I usually avoid writing specifically about alcohol and health because I've heard mixed information from seemingly reputable sources. So, what is a health professional to do? Research! I read articles, blogs, and books about alcohol and health and was surprised by what I found.
April is alcohol awareness month - but let's be honest - we're all very aware alcohol is available and a "normal" part of our society. So maybe the focus shouldn't be awareness but rather education about the real effects it has on our health. Moreover, maybe this is a good time to reevaluate our own relationship with alcohol. I want to emphasize "our own" because it's common for individuals to judge their own drinking habits in relation to others - "I drink but definitely not as much as her", "I drink as much as my mom and she's perfectly healthy", "I see [insert favorite celebrity] drinking on Instagram all the time, so my drinking is definitely not a problem in comparison." Here's the first thing I learned in my research - alcohol culture is growing by the hour and has normalized drinking to a potentially concerning level. So, as you are reading this and thinking about your own relationship with alcohol, focus on yourself, and no one else.
The second thing I learned is that you can have a negative relationship with alcohol without being an alcoholic. So, let me save you the time of filling out various questionnaires about being an alcoholic because it doesn’t ultimately matter how you label yourself. It matters whether alcohol is getting in the way of your life. In Holly Whitaker’s book, “Quit Like a Woman”, she poses the following questions:
Is alcohol getting in the way of my happiness, my life, my self-esteem? Is it getting in the way of my dreams, or maybe just not working for me? Does it costs more than it gives, does it shrink more than it expands, does it cut pieces out of me I can’t reclaim? Does it make me hate myself, even just a little bit?
… just something to think about.
But what about all the studies that promote wine for heart health and a balanced diet? For each of those studies, I found two studies cautioning that even three drinks a week increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 15%, and each additional drink increases that risk by nearly 10%. Eek, right? We have been warned about cigarettes and cocaine but when it comes to alcohol, we were told “moderation”, or "drink responsibly" which is interesting because another study from Whitaker’s book shows nearly identical statistics of people who use that become addicted (for alcohol and cocaine).
So, the greatest problem in my eyes (and in the eyes of some other experts) is that we’re being told moderate use is absolutely fine when we know that even one drink can disrupt sleep and change our body’s ability to undergo processes normally. And over time, even moderate drinking changes our brain's chemistry and puts us at risk of disease.
As a health coach, I do not tell people what to do or not do. I give them knowledge and skills to achieve the things they desire for their health. So I am not here to tell you to give up alcohol. I aim to share with you how dramatically I was impacted by my research and to encourage you to seek out information about the effects of alcohol use. It’s going to be tough to face - trust me, but knowledge will also give you power.
This very short blog could not cover all the information I digested over the past few months. If you want to learn more, I would recommend Holly Whitaker’s book as well as Allen Carr’s book, “The Easy Way to Control Alcohol”. Even if you don’t have a problem or have never had a problem with alcohol, I guarantee you will find something interesting in these books.
If you want to change your relationship with your health and habits, I am here to help! Read the other blogs on the site or book a session with me to learn more.