Wine-care Ain’t Self-care, Girl!

When you hit your late 40’s or early 50’s, you become more aware of your health and the horrifying idea that you should drink less if you want to be healthy.

You’ve just walked in the door, after a long day at work. You’re beat. Your feet hurt. No one’s walked the dog yet. You’ve got ten things on your mind, and now you have to make dinner.

How long does it take for you to have a glass of wine in your hand?

Maybe wine isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s a cooler, a gin and tonic, or a beer.

Whatever your fave booze is, ask yourself if you’re using it to relieve stress, to relax and to just have a moment for you. A peaceful, smooth, tasty moment.

drinking wine for self-care

Is alcohol your self-care? I know it used to be mine.

For me, it was red wine, and I drank it all week long. After a stressful day at work. Celebrating and socializing on the weekends. A relaxing evening with my husband.

Wine took the edge off. More relaxed. More laughing. More good times. Drinking wine was fun. 

Until it wasn’t.

If you’re not 40 years old yet, you may or may not have noticed you don’t bounce back after drinking like you used to. When you hit your late 40’s or early 50’s, you become more aware of your health and the horrifying idea that you should drink less if you want to be healthy.

less wine to be healthy

Speaking of drinking less. Think about what you pour into your glass. According to the serving sizes of alcohol, I was probably drinking 1.5 to 2 servings in each glass!

So, how do you know if you should reduce your intake of alcohol or even consider giving it up? 

Consider two things: 

  1. How alcohol affects you
  2. The actual dangers of booze (especially for women)

Checklist: How Alcohol Affects You in your Life

Read each statement below, and keep track of how many you agree with in terms of your drinking habits.

  • I drink alcohol 3 or more times a week.
  • When I drink, I usually have 2 or more drinks.
  • I usually finish my drink before others around me finish theirs.
  • When I’m stressed, I look forward to my glass of wine/drink.
  • There are times I’ve told myself I wouldn’t drink at an event, but then I do.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve told myself I should drink less for my health.
  • I sometimes drink more than I intended.
  • Sometimes I drink when I don’t really feel like it; it’s a habit.
  • After drinking too much, I feel awful the next day (whatever your definition of awful is: headache, tired, groggy, hungover, etc.)
  • I often don’t sleep well, and I’ve started to notice my poorest sleeps are after I drink.
  • My hot flashes get worse after I drink.
  • Drinking alcohol leads me to eating crappy food and/or too much food.
  • If I think about it, most arguments with my spouse, family or friends have been when I or we were drinking.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve forgotten conversations or events from the previous day when I was drinking.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve said or did something I regretted or that was embarrassing while drinking.

Checklist Answers

Although we’re all different (culture, genes, habits, lifestyle, etc.), and alcohol can affect us in different ways, the following guidelines can help you determine if you need to have a frank, but gentle, conversation with yourself about how much alcohol you’re drinking, and how often.

In addition, although you’ve heard that wine can be good for you, the risks of drinking it regularly outweigh the benefits. Just like running might benefit your health, the risk of harm from running down the center of a busy highway outweighs any benefits you’d get from the actual running.

Here are the answers to the checklist. How many of those statements were true for you? These guidelines are my own. I’m not a doctor or health care expert. Only you can gauge whether you need to look at reducing your alcohol intake.

1-4 It’s unlikely you’re turning to alcohol for self-care. Alcohol is probably not a focus in your life. However, depending on the specific items you checked off, keep an eye on how often you drink, and how much you drink, to avoid future health problems.

5-9 Your self-care habit may lead to bigger problems. Alcohol is impacting your life in more ways than you might have realized. Depending on which items you checked off, it would be a good idea to decrease how often you drink and to consume less when you drink. Try drinking only once a week and limit your drinks to two. Doing so will decrease your chance of acquiring alcohol-related health problems.

10-15 This score indicates that your regular self-care routine of sipping a lovely Shiraz or whatever you like to drink, is going to bite you in the ass, later. You should seriously consider the physical and mental health risks of your alcohol consumption. Try going alcohol-free for 30 days. Doing so will be eye-opening. It may show that you just have a bad habit of drinking, or it may show that you have an addiction that needs to be looked at. Either way, you’ll need to start drinking less if you want to have good health.

