Why should I drink less--really?
November 24, 2015 12:16 PM   Subscribe

First of all: I don't think this is a capital-p Problem with alcohol. I just like it--specifically wine--a lot, and I have some vague sense that I should cut down or stop. Much of this has to do with the fact that my partner is a recovering alcoholic and doesn't drink at all, so I have some guilt with my dinnertime glass even as he says he doesn't mind. I know, intellectually, that alcohol is bad, mmkay, but that knowledge does nothing for my decision-making.

Usually I'll have a glass of wine after work - with dinner OR after dinner as I catch up on emails or read a book before bed. Some nights, not at all. Typically I go through a 750 ml bottle in two or three days. Sometimes (like on a weekend) I'll finish a bottle in 24 hours. To me, this is not excessive, and my partner hasn't hinted or said anything about it, but there's this paranoia that I'm damaging my health and/or my looks because I'm consuming 1-2 drinks over the (imho very low) daily recommended amount for women. The paranoia may be a holdover from the time before Partner stopped drinking and I was worried about the effects of alcohol on his health; it may be some of my own image-management issues (I want to project at all times that I Have It Together), which I'm working on in therapy.

Basically, I know there are reasons to drink less, but they seem vague and/or not applicable to my situation. Increased risk of injury, for example, doesn't really apply when I'm curled up in my armchair and not driving a car. Dehydration seems like a non-issue because I keep a full glass of water by my side at all times. My sleep is almost always deep and restful.

So my question is two-pronged: 1) Are there good, non-abstract reasons to abstain from alcohol in the absence of an underlying health problem or addiction? and 2) How do you weigh all the information out there? E.g. I know that "cancer" is a risk, but why? How? In what quantities? Does it matter? Am I arguing with myself too much?
posted by witchen to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think your glass of wine or 2 a day is unhealthy, things may have changed but I thought 1 or 2 drinks of wine was actually considered beneficial. Guilt though? If you feel conflicted about it maybe just cut down to a level where you're not second-guessing yourself.
posted by Hoopo at 12:25 PM on November 24, 2015

Wow, it sounds like this is giving you incredibly more guilt than would seem reasonable. You're drinking a totally normal amount of something that's actually been shown to have health benefits in moderation. If you're going to drink, enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, stop drinking. But it sounds like its net benefit to you is positive on the whole, once you lay aside the guilt.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

I don't think the amount your drinking is excessive. The amount you're drinking is just fine. Just watch for "creep": one glass or two every few days becomes two every day. Then two every day or maybe three on weekends. I finished that bottle in one day but hey it was the holiday weekend, etc.

Also be aware of how you feel if you don't have your glass of wine. Do you feel like you MUST have it? Are you out of sorts if you don't get it? Why? How do you sleep? How alert are you? How well do you perform during your workouts (if you work out)?

Everybody is different, but I cut way back on drinking after I slipped into a groove where I had two glasses a day and I really missed it if I didn't have those two glasses. I found that while I enjoyed drinking them and they relaxed me, I didn't feel as well in the long run. I didn't sleep as well, which disrupted all sorts of other parts of my life. Once I cut back, I also lost some weight pretty easily.
posted by cleverevans at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2015 [22 favorites]

I'll answer #2 are you arguing with yourself too much because I was going through it.

I was drinking regularly and feeling a TON of guilt about it. I was building this giant worry in my mind that 'oh god, what if I can't quit? I'm an alcoholic? I don't plan my life around alcohol... and I often don't drink or I leave a drink sitting out and forget about it until the next day... but...' It was driving me mad and making me obsess about drinking which made me... want a drink.

What helped me was actually admitting this to a therapist. Once it was out there, I could actually see if I "needed" a drink or what it felt like to make a conscious decision to not have a drink at night.

It was pretty easy, honestly. I'm not an alcoholic. Now that I know that, my drinking is back to a healthy limit.

