Sunday, November 27, 2011

Put Down the Bottle

Having grown up in a smaller town, I am sad to say I began using alcohol at a young age. With little to do, my friends and I started binge drinking on weekends by 9th grade. This is a pattern of behaviour I continued on and off into my mid 20s.

I now cringe to think what lasting effects this may have on my health!

I have mentioned several times the STRONG link between alcohol and breast cancer. And this is not new information. It was readily available over 10 years ago when my mother had breast cancer and I started doing research.

That's why it has peeved me to no end that until recently the media has touted drinking as a great way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. For women I really do not believe this is true. Why do something with such a big risk attached, when you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease with proper nutrition and exercise...which, can also lower your risk of certain cancers?

Cancer risk aside, there are other reasons to avoid drinking and I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Adam and I have not been big drinkers since we got together 11 years ago, but after Little A was born and I was struggling with anxiety, alcohol all of a sudden regained it's appeal to me. I still don't drink more than 3-4 glasses a month usually, but it's the way I use it that bothers me.

Using alcohol - or drugs for that matter - as a way to relax, or cope or escape can lead you down a really slippery slope. It is considered an avoidant coping method because you are literally avoiding the problem or trigger, rather than actively dealing with it. Have you EVER heard of drinking making a problem better? In fact, have you ever heard ANYONE say that alcohol has changed their life for the better?

I haven't. But I have heard people say their life has been positively transformed by:

* Another person
* A pet/animal
* A passion
* Meditation
* Yoga
* Exercise
* Counselling/professional help

Recently, a client suffering from a serious anxiety disorder described alcohol as putting every person in their own little bubble. What we think makes us more social, really isolates us from really connecting from others. He should know, he used alcohol and drugs for almost 20 years to self-medicate. It's only now that he stopped using altogether and is getting professional help, that he is recovering. We talked about how in the future when he is tempted to pick up the bottle, what he should do instead, is pick up the phone and seek help.

This is not to say no one should ever drink. There are people who are true connoisseurs of wine, spirits or beer and drink for the pure pleasure of the flavours and how they pair with different foods. Alcohol can also be part of important cultural and spiritual rituals. And if it's part of your daily routine - you have a glass of wine with dinner or before dinner with some cheese in crackers because it helps you relax...this can be okay too (health risks of daily alcohol consumption aside), but I think this is where things start to get fuzzy.

I have never understood why drugs are vilified but alcohol has such a high degree of social (and legal) acceptance. The social costs of alcohol misuse are extraordinary.

There is an excellent series running in the Toronto Star right now about women and alcohol. According to yesterday's story, alcohol use contributes to 7% of all cancers, 4% of coronary disease, 23% of all injuries, and 26% of neuropsychiatric conditions in North America. It is related to domestic violence, assault, and impaired driving.

Just a few weeks ago I had a terrible day. Very sad news from Big A's school, a really difficult session with a client, and an excruciating sinus headache that wouldn't let up. I wanted nothing more than to go home and have a few glasses of wine. And so I did. Eventually I didn't feel the headache anymore, nor was I focusing on what happened that day. But I had a terrible sleep (alcohol impairs your sleep, by the way) and the next day I was exhausted, plagued with a headache of another kind, and the reality of the previous day was still there. Nothing solved.

So will I never drink again? No, I won't say that. But I can't stop thinking about what my client said. I realized after the fact that instead of a few glasses of wine, I should have picked up the phone and called someone to get things off my chest and/or packed it in early to sleep off my sinus headache. So next time I'm craving a glass, I'm going to consider what's driving my desire and try to make a more informed decision. Whatever your reasons are for drinking, it can't hurt to evaluate them and decide whether it is right for you, can it?

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