Dr Mark Rowe: Going easy on the drink will make your life better as well as longer

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As a nation, the Irish have traditionally had a high tolerance for excessive “social” drinking, especially around the festive season. Many of the effects of our collective alcohol dependence and misuse remain hidden from sight, just like an iceberg under water, but a potential timebomb nonetheless, for the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities and Ireland Inc.

From Independent.ie

I believe it’s high time to wake up to the fact that what is considered “social drinking” in this country is, in many cases, damaging your health, sometimes fatally, and detrimental to your well-being. In so many respects, alcohol is a subtle destructive force in Irish society.

We need to blow the lid off the silence that surrounds alcohol in this country and to ask ourselves openly and honestly how much we are drinking and how it is affecting our physical and psychological health, our emotional vitality, relationships and well-being.

Many people are aware of the link between excess alcohol consumption over many years and the increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver. But what about the other 60 medical conditions that alcohol increases the risk of, including physical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity; psychological health issues including anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem and depression, emotional repression, and damaged relationships?

The Department of Health‘s hard- hitting Steering Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy (2012) revealed that alcohol misuse was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008 and one in four deaths in young men.

It is a contributory factor in half of all cases of suicide and deliberate self-harm. It is a trigger factor in one-third of domestic violence and abuse cases and adult alcohol abuse leads to 16pc of child abuse and neglect cases. The list goes on and on!

As a family doctor, I see people developing cirrhosis of the liver who claim to have never been drunk yet they still consume 60 to 70 standard drinks of alcohol a week. (There are typically two standard drinks of alcohol in a pint of beer, one standard drink in a pub measure of spirits and one to two standard drinks in a glass of wine, depending on the size.) Research carried out by Lundbeck in 2012 showed that 40pc of people knew at least one person close to them who drank every day and 67pc of those who were involved in ‘at-risk drinking’ were happy with their own consumption.

Research carried out this year by the same healthcare company on adults over 30 showed that during any single drinking session, one in three men and one in two women drink at a high-risk level, with men consuming seven or more drinks in any single drinking occasion and women consuming four or more drinks in any single drinking occasion. Over three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that alcohol was central to how people relaxed and socialised.


Better awareness can lead to smarter, more informed choices and decisions when it comes to your health. Knowledge is power.

So how much is too much? One way of defining this is by using the Health Service Executive‘s recommendation of keeping to a low-risk guideline of 17 standard drinks of alcohol a week for men and 11 standard drinks for women.

However, it’s not just about the volume that you drink, but the impact that alcohol has on you.

People really need to be aware of how much alcohol is in what they are drinking. Try keeping a diary of what you are drinking over a couple of weeks (and weekends) to get a better handle on the amount. How is it impacting your health and well-being, your relationships, your mood, your performance at school, college, work?

Alcohol misuse is very much a family illness. When it starts to have a negative impact on a person, it has a ripple effect on the spouse, children and wider family. It is the great destroyer — it can affect the heart and soul of the family children.

I am not anti-drink but I have seen so many horror stories caused by drinking over the years that I really believe people need to be made aware of the risks of drinking to excess. I have seen a lot of shattered dreams, relationships destroyed and unfulfilled potential literally wasted away.

Christmas is traditionally a time where everybody comes together and people tend to drink even more than usual. Unresolved family issues can rear their heads, not to mention the stress and financial pressure on many families around this time. Any GP the length and breadth of the country will tell you St Stephen’s Day on call is their busiest day of the year. At the moment there is a massive knowledge gap as people are simply not aware that high-risk drinking is the cause of so many different health problems.

I believe from direct observation of people and families as a GP over 20 years that if you want to encourage and support your children to make healthy choices and have a healthy respect for alcohol, then lead by example. But we also need leadership to invest in education, sport and youth recreational facilities in every community. The time has come for us to stop making excuses for our drinking and to wake up and take responsibility as a society.

So how can cutting down on your alcohol intake improve your health? Well, physically you will have more energy. It will help you to control your weight, blood pressure, blood fat and blood sugar. Drinking less will improve your mood and mental well-being, leaving you less prone to anxiety and depression, improving your sleep and your relationships. Drinking less alcohol may not only add more time to your life but more life to your time.