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Too much, too often: Time to sober up


Low-cost alcohol could soon be a thing of the past

Low-cost alcohol could soon be a thing of the past

Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas

Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas

Katie O'Shea, BestLife.ie

Katie O'Shea, BestLife.ie


Low-cost alcohol could soon be a thing of the past

New year, no beer: as celebration turns to cessation, that's the mantra being taken to heart by the nation this January.

Just three days after raising a drink to a brand new year, thousands of revellers here have vowed to put it down as part of a new fundraising campaign for the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF).

With 70pc of those going 'On the Dry' suffering at least one hangover in December, and recycling bins still spilling over with the empty wine bottles and crushed beer cans to prove it, for many, it's sure to be a welcome detox-with-a-difference.

"The campaign seems to have really captured the mood of the public," says Maureen Mulvihill, head of Health Promotion at the IHF. "After the festive season, a lot of people want to take a break from rich, heavy food and maybe drinking a little bit too much. January tends to be a bit of a fresh start."

With one alcohol addiction service here reporting a 64pc increase in admissions for adult women last year however, it's tippling women in particular, and not just pinting men, for whom the glass is half empty this new year.

"Certainly, at the Rutland, we have seen a rise in the number of women who have crossed the line in terms of their drinking," says Gerry Cooney, a senior addiction counsellor at the Rutland Centre in Dublin. "The pattern would be women in their mid-30s who are drinking wine in a way that wasn't the case some years ago.

"There was a time when it was about 70pc men and 30pc women - I would say it's closer to 60/40 now. It's not sociable drinking - it's women coming home from work in the evening, pulling the curtains and opening a bottle of wine.

"It's not the amount or frequency so much as the effects on the important areas of a person's life - their relationships, their health, their work, their finances."

When mum-of-two Lucy Rocca began experiencing blackouts due to her drinking, although it wasn't the new year, she knew it was time to press reset.

"I drank heavily and frequently for 20 years, but wouldn't have called myself an alcoholic," explains Lucy, who founded Soberistas.com, a social networking site for women with a troubled relationship with alcohol. "I was perfectly functional - just your typical busy mum, juggling lots of balls and drinking a bottle of wine at night to sort of unwind."

"Once I hit 30, I found the repercussions of that habit weren't quite so easy to laugh off as they were in my late teens and early 20s. I was getting quite worried about my relationship with alcohol, and noticed that there was a gap there for help available for people for whom the wheels hadn't completely fallen off, so to speak."

Today, Sheffield resident Lucy says Irish women are the fourth biggest users of the anonymous online support group, after British, American and Australian women: "We've definitely got quite a few members in Ireland. People particularly note how entrenched heavy drinking is in the culture.

"I'm very much representative of that cohort of women who grew up with ladette culture in the 90s [when] it became de rigueur for women to drink at the same pace as men, and I suspect it was very much the same in Ireland. Now 20 years later, the ramifications of that are coming out - there's been an increase in drink-driving convictions and liver disease among women of that age."

Sure enough, while the pint-guzzling male has long since been an accepted part of Irish culture, propping up the bars of countless songs, films and poems over the years, the wine-quaffing female is a more recent arrival, with table wine sales soaring from 1.5 million cases in 1990 to 8.2 million cases in 2013.

Ahead of Alcohol Action Ireland's first ever conference on 'Girls, Women & Alcohol' in April then, how is it that wine-loving ladies only ever seem to get 'tipsy' as beer-swilling men become 'plastered' or 'hammered'?

"Men tend to exaggerate how much they've drunk, describing themselves as being 'hammered' or 'battered'," reckons Lucy, "whereas women would play it down, describing themselves as being 'a bit squiffy' or 'a bit tipsy'. There's so much shame and secrecy around [binge] drinking - particularly for women."

"It's not [socially] acceptable for women to be out drinking alone the way that men can," agrees Gerry Cooney of the Rutland Centre, which offers a five-week residential treatment programme for alcoholism. "Perhaps for that reason it doesn't come to light as quickly as it should.

"When men come into treatment, it's quite obvious that a lot of female members of the family are very involved in their rehabilitation, whereas maybe not so much for some of the women coming in. There are fewer supports for women, largely because of the secrecy of it, so it's sometimes not as easy to come forward and get help."

Given that four out of 10 female Irish drinkers booze at levels damaging to their health though, accounting for a quarter of all alcohol-related hospital discharges, is four weeks on the wagon enough?

