Friday 19 January 2018

Why do Irish women drink? And why to potentially fatal levels...

Scary new statistics show that more women are consuming potentially fatal amounts of alcohol. Our reporter asks three women how much they drink - and, crucially, why

Social drinker: Emma Doran, a comedian and mum of three, enjoys an alcoholic drink on a night out, but says she doesn't drink on stage. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Social drinker: Emma Doran, a comedian and mum of three, enjoys an alcoholic drink on a night out, but says she doesn't drink on stage. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Anne McHale
Cecily Raissian

Chrissie Russell

We all know the stereotype: the smart, affluent, hard-working woman who reaches for a glass of chilled white at the end of a long day of work meetings or grappling with toddlers.

But now we've been given our starkest warning yet that women's growing love affair with alcohol is far more sinister than just a bit of harmless 'me-time'.

Liver specialist Professor Frank Murray, of the Royal College of Physicians, warned this week there'd been a sharp rise in women in their thirties and forties being admitted to hospital with alcohol-related illnesses. Tragically, many of those women will not survive.

And it's university-educated, middle-class and middle-aged women who are increasingly likely to drink regularly, so hospitals are seeing a huge increase in liver disease in this demographic. Mums counting down to kids' bedtime are another emerging group of female drinkers.

"Our mums frequently refer to having at least one 'wine o'clock' moment a week," says Laura Erskin from

Experts say that women should have no more than 11 standard drinks a week - the equivalent of a bottle of wine and four G&Ts spread over seven days - so it's very easy to reach 'excess' without even realising it. But what's behind this rise in women's drinking? We asked three women to be honest how about how much they drink, what they drink and that all important question: why?

Emma Doran (32), comedian and mum of three

Standard drinks: 11 per week (if at home, if there's a night out, it's a different story)

Drink of choice: Lidl white wine or gin

"When you have kids you don't go out that often so if you do then you're going to cut loose. Any time I meet people out on a night out, going mental, they always turn out to have kids. It's usually something that has been planned months in advance, like a gig or a hen do, so of course you're going to go for it. If I'm out, I'm not going to sit sipping a spritzer - I'm out to drink!

"That doesn't mean it's always the best idea, of course. There was one night, a few years ago, when I got a deal online for dinner, drinks and a night of comedy but it turned out the 'dinner' was just chicken wings.

"My boyfriend and I went on to the comedy night and the barman was pouring large glasses of wine but it wasn't until I got outside and the air hit me that I realised I was drunk… except I kept insisting I was fine.

"I was sick on the taxi ride on the way home (mostly outside the taxi but all the time swearing it was the chicken wings) and when we got home I told the taxi driver I'd clean it up.

"My boyfriend went to bed saying I was an idiot but I went back out with a kettle of hot water and a cloth and started scrubbing. I decided the cloth was rubbish and went in to get a new one but when I came back out the taxi had gone - with my kettle in the back seat!

"I wouldn't want to be going mad every weekend though, it's just like a golden ticket when you're out and someone is minding the children. In an average week I don't drink much - maybe just have a bottle of wine at the weekend and a couple of drinks. That's not bad is it?

"I tend to drive to work in the evenings, so even though it's a very social job and I'm often watching other people drink, I don't usually drink in that context. My show at the Dublin Fringe next month is called 'Liga, Lube and a Bottle of Gin', but I'll not be drinking gin on stage!

"I think when you've been a responsible mam all day, it's nice to enjoy a glass of wine at night. For me it's gin or white wine from Lidl, my only stipulation is that it's cheap. Once a bottle is opened then it doesn't tend to hang around for long!"

Anne McHale (35), freelance wine consultant

Standard drinks per week: Hard to say! Maybe eight, but not if it's a busy week.

Anne McHale

Drink of choice: Wine, or gin and tonic. "Wine is a passion for me and I get so much pleasure from trying different wines and matching them to food," she explains. "As a student I would have just drank to get drunk but now my palette is more refined, wine is something I enjoy the taste of. I only ever drink with food - dinner is not quite as fun without one glass of wine.

"Of course there's an element of alcohol being a relaxant in there too. Typically my routine would be to have a gin and tonic at weekends while I'm cooking dinner, then a glass or two of wine with dinner and perhaps a sweet wine or port with chocolate afterwards.

"I consider myself a moderate drinker but I know there would be weeks if I'm networking or out with friends, then I'd drink more than the '11 standard drinks a week'. It's something I'm very conscious of though, and I make a concerted effort to moderate my intake.

"If I'm hosting a professional event then I'll often hold a glass of champagne almost as a prop - no one notices you're not drinking, then at dinner I'll get staff to pour me smaller measures. Although I work in the drinks industry, I prefer to save my alcohol consumption for when I'm at home or with friends.

"The trouble is that once you open a bottle, you're more likely to drink it. I've actually signed up with Vinoa, a service that sends you six small bottles of artisan wine a month. It's a market specially targeting people who want a glass of wine like me. I'm single but it would also work in households where the other person doesn't drink.

"I'd also be quite keen to get a gadget called a Coravin that lets you extract as much wine as you want from an unopened bottle of wine. I find as I get older, it might take a lot to get me drunk, but it takes very little to leave me hungover."

Cecily Raissian (67), retiree

Standard drinks per week: Two (honestly)

Drink of choice: vodka and diet Coke.

Cecily Raissian

"I drink to socialise. I've been on nights out where I haven't been drinking and there's nothing more boring than listening to a group of people getting drunk when you're sober. I'd rather go out to an event and have a drink after rather than just sit in a bar but I also love entertaining, or being entertained.

"Actually I had a couple of girls round last night so I'm feeling the effects of that a bit today. I think definitely as you get older, you can't drink as much as you used to. The body takes longer to recover.

"I've always drunk vodka and diet Coke, or on the odd occasion I might have a gin and tonic.

"I know white spirits are supposed to be better for you, but that's not why I do it. I don't think about my health when it comes to drinking.

"There's always so much information telling you you 'should' drink X amount or eat X, Y, and Z, but if I'm having a drink, then I just want to enjoy it.

"I didn't grow up in an era of counting units and any damage that's done is done already.

"I don't drink that much. Perhaps if I was a wealthy pensioner, I don't know, would I drink more? But as it is, my social intentions are not matched by my purse."

Irish Independent

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