As for #1 I go to bed at a reasonable hour if I don't drink and so I feel amazing the next day. If I drink, I get a headache and stay up too late then the next day is the worst usually. Pay attention to how you feel the next day when you do or don't drink at varying levels.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:36 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

To answer your cancer question, I'm a breast cancer survivor who loves wine, and alcohol is most definitely shown to increase the risk of primary breast cancer and of recurrence. Some oncologists recommend none at all, but mine says I can have a glass or two per day with no worries. I am choosing to trust him.

My partner is also a recovering addict and I understand the vague sense of unease that comes from that situation (especially since, in my situation, my father was also an alcoholic). For me, when I start to worry about it, I quit for a couple weeks. And then I realize my life isn't any different with or without it, so I go back to it for a while until I start to worry about it again. I think it's okay to worry about it and keep an eye on yourself. Much better than the alternative, anyway.
posted by something something at 12:37 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You really should drink less, per virtually every reputable health organization. You're upping your health risk in a lot of areas, particularly on your half a bottle to full bottle days.

You don't have to stop drinking. Just cut it down to a drink a day. A drink is 5 oz of wine, about a quarter of a bottle, not ⅓ to ½ a bottle.

Also, I am not at all suggesting you are alcoholic at all. And, my husband is a recovering alcoholic and I drink wine, which bothers neither of us.
posted by bearwife at 12:39 PM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

A bottle of wine is 25 ounces, which is five 5 oz. glasses. So at the rate of a bottle every two or three days, it sounds like you're drinking closer to two glasses a day on weekdays. One bottle in 24 hours is five glasses of wine in a single day. (I mention this because I've lost track of portions before and thought I was drinking much less than I actually was.)

Also, if you're at all concerned about calories, 2-5 glasses can really add up.
posted by mochapickle at 12:42 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

For the record, one glass most nights doesn't seem to equal a bottle every two or three days, so either your glasses are very large, or you're underestimating how many you have. (A "standard serving" of wine, which is what most medical literature would refer to, is 5oz, and a bottle is 24oz).

You're not going to find any organization really approving of 2-3 standard glasses of wine per day, but some of the health effects of moderate drinking include weight gain because its actually pretty high calorie/sugary stuff, and trouble sleeping for more complicated reasons - those are pretty easy to keep an eye on and something you should care about regardless of what you drink. I would track your health and reduce your drinking if it seems relevant to anything specific you want to change.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:43 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

i was drinking about what you're drinking (going by days per bottle - as post above says, your maths doesn't add up). i felt similar to you. so i decided to have at least one alcohol-free day a week, which i felt helped. then i switched to those small bottles of wine (250ml?) (and also having a beer instead sometimes) which reduced my intake further, without any real "pressure". with that i've been pretty happy.

so, i dunno. you're probably ok. i felt better reducing things slightly. the above was pretty painless (biggest drawback is the wine in small bottles is not so great and of limited variety).

edit: also, using a small bottle (and drinking it all) means no bottle hanging around opened, which your partner might appreciate (guessing wildly).

edit2: huh. so that doesn't really answer your question. as far as info goes, i read various things from the nhs (uk health service). they have a website i used that's probably easy to find. i stayed away from american resources because americans are weird about drink.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:22 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Take a week off booze and see how it feels.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:24 PM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

I think you are arguing with yourself too much. As long as it's not negatively affecting your relationships and career, you should drink guilt-free. If you're concerned about calories, cut bread out of your diet instead. Cheers!
posted by ejs at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2015

I would be more worried about why you drink this much. Alcohol has known medicinal effects. If you just like it this much, is there some health problem you are subconcioisly self treating for? Is it maybe masking something that a doctor should really take a look at?

I hate alcohol. I don't like the taste. I drank regulary for about a year because it was the only thing that knocked back my pain so I could sleep. At my heaviest, I was having two doubles most nights. That's four shots of liquor. Not alcoholic levels, but more than just a nightcap.

