According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), alcohol consumption is at a 50 year low. This is an exciting trend, even more so because as alcohol intake is trending downwards, so too is the consumption of other recreational drugs.
However, on average, the ABS estimates that every adult is drinking 2.1 standard drinks a day. Is this still too much for women?
Safe drinking guidelines recommend that women drink no more than two standard drinks a day to reduce their risk of alcohol-related illness or injury. We also know that most people underestimate their weekly intake and overestimate the size of a “standard drink”.
Another trend that’s emerged about the way women drink is that while younger women (18 – 24 years) are associated with binges (more than four standard drinks in a session), regular excessive drinking rises steadily throughout our 20s to 60s, peaking at 55 – 64 years.
As we work harder and juggle more things, women frequently use alcohol as a ‘reward’. That glass of wine (or three) at the end of the day, while cooking dinner or watching TV, is often a short cut to relaxation. But does it actually making us feel better?
There is conflicting evidence about how drinking moderately impacts on our health and longevity. Part of the issue is that most health research uses men as subjects and as alcohol impacts women differently, this data isn’t always useful. Female hormones and alcohol are potentially a deadly combination, especially when it comes to breast cancer. Genetic predispositions aside, women who never drink have lower odds of developing breast cancer. Even an occasional glass is problematic and the more you drink, the greater the risk.
However I’ve found in practice, statistical risks like these aren’t likely to change the way you drink, unless breast cancer is on your radar. On the other hand, having a short break from alcohol can immediately improve your wellbeing.
The circuit breaker
Events and organisations like Febfast, OcSober and Hello Sunday Morning can provide a socially acceptable excuse to take a pause from alcohol. If you’re in the habit of drinking even a single glass most days, the first week might be more challenging than you expect.
Making a commitment to stop drinking for two to four weeks provides a circuit breaker. It can also provide an excuse for better self-care and to focus positively on your health.
The pay off
Instead of concentrating on something that’s ‘good for me’, find out how good it makes you feel. This is the clincher. In clinic I’ve found both men and women who are regular drinkers, are surprised at how much better they feel taking a break from a daily drink or two. It’s not until they took a rest from alcohol they realised the impact it was having.
The majority of clients who take a break from alcohol report they:
- have more energy
- find it easier to get up in the morning
- sleep better
- feel more motivated
- find it easier to exercise
- have clearer skin
- think more clearly
- lose weight
- feel happier and more even moods
If you’re prone to feeling anxious, the biggest surprise may be just how calm having a break from alcohol can make you feel.
“My biggest lesson (from giving up drinking for a year) was that alcohol is something I enjoy, not something I need. I know now that confidence cannot be measured in standard drinks and that it is possible to dance until 3am without the assistance of jagerbombs.”
Jill Stark High Sobriety: My Year without Booze
Being mindful helps change habits. Being aware how and when you drink, can help you plan some alternatives is useful. For example:
- Have a shower after work instead of a drink. The warm water will help you relax as much as alcohol does.
- Rehydrate, sometimes we go for alcohol when it’s just fluid that our body craves.
- If you cook with a glass in your hand, keep the glass and swap alcohol for mineral water or juice.
- If you have ‘enabling’ friends (those who want you to drink to make them feel ok about their alcohol use) change how you socialise. Swap after-work drinks for weekend brunch, go for a walk or take a yoga class together.
- At events where you usually drink to enable you ‘to get through’ or ‘have fun’ – try approaching them as an anthropologist. When you’re sober, really observe how the drinkers act.
- If going alcohol-free is saving you money, reward yourself with a massage, facial or gift to the same amount.
- Be kind to yourself. If you find going alcohol-free challenging, try writing a journal noting the feelings that arise.
- Don’t set yourself up to fail. Choose a less demanding time to start, not the week of your best friend’s wedding or an overseas trip.
If you slip up, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Learn from what influenced you to break your fast, so you can avoid that situation in future. If you plan to have a month off, don’t let one night stop you from continuing.
If you can’t make it through the week or a fortnight without alcohol, consider seeing a psychologist or getting help.
Bored with drinking water? Try some of these delicious alcohol-free alternatives.
Don’t go it alone – sign up to Hello Sunday Morning. Commit to your first month off the booze.
UK report suggests drinking less makes you look better and be more fertile,
Perfect reading while you’re taking a break, Jill Stark’s High Sobriety. An Australian journalist’s experience of a year without alcohol.