old and another on the way there's no room for alcohol in my life anymore and I don't miss it (sorry!! not supportive, I know). I just feel like either me or hubs should be completely sober if we're around our kid (which is all the time we're not working) in case anything should happen or needs to be prevented from happening. And in the brief break between nursing and trying to conceive, there just wasn't time to get my tolerance up again! Honestly, I don't actually miss it, only rarely, and then I usually make it to the next morning and remind myself what a hangover felt like and I feel better.

I never knew if the alcohol consumption was higher in England (it seemed so) or if it was just because I was a grad student there and here I'm a boring married mom type.

Sorry, I sound either very boring, or somewhat snobby, hmmm, maybe I am?? Anyway, maybe you should skip the drinks at home unless it's a weekend or you're out with friends so you can save your 'quota' for the times you'd really enjoy it.

AliBlahBlah said...

Thanks for the excellent comments, yes LB, I agree an evening drink has become a bit of a 'comfort blanket', and no Lucia's Mom, I don't think you're coming across as snobby at all, in fact we're very much in the same boat right now, trying to conceive #2 was what was prompting me to look at the health risks more closely in the first place. It occurred to me that I was putting a huge strain on my body when I was trying to be at my healthiest. Rather absurd really.

Anonymous said...

You are probably the 5th or 6th person in the last several weeks to have blogged about this topic. I have never been a drinker, and having spent the last 2.25 years either pregnant, nursing, or doing both, I have nearly forgotten what a good drink tastes like! I do, however, know of a number of moms who enjoy winding down after a long day with a glass of wine or two - the comfort blanket mentioned above. Very interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Thers an interesting article about the "safe" levels here:

A glass or two of wine a day wont hurt you. Isnt it part of the "Provence Diet"

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