I knew what was wrong with me and why I was doing it. But I later realized that a lot of my eating habits are a form of self medicating and I have learned to pay attention to it. I have heard people say "I have no allergies" while also admitting the can't get going in the morning without serious amounts of coffee and then drink alcohol at night. Uppers in the morning and downers at night is a typical pattern for coping with things like allergies.
posted by Michele in California at 1:31 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

So I cut down on drinking not because I had a problem but like you I was drinking a little more than I liked. I now try to abstain from drinking 1-2 nights a week.

Some things I noticed:

- I was better able to stick to my diet because my willpower was being eroded less every night. I also exercised more.

- I started wanting to drinks less overall. Not massively mind you, but still less.

- A mild stomach problem I'd been having cleared up.

So yeah I'm glad I did it. Sometimes it's good to just shake things up and get out of a rut. See how it changes things.

Similar to Andrewcooke the biggest drawback is you end up wasting a lot of wine because you don't get through a bottle fast enough. I've experimented with a lot of things that prolong it a bit, but I still end up pouring out 1/4 or more of any bottle I open.
posted by whoaali at 1:48 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, first there's amounts: what you cite is slightly less than what I periodically used to drink (but I'm a man fwiw), or what I tend to drink whenever I decide to have a drink (then again, I can stop without problems whenever I choose so I don't tend to worry about that bit).
It's decidedly more than (for example) the Swedish health department would recommend, for whatever that's worth.

Then there's health proper. Start with collecting specific knowledge: have a checkup done and listen to what they're saying about liver function, blood pressure, and/or losing weight (if they have to say anything).
If you're fine on all those points, perhaps you're simply fine. Re. cancer risk: who is able to look into the future? This stuff is individual, even though some people do tell us that there are cancer risks.

Finally, there are your feelings around your partner's non-drinking. This sounds a bit like the elephant in the room really, because there seems to be a subtle form of guilt and defiance involved; now that can mess with your alcohol intake big time, because every decision is partly about "do I want another glass" but also partly about "do I really have to listen to that nagging voice inside that tells me that I should perhaps stop altogether even if my partner claims it doesn't matter to him?" (or some other nagging voice). So I would try to address that area first of all, actually.

Why I don't drink at the moment: because I feel that I want to save the fun for whenever I do decide to drink, because I don't want to mess with my blood pressure unnecessarily, because I need to sleep more relaxedly with less snoring, and because I want to lose weight. it's all part of the same thing over here...
posted by Namlit at 1:55 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would encourage you to take a full month away from alcohol - not even a single glass or sip at a social event, no cooking with wine, etc. It will give you a lot of insight into why you truly drink, whether you are drinking to mask any health (mental or physical) issues that need to be addressed separately, and what effect drinking is having on your short-term health. You may also find it interesting to see how you emotionally respond by not "getting" to have a drink, especially at the two week mark. That's usually when my real feelings about alcohol come out and it's never something I could have reminded myself of if I hadn't stopped.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:05 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm reading the OP as saying because I'm consuming 1-2 drinks over the (imho very low) daily recommended amount for women. Meaning, 1-2 drinks + 1-2 drinks.
posted by tomboko at 2:32 PM on November 24, 2015

To clarify: it's more like 1-3 drinks, depending which glass I'm using (I don't measure to the ounce, so they do tend to be more than the 5 oz pour that's used as the standard). But I also feel like one 5 oz glass of wine is a teeny tiny amount--so small that it's hard for me to take those guidelines seriously. I don't know if that's cultural (my parents are Southern WASPs so heavy drinking is/was the norm where I grew up) or what, but it contributes to my rationalizing-away of those guidelines.

And it is accurate that a lot of my feelings about this are related to my partner's past & present situations with regard to drinking. The way I would fret over him in the past has bled into the future, only I'm turning that anxiety to myself. Etc. etc.

