I’m not an alcoholic but I do like a drink…

not an alcoholic but

If you’ve ever said the words “I’m not an alcoholic, but I do like a drink”, are you being honest with yourself?

My Dad “liked a drink”. So, you are not alone. I don’t want to bombard you with statistics, but I’ll give you just one…

27% of people were considered binge drinkers in Great Britain in 2017.

My Dad joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 78. He had liked a drink is whole adult life. He joined the Merchant Navy at 16. He learned many useful skills in the Merchant Navy. Skills that would enable him to carve out a career. He also learned to smoke and to drink.

He smoked a lot. Until he was 33. Then one evening he fell asleep with baby-me dozing in his arms. The cigarette in his hand set light to his shorts and he got a nasty burn on his thigh. The burn – about the size of a 50pence piece – was visible until the day he died.

He may have fallen asleep because he was just tired. After all, he was looking after 2 small boys, along with my Mum. Or – as I often witnessed – did he fall asleep because he had “had a few”?

Recognise how much you drink

My Dad drank often. Gin and tonic aperitifs. Wine with meals. And whisky in the evening. This was common. He could also go days or weeks without a drink. He worked in Libya for 25 years. I’m not saying he never drank there, because I don’t know. But I know he wasn’t meant to.

Add up how much you drink. And – just as importantly – do you binge drink? The recommended maximum weekly intake is 14 units. Approximately 6 beers or 10 small glasses of wine. And you should spread those over 3 or more days.

Why does it matter how much you drink?

Alcohol takes the edge off doesn’t it? If frees you. It takes away the worries. Here’s what else it does in the long-term:

  • Suppresses your immune system (making infections last longer and have more impact)
  • Reduces sleep quality and quantity
  • Results in lower mood in the long-term
  • Damages your liver
  • Messes up your blood sugar
  • Drives up blood pressure
  • Increases the risk of many cancers
  • Increases the risk of dementia
  • Affects relationships
  • Shortens your life

I could go on, but you get the idea…

Hopefully you won’t be admitted to hospital due to an alcoholic event. In one study, those admitted to hospital due to “alcohol use disorder” lived 24-28 years less than the average population. That’s dying in your 50s instead of your late 70s or early 80s.

How “liking a drink” affects those around you

It’s impossible to know how much my Dad’s lifespan was reduced by his alcohol habits. He died a week past his 83rd birthday of lung cancer (he had given up smoking 50 years previously). I miss him.

He told me that he’d had a good life. But it was a life peppered with falling asleep in the early evenings. Of being quiet and withdrawn at times – when he’d had a few. Also – at times – of being over-talkative. When he’d had a few. It could be a bit embarrassing.

I imagine we might have had a few more valuable conversations if he hadn’t been a bit sozzled many evenings. I imagine he might have been more aware that he had wisdom to share. Even if that advice had been “don’t drink as much as me”.

I struggle to remember occasions on which he offered advice. Maybe this was a conscious decision by him. Maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps he just didn’t think about it. Was that because he couldn’t think clearly a lot of the time?

My Mum suffered. She didn’t have much company after 8pm, especially when he was in his 70s. He just dozed off with a glass in his hand. She said he was always an amiable drunk. He was never violent, thankfully.

There were times when she would pore whisky down the drain. He took to hiding it later in life. But she’d find it and quietly pore it away. And he would quietly go and buy more.

Even though you’re not an alcoholic, how can you cut down / stop?

Decide that you want to and have a “why”

Nobody can make you give up, or cut down. You have to decide to do it. My Mum asked my Dad many many times.

Maybe you want to live to see your grand-children grow up. Maybe you want to give your partner a better life. Or perhaps you’d like to avoid falling over in the middle of the night. And not being able to get up.

Get help

There are many groups that can help. AA are just one group. One Year No Beer is another. These groups know a lot about what it takes to cut down and stop.

Doing it alone is really hard for most people. The vast majority of people who stop drinking without support, start again.

If you’d like help from a health coach, this is where you will find a health coach.

Don’t be ashamed

Shame doesn’t help. Shame paralyses. No one is perfect. We all have our flaws. “I’m not an alcoholic but I do like a drink” is so common. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the way your life panned out.

You might also be saying “I’m not a perfect parent, but I did my best.”

Footnote:

Many people choose to label themselves as “Alcoholics” because it keeps them on-track. I don’t think of my Dad as an alcoholic. I think of him as my Dad, who struggled to keep his drinking within healthy limits. He was so much more than a diagnosis.

I’m not ashamed of my Dad. I’m proud of him. In fairness to my Dad, I’d like to note that he was a good man, a very kind and gentle man. He so obviously loved my Mum; and that is one of the greatest gifts a person can give his/her children – to love the other parent.

I feel lucky to have had him as a Dad. But I think I would have learned more from him if he hadn’t been sozzled quite as often.

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