Is that glass of wine a treat or a threat?

A nightly glass or two of your favourite drop to unwind can become harmful if you don’t know the signs of dependence.

Ever laughed or prickled at a suggestion that you should give up alcohol, even for a couple of nights a week?

If you become anxious about your ability to relax, sleep or cope without that regular drink it’s possible that what you believe is just a harmless ritual is actually an unhealthy habit.

Drinking or bingeing?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that we limit our alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks on any given day to avoid potential health issues such as liver disease, some cancers, diabetes and heart disease.
 
We should also consume no more than four standard drinks on any single occasion to help reduce our risk of injury related to alcohol, and alcohol-free days will help add to the health benefits.
 
Bupa GP Gillian Rawlings says while a lot of her patients are interested in health, many find the NHMRC guidelines a challenge.
 
“A lot of my patients are actually quite shocked by the guidelines but then again, Australia has a strong drinking culture,” Dr Rawlings says.
 
She says that for some patients, knowing the guidelines helped them see they were more dependent on alcohol than they realised and could be at risk of long-term harm.
 
“That group will then do one of two things: ignore the advice and suffer the harm or they will come back to get some help,” Dr Rawlings says.
glass of red wine

Am I dependent on alcohol?

To know if you are developing a dependence on alcohol, Dr Rawlings says it’s important to know why you drink and to explore any drinking patterns you have.
 
“People need to ask themselves, ‘Why am I really drinking that one glass of wine a night? Is it a treat with underlying associations?’
 
“For example, is drinking being used as a social lubricant, as a way to reduce anxiety, or to sleep?”
 
Dr Rawlings says the World Health Organization has created a list of 10 questions you can ask yourself to assess your alcohol dependence.
 
“It’s a good place to start and includes questions like, ‘Do you feel that alcohol is playing too much of a role in your life?’ ‘Has a friend or family member suggested you stop drinking?’ ‘Have you ever not done what was expected of you the next day due to alcohol?’”
 
Dr Rawlings says whether you drink a little or a lot, it is always worth being up-front with your GP about your alcohol consumption.
 
And if you find your drinking has become a dependence issue, Dr Rawlings says it is important to enlist the support of your doctor rather than go it alone.
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