We talk to four women about their drinking habits and ask the experts for their verdict

Alcohol is such a big part of Australian social culture that many ignore the health guidelines that say we should drink no more than two drinks in one day. Here, we look at the drinking habits of four women to find out their health risk. How do you compare?

The minimalist

Weekly alcohol consumption

Less than four glasses of wine or beer

“As a new mum I enjoy red wine only on weekends or nights out, never exceeding two drinks a day or four drinks a week.

Coming from an Italian background, I think I had my first taste of wine at about age six or seven. Of course, there were times in my uni years when I drank enough to regret it later, but these days I value my health more and I don’t have time to deal with a hangover.

I am well aware of the potential health implications of drinking – my brother died of alcohol poisoning in 2004, two days before his 25th birthday. It was a huge loss for me. I don’t think I have the same addictive tendencies as my brother but I never want to feel controlled by something as unimportant as alcohol.

My mother is currently in remission from bowel cancer.”

Description: Less than four glasses of wine or beer

Less than four glasses of wine or beer

The verdicts

Drinking is a risk factor for bowel cancer and Leree already has a family history of the disease. But although there is no absolutely guaranteed safe level of drinking in terms of cancer risk, Leree’s is as low as it gets without being a teetotaller. – IO

Leree’s drinking is well within the guidelines. She’s having fewer than two drinks a day and more than a couple of alcohol-free days a week, so she’s spot-on. – NS

Leree is drinking at a rate that is considered to be cardio protective, associated with a lower risk of heart disease. – DC

The chronic drinker

Weekly alcohol consumption

Up to seven bottles of wine

“I had my first drink of alcohol in my teens but I didn’t really start drinking regularly until I was in my early 20s. It was Sunday sessions at the local surf club and I drank scotch and soda because it was what my mum used to drink.

Now I have three daughters of my own and since a serious car accident five years ago left my husband permanently disabled and unable to work, I’m also his full-time career.

I admit I’m not very good at looking after myself and I often don’t eat properly or get enough sleep. I’m aware it’s unhealthy but I do have a few drinks when I’m bored, frustrated or stressed. I also have periods where I don’t drink at all, but most nights I average four to six drinks.

My father died of lung cancer and I recently lost my sister to thyroid cancer.”

Description: Up to seven bottles of wine

Up to seven bottles of wine

The verdicts

Alcohol isn’t a risk factor for the types of cancer in Louise’s family but she’s drinking too much and for all the wrong reasons, putting herself at risk for all sorts of diseases including breast cancer. Louise should ask her doctor about screening tests including mammograms. – IO

Louise is well into dangerous territory for liver disease. The good news is that liver damage, even early stage cirrhosis, can be reversible. Reducing her alcohol intake might be recommended but total abstinence is probably best for Louise. I would recommend a liver assessment and FibroScan. – NS

Rather than giving Louise a hard time, I think we should look at the real reason behind her drinking. It’s likely that she is self-medicating because of her very difficult social situation. Depression and anxiety are also risk factors for heart disease but with the right support, Louise can find more effective ways to cope. – DC


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