January is a good time to consider the question that bedevils so many middle-class, middle-aged women: do I drink too much? Much like everyone else, I have emerged from the festive period determined to reconnect with a healthier way of life and to clean up my over-indulged body. Consequently, I have had a few days without wine. And, boy, am I missing it. I so look forward to that first glass of white in the evening, and have done ever since I recovered from the birth of my first child some 16 years ago. Before, I was more of an erratic party drinker. Today, even the smallest of social occasions requires a glass of wine; at bigger gatherings, I can lose count.
I come from a long line of people who adore both food and drink. When I was young, my siblings and I would be offered a little wine, well-diluted with water, at my grandmother’s table in France. It was not something I particularly liked back then and I suspect it was administered in the hope that it would sedate us somewhat so the adults could enjoy their dinner. When we were older, and it was legally acceptable to drink, we grew to love sitting up late, with bottles of wine on the table, talking into the small hours. I still do and so do many of my friends.
But wine lovers like us are frowned upon. Health experts have labelled us “the silent majority”. Last year, the think tank 2020health warned that millions of middle-class drinkers are harming themselves “behind closed doors’’. “They may be professionals, students, parents – even GPs themselves,” it said, somehow making us all sound like brothel-keepers or worse.
The official advice is pretty clear: women should drink no more than 2-3 units a day. A standard (175ml) glass of wine is about equal to just over two units while a normal (25ml) shot of gin is about one unit. Women who drink more than recommended limits are 1.2 times as likely to develop breast cancer, and 1.2 to 1.7 times more likely to get cancer of the mouth, throat and neck. Added to this are warnings that you may suffer from fatigue, weight gain, bloating, broken veins and depression. Oh, and you might get cirrhosis of the liver and die.