It's only fair to share…

People who know me will know that I enjoy a good glass of wine and that my modest cellar is my pride and joy. I have also written previously about the health benefits of modest wine consumption and how giving a bottle as a gift is hardly the end of the world.

That said there are people who drink excessively and it impacts their health and can impact on those around them, sometimes in a big way – think drink driving or alcohol fuelled violence. As this is being posted I have completed 24 days of FebFast, which I was happy to join as an ambassador.

There are also hidden aspects of alcohol, which do not conform to our pre-conceived ideas of who constitutes a problem drinker.

Lucy, (not her real name) was a stereotypical professional woman in her mid 30’s. She could be a lawyer, accountant or manager.  She was well spoken and well presented. Apart from the cold type illness she was concerned about her energy levels and headaches, which were more notable in the morning.

She was also noticing that her moods could be changeable and she was way too young for menopause. Her sleep was getting disturbed some nights. And to cap it off she was gaining weight despite not changing her eating patterns.

What could explain all these symptoms? In medicine there are always many possibilities so we go through a series of questions. When it came to the “How much do you drink?” question the reply was the usual one. “ I drink socially doctor.”

In 25 years of medicine I am yet to meet anyone who immediately regards their alcohol consumption as a problem. Socially is not a quantity. With some more probing it finally emerged that “socially” could mean between one and two bottles of wine per day on a regular basis.

We all have stereotypes in our minds of what people who drink too much look like. We assume they are mostly male. Whilst they may not all be unshaven, wearing trench coats and carrying brown paper bags, they certainly do not look like us.

If you met Lucy, you would have no idea that she was consuming an amount of alcohol, which was damaging to her health. Like many professional women she hides it well.

And returning to the notion of social drinking, it is likely that many in her own social group consume similar amounts. We do tend to associate with people of similar habits to our own.

Alcohol related problems in women aged 30 through 60 are not something that attracts much attention. It is assumed not to be a problem. In reality it is.

So what can be done? Campaigns like FebFast give people the opportunity for what is called a pattern disrupt. We get so used to doing things a certain way that we do not even think about it. This is why we underestimate our alcohol consumption. It just slowly creeps up whilst we are on autopilot.

A month without alcohol gives us the chance to stop and think. It gives us the chance to reassess what we are doing each day. And of course it gives the body a month to detox.

Doing this in a campaign also gives us an excuse, (not that we should need one but many find it helpful) to knock back offers of a drink. Whilst attitudes to not drinking at social events have improved in the last 10 years many of us still feel we need some reason not to have a drink.

Many who have done this last year reported losing weight, sleeping better and also saving money. Over 66% had more alcohol free days after completing the fast

This is not about being a “wowser” and it is not about saying that one cannot enjoy a drink. It is about getting off autopilot and being honest with yourself, (not beating yourself up) about how much you drink because this is the critical first step to change.

Once you know your start point you can make change. After a month off alcohol completely you will feel better. You will be more aware of the effects of alcohol on your body and you will be able to consume it differently going forwards.