health

"I'd say I'd had a 'few champagnes'." What to ask yourself if you're considering quitting drinking.

The following is an edited excerpt from ‘Bad’ Girl’s Guide to Better by Casey Beros.

If you really think about it, the fact that we drink alcohol the way we do is quite bizarre. 

Imagine calling a friend and saying, ‘Hey Barbara, wanna come sit somewhere and smash ten lemonades with me?’ before adding, ‘The lemonade has a toxin in it that’ll slow your reflexes and make you a bit confused and clumsy!’ 

Barbs is a hard no at this stage, and by the time you add that tomorrow she’ll wake up feeling like someone unplugged her blood supply, she’ll be telling you to f*ck right off with your lemonades. 

Watch: Your Body After 1 Year Without Alcohol. Post continues below. 


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Even though we know more than we ever have about the harm associated with drinking alcohol, it remains a potent and damaging crutch of developed society. 

It causes more harm than any other drug, and yet, it is expected. Welcomed. Encouraged. 

If I didn’t love a glass of wine so much, I would clip drinking for sure. 

I am a more productive and clear-headed—not to mention nicer—person when I don’t drink. These days I no longer pillage my parents’ coin jar to get my hands on a six-pack so I can overdose in a field, but I am absolutely reliant on a wine or two to soothe my soul after a rough day or week. 

Or a good one. 

Or a mediocre one. 

While I might have left the days of getting totalled behind me, I still use alcohol for relaxation, celebration (like to celebrate it being Wednesday, for example) and commiseration when something goes wrong. Most of us do. And that’s fine, right?

What the experts and evidence say

The National Health and Medical Research Council does important research about our health and then tells us (as well as health professionals and governments) what to do with it. 

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Here’s what their guidelines around alcohol say for healthy men and women: To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day (for context, that’s no more than sharing a bottle of wine at dinner). 

To tackle the issues around our binge-drinking culture, it’s important to look at why we start drinking in the first place. When we’re younger, I believe there are a couple of reasons. 

One is to fit in, another is because it makes us feel good.

We feel like we’re a more open, friendly and relaxed version of ourselves when we have a couple of drinks, and we relish the ‘extra’ personality and enhanced connection we get when we let down our guard. 

It can be a salve to ease the burden of busy lives and a way to mark the end of a day or week; it’s a full stop, a way of punctuating the distinction between week and weekend, or work and home. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in six of us drinks at levels that place us at lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. 

One in four consumes enough booze to put us at risk of harm on a single occasion at least monthly. 

And one in seven of us has put away 11 or more standard drinks at least once in the last year. That might sound like a lot, but in my twenties, that would have been me most nights of most weekends.

I figure I’m better off now given that, while I’m a more frequent drinker, I rein it in after a glass or two (or three occasionally). 

But that jump from two to three has a big impact; for both men and women, the lifetime risk of death from alcohol-related disease more than triples when we increase our consumption from two to three standard drinks a day. 

And if we drink more than that, the risk for women is significantly higher than it is for men. Typical. 

Turns out my years of ‘keeping up with the boys’ probably wasn’t the best idea, but a big night here and there is fine, right? 

GP Dr Preeya Alexander says maybe not. 

‘Binge drinking is now defined as more than four standard drinks in a sitting. It’s a lot less than many people would think,’ she explains. 

‘And now they’ve said anything over four can increase the risk of accidental injuries such as being in a motor-vehicle accident or getting into a fight. We also know much more about any alcohol intake and its effect on health—if you’re consistently binge drinking it can also increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and other health issues.’

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Those other health issues she refers to include things such as fertility issues (as well as trouble getting an erection if you’re a dude), liver disease and high blood pressure, but it’s also depression and sleep issues. 

My friends and I used to joke about our weekend antics killing brain cells, which explained things like why I can never remember anyone’s name or important details like what year I lived in certain cities or when the World Wars took place. 

So, I ask neuroscientist Dr Sarah McKay whether it’s possible that I have genuinely given myself brain damage, and she says that while smashing rosé on the weekend might not kill brain cells, per se, that doesn’t mean there’s no impact. 

‘You are continually and artificially disrupting the communication networks at play in the brain,’ she explains. 

‘You might not see physical brain damage, but it could impact your ability to learn and perform and be as healthy and well for the rest of the week. So, that might have an overall dampening effect.’

Damp is one way to describe me after a big weekend. 

Flat, doughy and downright depressed are others, as I would navigate ‘may not survive Monday’, ‘too much Tuesday’ and ‘why did I do that Wednesday’ before coming good, finally, on a Thursday—just in time to do it all again. 

So, how do you know if you have a problem?

To answer this, I’m throwing back to my girl Brené (Brown; we’re on a first-name basis in my head). 

She says that if you’re asking yourself if your drinking is problematic, then, at the very least, it’s probably not serving you. 

And, ‘if you’re scared shitless that your life won’t make sense if you stop drinking’, then you need to reach out for help, she shares on her blog. 

This is a conversation I have with my friends often. 

It feels like we are frequently trying to cut down our alcohol intake and questioning whether our relationship with booze is healthy, which means it probably isn’t. 

But life is prickly, and there’s a store on most corners that sells a perfectly legal, relatively cheap and universally accepted solution—booze. 

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So, when life rubs me up the wrong way (with not enough sleep, too much stress or my pesky expectations letting me down), it’s easy to reach for a trusted friend, especially when it comes in a convenient bottle.