Thanks for your responses so far--they are very helpful, as always, and good for sorting out my anxieties with some perspective.
posted by witchen at 2:36 PM on November 24, 2015

I'm sure everyone is sick of me popping up in these threads, but you don't drink much at all. Worrying about how much you drink is probably worse for you than the very small amount you drink. But agreed with Namlit: everyone's different. Go check to make sure your body is fine, liver, all that other stuff. Then go about your business.

We're all just worm food, ultimately. If a few glasses of wine makes your time better, then enjoy them.
posted by booooooze at 2:47 PM on November 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

Hi there, I'ma toxicologist/epidemiologist. I'm refraining from reading other responses because sometimes responses to questions like this can be... a little much.

I'm not your doctor, so I can't speak to your state of health or pre-existing conditions that might change what I'm about to say. That said, honey you're fine. Americans, especially American public health agencies, tend to be wildly alarmist about alcohol. For those health agencies, there's sometimes good reason to be a bit alarmist: the media, and people with flat attention spans, respond to alarming warnings but not to sensible statements about science and health. They also are trying to err on the side of extreme caution, so that's how you get the functionally/practically ridiculous advice from these orgs on things like acceptably safe drinking habits, how many drinks count as binge drinking, and so on. Hear me when I say that the meetings where these standards get set can sometimes feel like one side of the room lives in a very naive Sesame Street world and the other comes from a Bukowski novel.

There are concerns. Alcohol can cause inflammation in various tissues--lining of your mouth, gut--and inflammation + time = increased risk of cancer where the inflammation keeps happening. And maybe you have a genetic predisposition to metabolize alcohol slowly, in which case your liver might have a tougher job that over time adds up to various liver ailments. Ditto for your pancreas. Here's the shit part of it: those things are pretty near impossible to anticipate at the individual level. At the population level, we know pretty well that alcohol can and does increase the frequency and/or severity of certain ailments over time. But that information doesn't say shit about what witchen can expect from her glasses of wine. We just don't know how to do that yet! What we do now is: we inform ourselves about the hazards (e.g. read papers like this and this) and then we keep an eye out for those things developing and then we visit the doctor regularly and honestly. Harm reduction is the middle path, and it sounds like you're taking a pretty reasonable middle path.

Taking off my public health hat, though, as a person who's closer to 40 than 30 the thing I notice most about drinking is holy shit liquid calories. I had to cut out beer a while back because it's harder to keep my calories in / calories out balance in check the older I get. Wine's not much different. A whisky soda hits my sweet spot these days. But that's just something to consider if you notice or are bothered by a few extra pounds showing up each year.

posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:13 PM on November 24, 2015 [28 favorites]

So, I'm a recovering alcoholic who has been dating a moderate drinker for about 2.5 years (I've been in recovery the entire time we've been together). A couple of thoughts:
1) I think the transition into recovery for both the alcoholic and their partner can be really, really rough, and I can understand why you might be more self-conscious about your drinking because you've watched the challenges your partner has been through. I think looking at whether you would be as self-conscious if you hadn't watched your partner go through the recovery process might be a useful exercise.
2) I think you're okay. When I look at my boyfriend, who really enjoys beer a lot, I can see how different his relationship is with alcohol than mine is/was. I would imagine your partner is the same way. As long as you're not hiding it/it doesn't creep up to something that isn't manageable/doesn't make you feel super-bad, you're golden.
posted by superlibby at 3:34 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think that you're probably completely fine. Having said that, there's a difference between one actual five oz glass of wine five or six days per week and three five (but really more) ounce glasses every night. As long as you're honest with yourself about how much you're actually drinking, I think you're fine.
posted by cnc at 4:21 PM on November 24, 2015

