Champagne to toast a birthday, a G&T before dinner, a glass of wine with friends - for most people, having a drink is part of normal life. As well as giving us a buzz, drinking also helps the mind to relax and flick our inner switch from work to play.
Having a new outlook
Even experts agree there are some benefits to drinking a little: relaxation, conviviality and sharing good times – all of which are high on our mental-health requirements. Recently we have moderated our complex relationship with alcohol – far fewer of us now drink and drive, for example – but we’re still learning about alcohol’s effects. And changing social patterns, such as women drinking more than they used to and people drinking more at home, are highlighting new things we need to be aware of.
3 things to know about alcohol...
1. Drinking is risky behaviour.
With consumption now above higher-than-recommended levels, research shows this increases your risk of physical damage from accident or violence, or from chronic illnesses that might take years to show up, such as cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage and cancer (20 per cent of breast cancer cases in Australia are linked to alcohol).
2. How much is enough?
It’s the question that’s always asked: how many drinks is OK? While there is no guaranteed safe level of drinking, up to two standard drinks on any one day is fine for otherwise healthy adults. At this level, the risk of doing short- or long-term damage is very low.
3. Don't put your child at risk.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which include behaviour problems and learning difficulties, are caused by the effects of alcohol on a developing foetus, and your baby is most vulnerable during the first few months in the womb. So if you are not taking contraception and you could fall pregnant, it is recommended you don’t drink at all.
So why do you fancy a drink?
I drink to relax
Having a glass of wine now and then to help you unwind is fine, but do be careful it doesn’t become the norm.
Try this: Rent or buy your favourite comedy sitcom and watch an episode when the kids are in bed. Laughter triggers the release of dopamine, which is also one of alcohol’s feel-good effects.
Avoid this: If you can’t relax without a drink, over time you’ll need more to have the same effect. Aim for two alcohol-free days per week.
I drink because it makes me feel confident
A drink or two helps you feel uninhibited, talkative, and funny. But it works just as well if you take it slow.
Try this: Drink a glass of water before you start drinking and eat something before you accept another. Spacing your drinks, with water and food, gives your body a chance to keep up with the toxic load of alcohol.
Avoid this: The more you drink, the less you’re able to judge whether you’re still sounding witty... or drunk.
I drink to celebrate
Birthdays, weddings and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a drink.
Try this: Maybe save your drinks for the toasts, and plan to dance your socks off (dancing is another dopamine booster).
Avoid this: Entering into an argument. With every drink your judgement is impaired, and you’re less able to articulate your thoughts and manage your emotions.
I drink because I appreciate the flavours
Try this: At an event where you know good wines are going to be served, drink just a splash of each, with water in between. If you’re out to dinner with your partner, order two wines you’re interested in by the glass and share them. At home, pour yourself a 200ml carafe of wine and make it last the evening.
Avoid this: Don’t drink too much, because after a couple of glasses of wine, most of us lose the ability to really get the full sensations of what we’re drinking.
Is alcohol good for your heart?
The potential benefits of alcohol for your heart are limited and are restricted only to certain people. this means, if you are a middle-aged man (over 40), or a post-menopausal woman, moderate alcohol consumption (one or two standard drinks a day) can help protect against coronary heart disease caused by the narrowing or blockage of the arteries. however, drinking more than the recommended amount increases your risks of health damage or death by numerous causes, including other heart problems. there are many safer ways to reduce your risk of heart attack that deliver all-over benefits – regular exercise, for example.
I drink so I don’t think about things so much
Try this: Before all of your thoughts become overwhelming, call a friend or family member, or a helpline (Lifeline, 13 11 14; Relationships Australia, 1300 364 277). Talking can take the edge off the anxiety, sadness or pain. Aerobic exercise is also a great stress reliever as it triggers a release of feel-good endorphins.
Avoid this: Don’t rely on alcohol to feel better, as consistently drinking at more than recommended levels can cause depression.
I drink while I cook – it’s a lovely way to unwind
Try this: Listen to music while you’re cooking instead.
Avoid this: Piling on the kilos. Drinking while you’re distracted (cooking) and hungry is likely to cause you to drink and eat more than you intended. Before you know it, two glasses of wine before dinner, plus a larger serving of dinner (with more wine), and then chocolate, and another glass of wine adds up to a load of extra avoidable kilojoules!