The truth about alcohol

You may have heard the news this week that the benefits of alcohol have been overstated.  I am sorry to break it to you, but drinking is not going to improve your health.

I quit drinking twice.

Once, the man and I decided to stop drinking while we were training for our first Half Ironman. That was in 2001. He never started again, for no good reason, I did.

I stopped again on my 45th birthday. I planned it. A friend was having a party for me, we were going to have some great champagne. I had decided weeks in advance that this would be the last time I would have a drink.

There were many reasons for it, but three were important to me.

First, I felt like a hypocrite helping people live healthier lives and drinking. Yes, even a glass of wine felt wrong. It was like my dirty little secret, but not a secret. I knew there was no way that alcohol could be healthy.  Ethanol is a poison, it’s the dose that makes it lethal.  There was no good reason to do it and so many great reasons to stop.

I have a pretty high tolerance for alcohol. I could drink and feel fine the next day. By fine I mean, dehydrated but still go on a 100 km bike ride, or run for a couple of hours. It wouldn’t be as good as if I didn’t drink, but it never stopped me.

I have never felt the need to have to have a drink. I, like many others, socialized with people who drank. I didn’t drink much at home, it was a social thing, not a necessity. Some of my clients tell me that they don’t quit drinking because they are afraid they will lose some friends. Trust me, this will happen and it is okay.

Second, if I have one glass of wine I can’t sleep. I go to sleep and then I wake up in the middle of the night tossing and turning. Nothing is as important to me as a good night’s sleep. Don’t ever wake me, unless there is a major emergency. Just don’t.

Third, I was running one morning feeling a little dehydrated thinking about how much easier this would be if I hadn’t been drinking wine with friends the night before. That struck me as beyond stupid. How much more do I enjoy exercise vs drinking?  There is no comparison.

I really don’t care whether you choose to drink or not.

Just don’t drink and drive.

I do care if, for a moment, you think it is going to help you be healthier. It is not. Drink or don’t drink, just be aware of the facts.

Here are some of the facts we know about alcohol:

  • 80% of Canadians drink.
  • 20% of adults drink more than the recommended limits.
  • We don’t tell the truth about how much we drink. According to alcohol sold, 75% of women and 80% are drinking above the daily limit, more than they claim.
  • Researchers estimate more than 40% of Canadians are high-risk drinkers.
  • Almost 60% of drinks consumed are at home with 20% of drinks consumed alone.
  • We mostly drink after work.
  • In 2014 Canadians spent $20.5 BILLION on alcohol at liquor stores.
  • Women are drinking more.
  • 15% of Breast Cancers are directly related to alcohol consumption.
  • A study of 12 million women showed that one drink a day raises the risk of breast cancer. The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that 35% of breast cancer cases could be prevented if women did not drink alcohol.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, moderate not high levels, changes the structure of your heart, increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation.

So why do we think that alcohol is “healthy?” The benefits of alcohol consumption have been promoted, but apparently without any real evidence. Researchers now say that the benefits of light alcohol consumption and the risks of not drinking have been over emphasized.

Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, Jennifer Maggs, and author of a new study on the risks of moderate alcohol consumption states,

“Evidence continues to grow that alcohol has many health risks, including for cancer.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance in the UK says,

“ This study provides yet more evidence that any benefits associated with drinking alcohol are smaller than previously thought.”

Smaller or non-existent, whichever it is, understanding the real risks of alcohol is the best way to make responsible choices. 

Change your mind, change your health,


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