After reviewing your results, you may need to look in the mirror (with love and kindness) and have a conversation with yourself about whether your health and overall well-being is really important to you or not. When I say health, I mean the health of your body, mind and even your relationships.

the dangers of drinking alcohol
image: Alison Carrey

The Real Dangers of Drinking (especially for women)

Now that you’ve had a look at the effects of your own alcohol consumption, let’s review some of the dangers. It’s my guess that most women are completely unaware of just how harmful drinking can be. I was one of those people, diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. 

Since then, I’ve gone for weeks and months without drinking. I drink less, and honestly, I envision a future life without any alcohol because the World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a carcinogen in the same category as asbestos and tobacco. The organization says alcohol is toxic and that there is no safe level of alcohol.

Since I’ve had cancer already, and a type that has been shown to be (in part) caused by alcohol (see below), it would be in my best interest to abstain from alcohol altogether, for my health. It is my hope that I can achieve this eventually.

The information below is not a comprehensive list of the dangers of booze, but if you want to improve your health or keep the health you have, it will give you a glimpse of how alcohol can greatly impact your health. I’ve bolded the parts that stood out to me. 

“Alcohol is a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence producing properties. In many of today’s societies, alcoholic beverages are a routine part of the social landscape for many in the population. This is particularly true for those in social environments with high visibility and societal influence, nationally and internationally, where alcohol frequently accompanies socializing. In this context, it is easy to overlook or discount the health and social damage caused or contributed to by drinking.” –World Health Organization

“Cancer: alcohol consumption has been identified as carcinogenic for the following cancer categories (Baan et al., 2007): cancers of the colorectum, female breast, larynx, liver, oesophagus, oral cavity and pharynx. The higher the consumption of alcohol, the greater the risk for these cancers: even the consumption of two drinks per day causes an increased risk for some cancers, such as breast cancer (Hamajima et al., 2002). ” –World Health Organization

  • “Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Brain: Alcohol-related cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain develop more quickly for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Heart: Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men.
  • Breast Cancer and other Cancers: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. In women, drinking is also associated with breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“[Women’s] bodies contain proportionately less water and more fat than men’s bodies. Water dilutes alcohol and fat retains it, so our organs are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol for longer periods of time. Also, women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream. At any given dose, our blood levels of alcohol will be higher than a man’s, even taking into account differences in body weight. As a result, one drink for a woman is roughly equivalent to two drinks for a man.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School

Final Thoughts

Women are increasing how much they drink, compared to the past. This article published by NPR (National Public Radio) talks about how women are using booze to cope with life, as opposed to using it just for pleasure, and that so many women are completely unaware that their drinking habits need to be adjusted or halted.

Based on my own drinking habits and experiences, and my observation of family and friends’ drinking patterns, I whole-heartedly agree that we’re turning to booze for an escape. Many women are practically in-lust with their vino (ya, that was me) because it helps us to relax and escape our hectic, stressful lives, where we do much more (work and home) than the average man (especially if we have children). 

Do you want to take a closer look at the stress in your life and how you can reduce it? Read “3 Steps to Less S#?@**(Stress)“.

If you want to go deeper into reflecting on your drinking habits, go to Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your Health.

I’m writing this post because I want women to see that turning to booze for their self-care program is not the way to go.

I’m hoping women will begin to see that we need to make other changes in our life to cope with stress. I want us to see the incredible power we have within, and that we’re not treasuring that power when we reach for our glass of toxins. 

Check out my other post about alcohol, “I’ll have a Cabernet, with a Side of Cancer”.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

I’ll have a Cabernet, with a side of Cancer

Whether you’re sipping it slowly, or slamming it back, alcohol is a harmful drug that’s been normalized at the dinner table.

Do you need to give up your Cabernet or your Pinot Grigio for your health? 

Many women would riot in the streets with such an expectation. 

Although giving up wine or any alcohol sounds extreme, when you know the real risks and what it’s doing to you, long-term, you might decide to do just that–give it up. If not, then it’s a good idea to at least consider reducing your intake of alcohol on a weekly basis. 