"People sometimes think, 'Well, if I can stop for January, there's no issue there'," he concedes. "Just because somebody can stop for three or four weeks, it doesn't mean that they haven't already lost control of their drinking."

When it comes to walking the line, soberista Lucy argues it's a step in the right direction, at least: "Some people would say that those sort of initiatives are a waste of time, because it's no good just to reduce your drinking for a month, you've got to do it overall for that year.

"But there's also a lot of evidence to show that people who take part in those initiatives learn a lot about their drinking behaviour, and do adopt a more sensible approach to drinking after the month is up.

"There are a lot of benefits to not drinking that people don't always realise, so I think it's helpful to notice how much money you save, how much better you sleep and maybe how much weight you lose."

For the 28pc of Irish people who've resolved to lose weight in 2015, according to the latest Ipsos MRBI study this week, indeed it's quitting Chardonnay - not chocolate - that could be the biggest secret.

"Successful weight loss isn't just about food," says Katie O'Shea of BestLife.ie, "what you drink is equally important.

"Alcohol contains seven calories per gram - that's almost twice the amount of calories found in a gram of protein or carbohydrates, and just two less than a gram of fat.

"Every pound we gain or lose is the equivalent of 3,500 calories," explains the Cork-based weight management specialist. "With a bottle of wine, approximately 700 calories, and a couple of cocktails, 500 calories each, that can add up very quickly.

"You don't have to completely avoid alcohol when you're trying to lose weight, but limiting your consumption and making smart choices are vital to success. Apart from anything else, you're more likely to eat well and exercise when you don't have a stinking hangover."

Almost four years since guzzling her last glass of grape juice, that's one thing Lucy certainly doesn't miss.

"Initially, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb for not drinking," recalls the 39-year-old. "We still live in a very alco-centric society. It's very difficult to put your hand up and say, 'I'm not drinking'.

"The most interesting thing that I've found is the comparison between admitting you've stopped drinking and admitting you've stopped smoking. The latter, people clap you on the back and say, 'Well done'; the former, people almost feel sorry for you or think that there's something wrong with you."

But she insists it is possible for women battling the Beaujolais to finally call time on 'wine o'clock' in 2015: "A major thing is finding an alternative activity that you enjoy [because] boredom is a huge trigger. For instance, I started running and writing a blog, which just occupied me enough in the first few weeks to take my mind off it.

"Another practical tip is to put the money that you would have spent on booze away and treat yourself to a weekend away or a nice new outfit, or whatever, so you can see a tangible outcome of not drinking.

"For those people who haven't got an off switch, like I didn't, it's much easier to just stop completely," adds Lucy. "I'm off drink four years in April, and I don't miss it. You'll be amazed by how much more you can get done at the weekend when you've not got a horrific hangover."



With one small glass of wine equalling a standard drink, the recommended limit of which for women is 11 per week, Deirdre Reynolds tots up the damage done by the Christmas party season — and discovers she almost blew the safe monthly limit in just 12 days.

December 20th: 4 medium-sized glasses of Prosecco (1.5 standard drinks each) = 6 standard drinks.

December 21st: 0

December 22nd: 2 pub measure gin and tonic = 2 standard drinks.

December 23rd: 1 small bottle of red wine (185ml) = 1.85 standard drinks.

December 24th: 3 large glasses of mulled wine  (1.5 standard drinks each) = 4.5 standard drinks.

December 25th: 3 large glasses of red wine (1.75 standard drinks each), 1 large hot port (1.5 standard drinks) = 6.75 standard drinks

December 26th: 1 small bottle of white wine (185ml) = 1.85 standard drinks.

December 27th: 2 large hot port (1.5 standard drinks each) = 3 standard drinks.

December 28th: 1 small bottle of red wine (1.85 standard drinks), 1 pub measure Irish coffee = 2.85 standard drinks.

December 29th: 2 medium-sized glasses of red wine (1.5 standard drinks each) = 3 standard drinks.

December 30th: 0

December 31st: 4 medium-sized glasses of Prosecco (1.5 standard drinks each) = 6 standard drinks.

Total drinks: 25

Total standard drinks: 37.

Recommended (low-risk) weekly limit of alcohol for women:

11 standard drinks

* In Ireland, a standard drink has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it

* Some examples of a standard drink include: a pub measure of spirits, small glass of wine or half pint of beer

* The recommended (low-risk) limit for men is up to 17 standard drinks a week

* Having six or more standard drinks is categorised as ‘binge drinking’

A standard drink as illustrated by the Irish Heart Foundation

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