Indeed, there are plenty of people for whom ‘partying on the weekends’ doesn’t turn out so well. 

A girl I was friends with in high school drank herself into such oblivion that she died from liver failure at age 33. 

I knew that things had escalated for her in recent years and that she’d burned bridges with a few of our friends, but that girl had a heart of gold. 

I’m yet to understand why things go one way for certain people and a different way for others. Maybe it’s varying shades of mental health (or illness), or maybe it’s just biology and luck. 

Someone who wasn’t prepared to find out was Maz Compton. 

You’ll know her from your TV screen or radio, she’s a media personality and author of The Social Rebellion, which she wrote about her decision to quit drinking. 

Now ‘alcohol-free’ (her preferred term) for six years, she tells me there was a time she was in a relationship with booze, and it was a shitty one. 

‘Alcohol crept into my life like a thief in the night and then took up residence in my house for a long time,’ she explains. 

‘What I thought was a friend to comfort me only made me feel worse each time we connected. And yet, I felt like it helped me get through each week and to relax after a long day. It became a coping mechanism to deal with the life I had chosen. Every day for a long time I was offered a drink after work, during lunch, on a weekend. Before you know it you drink at every occasion: birthdays, funerals, weddings, bad day, good day, job loss, career promotion, new boyfriend, boyfriend dumped me, George died on Grey’s Anatomy, they changed the size of Killer Pythons… and so on.’

So, Compton did what we should all do with shitty relationships: she ended it. 

‘It wasn’t until I decided to do some serious spring cleaning that I realised the effect alcohol was having in a profound and negative way across all facets of my life,’ she explains. 

It was time, she says, to stand up and take responsibility.

‘Only you are responsible for your choices. There is so much in our hands and we throw it away by not accepting the very choices we have each moment, in each day, to make wise and wonderful, empowered choices.’

I ask whether there are people in her life she feels would be better off if they stopped drinking too, and whether—given the positive impact giving up has had on her own life—she brings it up or leaves it for them to work out. 

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‘I don’t think anyone is ever truly honest about their relationship with alcohol until it becomes an issue,’ she says. 

‘I wasn’t—I would tell people I’d had a “few champagnes” when I knew I’d drunk the whole bottle. I’m not ashamed to admit that now, because I believe that my being honest will help others to not feel shame about their drinking behaviour but to understand it’s unhealthy and that they have the ability and capacity to redefine it.

‘The question I like to ask everyone is: “How is your relationship with alcohol?” 

Now, if you say, “Oh, I think I might be drinking a bit too much,” or, “I would like to take a break but I don’t know how to,” then taking some time away from drinking would be a great solution. 

And if you say, “My relationship with alcohol is great,” then I challenge you to take a month away from alcohol; if your relationship with alcohol is indeed great, this will be easy. But you may also realise during this process that your relationship with alcohol needed redefining, and so this is win–win.’

These days, instead of booze, Compton has a swathe of tools and techniques she uses to help her deal with whatever life throws at her. 

‘A lot of us sit in a space where we need something to help us “cope”,’ she says. 

‘Coping is not the key, dealing is the key! If you actually “deal” with your stuff you can overcome it, rise above it and move forward. To deal with my stress levels I used to drink a bottle of Savvy B, and now I meditate. To keep my mental health and self-image in check I exercise, I have a gratitude journal, I eat a nourishing and mineral-dense diet, I get eight hours of sleep as often as I can. I have healthy and fulfilling relationships and only a small number of them. I don’t hang on to “things”. I am careful with my impact on the planet. All of these choices help me feel content, which is a beautiful place to live life from.’ 

And if she had one piece of advice for her younger self?

‘Go home and get some sleep, babe, you look tired!’

To Compton’s point, bad behaviours are often in abundance because they help us withstand the poky, jabby stresses of everyday life, but they’re often disguised as self-care, and that’s where things get tricky. 

As you’ll pick up in this book, I wholeheartedly believe in occasionally giving yourself whatever you want. 

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Skip the gym. Eat the cake. Drink the wine, then drink it again. 

But I’m also no stranger to falling prey to that becoming the rule, rather than the exception. 

So, what do we do with all this?

If this sounds familiar, I want you to consider your perfect storm—the times you’re at your worst—and the conditions that contribute to you needing a crutch such as booze. 

Write it down—with pen and paper is best. If we know that alcohol, drugs, meaningless sex (if it makes you feel sh*tty after) and overeating are unhelpful coping mechanisms, we would be wise to dial them down, or at least keep a watchful eye over our use of them. 

Instead, we should ramp up helpful coping mechanisms before the chips are down, such as: exercise, eating well, sleep, talk therapy (with a professional or friend) and factoring in time for relaxation, mindfulness or a holiday. 

But we often don’t know we need them until it’s too late, and that’s why making them regulars on our self-care roster is vital. 

Like getting the brakes on your car fixed before they fail. That’s what clever people do, anyway. Clever people like you. 

Bad-to-better takeaways

  • If you feel like the dark side might be lurking, pay one of your friends to lock you up for the night. 
  • Don’t drink too much on your wedding day, no matter how nervous you are. 
  • Save cranberry juice for rescuing you from UTIs, especially when there’s white carpet around.
  • If you’re asking whether you have a problem, you might. Take a break and reassess.
  • Get some helpful coping mechanisms on regular rotation before you desperately need them.

 Text from The ‘Bad’ Girl’s Guide to Better by Casey Beros. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.’

Feature Image: Getty.

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