Almost 9 years ago I removed alcohol from my life. I can honestly say my main motivation wasn’t for “health reasons.” I was not particularly worried about my physical health. Not directly, anyways. Yes, I had noticed that alcohol helped me fall asleep, but not stay asleep. And I knew that poor sleep made me more irritable and anxious. But I can honestly say that I didn’t understand that there was a link between alcohol and major diseases.
A bit of light bulb went off for me in 2006 when my mother had a “catastrophic” stroke on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Behind a curtain in the emergency room the internist asked my sister and me if my mother was “a drinker”. “No, no, she doesn’t drink,” we proudly told the doctor. He pushed further, “Did she EVER drink?” “Well, yes, she did drink socially for many years, but hadn’t in the previous ten.” He paused for a moment and then pushed on with different questions to determine the history of his patient.
His question always haunted me and I’ve circled back to it many times in my mind over the past 15 years. We don’t know that alcohol consumption from by-gone decades was responsible for my mother’s hemorrhagic bleed in her brain. Many variables were at play, but still..why did the question about her drinking habits hit me like it was coming from left field? If she had been diagnosed with lung cancer and the doctor asked if she was a smoker, I would not have been surprised.
The fact is, I was ignorant to the fact that alcohol isn’t good for you and not just because it disrupts sleep and gives you bad hangovers. Apparently, the negative health effects of alcohol on our bodies isn’t news. Way back in 1988, The World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 Carcinogen. Who knew? Not me. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t shouted from the rooftops, for the same reasons it took us a while to understand that smoking isn’t actually cool. We were duped. And no “we haven’t come a long way, baby” as the Virginia slim cigarette ads liked to tell women in the 1970s.
Thankfully, the science between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing different types of cancer, heart disease and liver cirrhosis is now crystal clear. In research released officially today, two drinks per week is the maximum number that the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommends to avoid negative effects from alcohol.
While this health news may be quite sobering, I hope some of you find it liberating. Knowledge is power, after all. There can be a lot of internal dialogue when one tries to decide if/when/how to remove alcohol from their life. For anyone who doesn’t like to hang out in the grey areas of life, (Am I an alcoholic? Should I just cut back? What about the wedding in June? What if I only binge drink on Saturday night?) you can start by defaulting to science. And if you are struggling to reduce your alcohol intake, I get it. Luckily, there are people who can help.
And as always, I am happy to be on this liberating journey with you.
Margaret is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Certified Professional Recovery Coach and a Certified She Recovers Coach. She holds a B.A in Psychology, a Masters Degree in Education and has worked in the field of Education for over 30 years.
If you feel you may be struggling with substance use disorder, visit Get Help at Canada.ca to find the resources closest to you.