I don't know what your partner's recovery looks like, but there is this vision of recovery/sobriety that it is this monumental lifetime struggle, and it definitely is for a great many people; but there are also some who get through this life transition to sobriety remarkably well and securely. When I stopped drinking, I had friends who drank who were remarkably supportive and caring in the beginning- being outwardly vocal and concerned in public about how things were going. When it started to become clear that I was actually becoming very successful in the adjustment, that supportive mentality turned into some kind of freakout, where the same people seemed paranoid and almost jealous towards me. If it is available, Alcoholism loves to point at other people and say "at least that isn't me" to deflect the heat. Those feelings you had about your partner's lifestyle The paranoia may be a holdover from the time before Partner stopped drinking and I was worried about the effects of alcohol on his health, where are they directed now?
posted by incolorinred at 4:23 PM on November 24, 2015

For comparison: Australia, Canada and UK Drinking Guidelines. For what it's worth, none recommend more than 2-3 units a day; Canada further says no more than 10 units a week or 4 or more units in 24 hours. They also go into further detail than the US Guidelines by providing a formula to calculate how many units of alcohol are in each type of given drink (Australia cheats with a handy pictorial chart). So yes, according to known authorities and on average, you're drinking too much. What that actually means for you in the short and long term is up for debate.
posted by givennamesurname at 4:42 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think it's a problem if you can't stop drinking. Can you take a week off? If not, you should re-evaluate. Otherwise, it doesn't sound like you're drinking that much alcohol.

Personally, I don't drink alcohol (I drink maybe half a serving every other month, when I attend weddings and such) because I have a potentially compromised liver. So, I guess if you're really worried about your health, you can always get your blood drawn and see if your liver numbers are good.
posted by ethidda at 5:36 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get a full blood screen. I had my liver (function? blood?) tested after what I felt was a significant period of significant drinking and everything is fine. Just getting it all checked out gives you a great perspective on whether you should be worried or not.
posted by bendy at 8:10 PM on November 24, 2015

The amount you're drinking isn't an issue. Are you stressing because you're finding yourself automatically reaching for a glass to deal with stress, and aren't using alternative ways of coping as often anymore? I think andrewcooke's and others' advice to cut back might reintroduce a sense of control, if that's the case. Do some yoga or knitting some nights, instead.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:44 PM on November 24, 2015

I don't think it's necessarily the amount (but you should probably track that more accurately so you have a real figure to deal with) but the fact that it's bugging you so much is a red flag. Maybe it's something internal, like you sense you might be drinking too much for your comfort, or maybe you sense your partner isn't really as comfortable as they might be admitting, but I think the suggestion to just stop completely for a month (see if you can even go the whole month) will be extremely illuminating.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:26 AM on November 25, 2015

Despite the name, "LFTs" (liver function blood tests) don't give a great indication of liver cirrhosis. For that you would need either a fibrous an or liver biopsy, of both.

You're pretty vague about your total alcohol intake over the week, but from your description it could be anywhere between 30-50units a week. You should be closer to 14-21, ie no more than two bottles of wine a week. It's certainly possible to get cirrhosis on 50units of alcohol a week if you keep it up for long enough and are a petite woman or have other predisposing factors, although the majority of people will be ok.

It also doesn't sound like you are having any alcohol-free days, and that would be a good thing to build in.
posted by tinkletown at 3:55 PM on November 25, 2015

Sorry, missed the edit window. "fibrous an" should be "fibroscan"
posted by tinkletown at 4:01 PM on November 25, 2015

I'm sure that medically, you're fine. Does drinking the amount you do cause you any trouble in your life or health? I will typically drink the amounts you do. I'm a 175lb man though, so the guidelines are a bit different.

The social aspect of drinking while your husband is going through recovery is a different matter.

I enjoy wine. But if my wife ever became an alcoholic and then realized it, and wanted to get better, I'd probably remove all the alcohol from the house. I've never been in this kind of situation, and I'm not judging you or your behavior here.

My guess is that you're questioning this more because of your husband's condition, which is normal. Watch if your drinking escalates or if it starts causing problems in your life.
posted by reddot at 6:04 AM on November 26, 2015

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