Are You Drinking Too Much?

What do women need to know about alcohol and its impact on our health? In response to your questions, the experts tell it like it is.

‘I’m not sure if I drink too much or not. How can I tell?’

A: “If you drink above the recommended guidelines more than two standard drinks a day regularly you’re drinking too much,” says Sarah Jaggard, community mobilisation policy officer with the Australian Drug Foundation. “And when drinking affects other areas of your life you’re living pay to pay because you drink during the weekends, or you’re regularly taking time off work because you’re hung-over, or your partner is worried about your drinking you need to cut down.”

Government guidelines suggest that up to two standard drinks a day are generally safe for women. Aim to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. A standard drink is 100ml of wine, 60ml of port/sherry, 30ml of spirits, 285ml of ordinary beer or 425ml of light beer.

‘Men seem to be able to drink more than women. Why is that?’

A: Your husband or partner can drink more simply because he’s bigger. The average man’s body mass is about 12 percent more than a woman’s body, so alcohol is concentrated in a smaller space in women. Your body also contains more fat and less water, and alcohol is diluted in water, and so the same amount of alcohol will be more highly concentrated in you and will have more impact more quickly.

“Your ability to break down alcohol is limited by the size of your liver, too. Women tend to have smaller livers than men,” says Jaggard. “So even at lower levels of drinking, women experience a higher degree of intoxication.”

If you’re on a weight-loss diet you will also experience the effects of alcohol faster. When a woman diets she loses more body fluid than usual, so there’s even less water to dilute that alcohol.

“Red wine is supposed to be good for you. How much can I drink?”

A: Red wine contains polyphenols that are believed to have a number of benefits, such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some studies suggest that drinking a moderate amount can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by 25 to 40 percent, particularly in middle-aged and older men and women.

A moderate amount of alcohol also raises levels of good cholesterol and reduces the risk of blood clots that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke, reveals Harvard University research. Another US study found that people who drank moderately were also less likely to develop gallstones and type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers.

Research also suggests that if you drink more than a moderate amount, it starts doing you harm. Doctors also do not advise taking up drinking to reap the benefits if you don’t already drink.

Professor Geoff Skurray from the University of Western Sydney found a $300 bottle of red wine had twice as many polyphenols as a $10 bottle of wine, and four times as many as cask wine. This doesn’t mean you need to spend $300 just buy the best your budget allows.

“I think my friend might be struggling with an alcohol problem. What are the signs?”

A: Does your friend seem preoccupied with when she is going to be able to have her next drink? If that seems to take up a lot of her thoughts and conversation, she may be drinking too much.

If you also notice her becoming anxious or sweating and shaking when she has a drink or is waiting to have a drink, these are also warning signs, and so are vomiting and hallucinations. If your friend experiences these kinds of symptoms, encourage her to see a GP who can help her find support to manage her drinking problem.

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