I never questioned how much alcohol was safe for me when I moved from high school to college days. Alcohol was common at almost every social event (religious outings excepted). So I imbibed cheerfully, taking free beverages when offered, rarely thinking of how much the alcohol involved.
In college days it was assumed we knew our own limits for safety, but I certainly didn’t. It wasn’t until I found myself waking up to pounding hangovers once in the Air Force I wondered if I was doing the right thing by drinking.
Once out of the military and working as a journalist, I continued to enjoy social drinking. The hangovers were frequent reminders I probably was overdoing it.
So embarked on a civilian career, I decided to pay attention to my alcohol consumption. I had read the basic advice from counselors was one drink of strong liquor a day for women was probably safe, two for men, a matter of body mass.
So somewhere about middle age I decided to keep track of my alcohol consumption. I made sure I had a pen with me at social events, one that could write on tissue napkins. I developed a simple code: one “X” for a strong cocktail, a circle for milder drink and “W” for wine.
So I kept track and quickly discovered I was drinking more than I realized. I tried to set a limit on consumption, although I wasn’t being perfectly honest about it; I wasn’t completely honest about keeping tabs on myself.
In the long run I decided what level was all right for me — usually gin martini on the rocks followed by a modest glass of wine. No more hangovers, maybe twinge or so as a reminder. Not the best answer, but one I could live with without interrupting my social life and not one for everybody.
So a Consumer Reports article caught my attention: “How Much Alcohol is OK?” (“On Health,” Sept. 17, pages 6-17).
We once were told a little wine with dinner may help prevent heart disease plus other health benefits. We know with older drinkers too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase the risk of falling, strokes, memory loss and mood disorders. And in this group alcohol woes trigger problems, such as the uncontrollable urge to drink which shot up as much as 107 percent 2001-2017, according to a study in JAMA. Even small amounts of alcohol can react with medicines. My VA doctors modify my limit, just as they do with grapefruit juice, a no-no for some of my meds.
More than 100 studies find a drink a day is linked to 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of stroke and heart attack and death from cardiac-related illness. Harvard researchers, after studying 330,000 drinkers for a year, found light to moderate drinkers were 34 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases.
But yet no studies yet have proven alcohol directly boosts human health.
A growing stack of research studies suggest regular moderate alcohol consumption may also have problems. A 30-year study in a British medical journal found men who drank 8 to 12 drinks a week had three times the odds of having an atrophied hippocampus, which is possibly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies have shown moderate drinking may be tied to risk of breast cancers and, especially in smokers, esophageal mouth and throat cancers.
Moderate drinking isn’t totally safe either. A glass of wine may be fine, says George F. Koob, a wine expert. If you don’t drink, there’s no reason to start. If you find yourself exceeding the one or two drinks warning, cutting back can help your health. Try these plans:
Size up your pour. It can be difficult to pour a standard 5-ounce drink of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1 and 1/2 ounce of distilled spirits. Some wine glasses hold 22 ounces, more than four drinks. Use a measuring glass or cup to get the right amount.
Keeping track of how many drinks you’ve had in a day or week with napkin notions can help you stay inside your limits.
Talk to your doctor (not easy these busy office days). Do it at your next checkup.
Alternate with water. A glass of water or club soda can make it easier to stay below your limit.
And be careful about drinking with medications, Anti-anxiety drugs (Xanax and generic), blood pressure drugs, cold or allergy drugs and pain relievers.
Reading the Consumer Reports on alcohol and health is enough to make me skip that nightly martini. But then where would I get my daily olive? In salads, I guess.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.