I love my red wine, and I know lots of ladies (young and old) who love it too. Not just red, but white, rose and sparkling too. 

red wine, alcohol, dinner

We love it after work. We love it with dinner (on the weekends, with brunch). We love it as an evening drink. We love it as a nightcap.

If you look around, you’ll notice that wine is the go-to beverage for so many women. Whether it’s drinks with the girls, grabbing wine coolers on the way to the beach or a party, or having top notch red wine with a fine dinner, we love our wine.

Ok…it might not be love, but it’s definitely lust for many of us.

I know. The idea of something else being bad for us is just too much to take. The last thing women want to hear is that there’s something wrong with their wine. We don’t want to hear it’s bad news, or that we’d be wise to give it up or drink less of it.

Over the years, I’ve made some surprising discoveries (or realizations) about wine, well, about alcohol in general. What I now know has made me look at my wine with a different perspective and has led me to change how often I drink. 

The Wine Escape

Women are turning to wine to relieve their stress. And there’s a lot of stress out there. I’m not saying men don’t endure stress because they do, but women carry the load of society. 

stressed woman

Women who work full time are also usually the primary caregivers for children or the elderly, and they usually manage the household. Sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes it’s related to parental role expectations due to upbringings or culture.

The end result is the same. Women are lugging around high levels of stress on a daily basis. For some of us, that stress is almost constant, like a quiet engine humming. We don’t really hear it or notice it, necessarily, but it’s quietly burning our energy and exhausting us.

I used to walk in the door after a stressful day or week of teaching, and shortly after, I’d have a glass of vino in my hand. It flowed through all my arteries and calmed me down. This was me time. That wine washed all my troubles away.

What I didn’t realize was that I was trying to manage my stress with wine. I knew it felt good, and I would even say things like, “I definitely need wine tonight!”, but I truly didn’t make the obvious connection. I didn’t see the dangers of living with such levels of stress on a daily basis. I didn’t see the dangers of drinking a couple of glasses of wine almost every night (more on the weekends) to escape my stress.

A glass of wine gives us relief from stress for a short time, but in the long run, that stress permeates our bodies and leaves us tired and with health issues. In the long run, turning to booze for some form of escape becomes a habit that also negatively affects our bodies.

A better route to manage our stress is to try to determine what’s causing the stress, and to see what can be done to prevent it or at least decrease it. Finding alternative ways to handle the stresses we encounter in our lives is a healthier solution. 

Alcohol Causes Cancer

There’s been a link between alcohol and cancer since the late 80’s, but most of us aren’t aware of the dangers. I sure wasn’t.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means there’s enough evidence to show that the carcinogen causes cancer. Research doesn’t show that alcohol probably causes cancer. The Group 1 classification means it does. Other Group 1 carcinogens include (but are not limited to) asbestos, tobacco and formaldehyde.

who alcohol facts

Are you going to get cancer if you have a few glasses of wine each month? Probably not. Will you get cancer if you drink ten or more glasses of wine each week? Not guaranteed, but more likely.

None of us think that our wonderful wine can really cause us any harm. After all, we’re always reading about how good wine is for us. Unfortunately, like in the food industry, financial forces are at play to keep us confused.

Alcohol in any form can cause cancer. No amount is considered safe. However, it’s the regular consumption of booze, over time, that’s the real problem. 

If you start drinking wine in your 20’s, and it becomes a regular habit in your 30’s and 40’s, you’ve been drinking wine on a regular basis for 10, 20 or more years.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January of 2020. Does this mean, for sure, that my alcohol consumption caused my cancer? No, but based on the research, it does mean that there’s a good chance that all the wine I drank increased my risk of getting cancer. 

Especially breast cancer.

The World Health Organization/Europe recently announced…

“There is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The risk of breast cancer increases with each unit of alcohol consumed per day.” 

who alcohol breast cancer

Of course, there are many other risks for breast cancer including being overweight and being sedentary…yep…I fit into those categories too. Thankfully, I’ve lost about 25-30 lbs since my diagnosis, and I started walking outside 5-7 times a week ever since. Check out last month’s update on my 1200 km walking goal for 2021.

I’m writing this post because I want women to know that we can no longer ignore the fact that alcohol can give us breast cancer

Just knowing this can help us watch our alcohol intake. Knowing this can help us find other ways to relieve our stress.

