How’s your relationship with alcohol? I’d say that mine’s… complicated. When we were younger, I was always the one who would volunteer to drive. I’m naturally quite chatty and happy, and it didn’t occur to me that I needed to drink alcohol to have a good time, therefore I was generally the designated driver, and happy enough with it. Now, we don’t tend to go out much, so our drinking is done at home, and this has increased steadily over time. Add to this the fact that we really love our wine, to the point that I write about it and we even invest in it, and you’ll see why our alcohol consumption has steadily grown. Next week, 13th to 19th November is Alcohol Awareness Week, and I’ve been thinking a little bit about how (and why) I drink. It’s been an interesting time…
How I drink
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping track of my alcohol consumption (I’ve been using the Drinkaware App which is well worth downloading). I feel like I’m a habit drinker: sitting down in front of the TV marks the end of the busy working day and the beginning of the evening. This seems to trigger me to want a drink. Also, and I think probably more dangerously, once I’ve had one glass, my defences are down and I find it impossible to say no to another, and then another…
What are the recommended weekly guidelines?
Well, to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the UK Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines are that:
• It’s safest not to drink more than 14 units per week
• If you regularly drink as much as 14 units, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days
So what’s an alcohol unit?
Well, it’s a bit complicated because it depends on the alcohol in your drink, but an average pint of lager is 2 units, and generally a single measure of spirits is one unit. Wine depends on how big your glass is. A 125ml serving is classed as a small glass (about one and a half units), 175ml is medium (two units) and 250ml is large (three units), but it also depends on the strength of the wine you’re drinking too. A small glass of wine can be anything between 1.4 (11% abv) and 1.8 units (14% abv) – that’s why the app is handy as it works it out for you. So if you’re pouring yourself a decent measure, say 175ml glasses of 13% wine, it’ll only take six to bust your safe levels for the week!
Of course, if you’re like me, I never measure my drinks at home (I was pretty shocked when, out of interest, I measured our standard glass of red wine), and that makes it much harder to keep track of what you’re drinking.
What’s more, in terms of units, drinking more than six units (for women) or eight (for men) in a reasonably short amount of time can actually be classed as binge drinking. And to give you an idea, three medium glasses of wine are 6.9 units. That’s an eye opener.
Why do I care?
Well, for so many reasons: the health risks, the amount of calories there are in alcohol, the fact that I don’t sleep well when I’m drinking a lot, the effect it’s having on my skin (remember Helen McGinn’s ‘wine face’ experiment?), even the fact that we might be more inclined to have a row if we’ve shared a bottle of wine. Also, I’m conscious of the example that I’m setting my teenage children, who rarely see me in the evening without a glass in my hand.
The Drinkaware Challenge
All sound a bit familiar? Scary, right? That’s why I’ve teamed up with Drinkaware to set myself (and you, if you’re game) a challenge:
Next week, during Alcohol Awareness Week: challenge yourself to stick to the recommended guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days, then we’ll regroup after that and see how we got on. I’m so interested to hear your thoughts on this, so please feel free to comment below, or contact me on Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear from you, whether you’re accepting the challenge or not.
For more information, visit drinkaware.co.uk.