Giving up wine isn’t easy. I still drink wine, but I’ve gone for months at a time without it. I’ve realized that alcohol could contribute to my cancer returning, so I’ve made efforts to greatly reduce how much wine I drink.

My goal is to drink alcohol only on occasion or not at all. Maybe one day I can give it up completely, but for now, all I can do is my best, which is working at having it much less frequently than I used to.

Hmmm…if I haven’t been able to give up wine yet, does that mean I have a drinking problem? Does that mean I’m an alcoholic?

No, it doesn’t.

There’s a stigma attached to the idea that we need to reduce how much booze we consume. In fact, I think one of the reasons many of us don’t look at our alcohol intake is because we don’t want to even associate ourselves with the idea of having a drinking problem. 

Like many of our vices, drinking alcohol becomes a habit. If you’re used to having a glass of wine with dinner, then that’s a habit. If you always drink beer when you watch a hockey game, then that’s a habit. If you drink tequila shots every weekend in the summer, it’s a habit.

Just because you have a habit of drinking regularly doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic.

The habit of drinking alcohol is pervasive in our society. Whether you’re sipping it slowly, or slamming it back, alcohol is a harmful drug that’s been normalized at the dinner table.

alcohol at dinner

The more women start to realize the dangers of alcohol, the more we can start talking about it, and the more we can start to turn to healthier forms of distraction, relaxation and escape. 

See resources at the end of this post.

What to do?

If you want to spend less time with wine and want to increase the likelihood of a healthier future, here are some recommendations based on my take of good, better, best.

Good: The WOW Approach (Wine on Weekends)

Work towards drinking only on the weekends (Friday and Saturday nights). This means you don’t have any alcohol Monday to Thursday. If that’s too tough to start, then pick one day not to drink. Then choose two days, and build from there. 

Good: With the WOW approach, keep an eye on how much booze you’re drinking. If you drink a whole bottle of wine to yourself each weekend night, that could be excessive. As long as you’re sticking to just the weekends though, you are off to a good start. Once you’ve mastered the WOW approach, then you can look at cutting back on the number of glasses you drink each weekend night.

Better: Modify the WOW approach, so you drink on only one night on the weekend. Once you’ve conquered that, you can look at how much alcohol you consume.

30 day challenge

Better: 30 Day Challenge

This is a terrific way to see how wrapped up you are in your wine. Can you go 30 days without drinking any alcohol? If you can’t, you know you’ve got to take a close look at why you’re turning to booze, and you need to find other ways to access whatever benefit you get from drinking.

If you need to build up over time, start with a one week challenge. Then two weeks, and so on. If you make 30 days, can you go longer?

I include the challenges as a better approach because it gives you large chunks of time to see what your life is like without booze. You might be surprised to see how you don’t miss alcohol at all, and how it was really just a habit.

Once you build large periods of time without booze, you might find that you want it less. You may naturally begin to consume alcohol less frequently. I’ve gone as long as seven months without any alcohol, so it’s easier for me to drink less and not rely on wine to make me feel better.

Best: If you can give up alcohol completely, then of course, that’s ideal. This approach doesn’t mean you can never ever have a glass of wine again, but if you have a few glasses a year, that’s pretty much the same as giving it up.

Before you Go

How often, how much and why you drink is your personal journey, which is connected to how you handle the stresses in your life. I encourage you to look at those stresses to see if you can remove or reduce them in some way. If you can’t change them, discover methods, other than alcohol, to manage them.

If you decide to re-evaluate your alcohol consumption, do so with self-love.

self-love, be kind to yourself

It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself as you make any changes in your life that will produce better or future health. No one is perfect, but you can take small steps to move toward the health you desire.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

See Resources Below

Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

Quit Like a Woman by Holly Witaker

I listened to this book on Audible and was amazed to learn of the damage that alcohol does to the body. This blog post didn’t get into all the details of how toxic alcohol is to your body and how hard your body has to work to get rid of it. A great read for anyone interested in health or for anyone considering the idea of reducing their alcohol intake.

World Health Organization: Europe

National Cancer Institute

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Canadian Cancer Society

American Cancer Society

%d bloggers like this: