Friday 8 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #3: You'll Live Longer

I was woken up today by the headline news on the radio that, for the first time in twenty years, the UK government have done a comprehensive review of the drinking guidelines and concluded:

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

The government recommend that neither men nor women should drink more than 14 units per week, spread over two or three days, allowing several days each week alcohol free. That's approximately 1.5 bottles of wine, drunk slowly.

(Excuse me while I roll on floor laughing).

I used to drink that amount on a Friday. More than that on Saturday and Sunday, and a further bottle every night Monday to Thursday. Oops.

The reason for the harsher stance is new research showing that any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, especially breast, mouth, throat and bowel cancers.

The link to breast cancer is particularly strong. One drink a day increases your risk by 12%, two drinks daily by 24%, three drinks daily by 36%, and so on.

This is thought to be because of breast cancer's link to oestrogen. Alcohol raises the levels of oestrogen in the body, and most breast cancers are oestrogen receptive, meaning that oestrogen acts as a kind of rocket fuel - making them grow faster.

But it's not just cancer. 

Drinking also raises the blood pressure, short and long term, which increases heart attack and stroke risk. And excessive alcohol damages the heart's ability to pump (cardiomyopathy), increasing the risk of heart failure.

Plus we all know about the risk to our liver.

Liver disease in the UK has risen by 400% since the 1970s and 'those at risk are not just chronic alcohol abusers, but also middle-aged professionals who drink a little too much most nights' says Dr Debbie Shawcross, consultant hepatologist and King's College Hospital.

I know how easy it is to think it's not going to happen to me. Or you take a risk every time you cross the road. Or we constantly get conflicting advice. I thought red wine was supposed to be good for us!

That's what I thought. Until it did happen to me (see my post: I Need Help). And when you get your cancer diagnosis, it's too late to say "Ok, I'm listening now!"

I shouldn't have got breast cancer. I'm only 46 - not even on the national screening programme.

I breastfed three children. I eat healthily. I exercise every day. I was a bit overweight (no longer!), but not obese. I haven't smoked for nearly fifteen years.

My only remaining vice was booze (plus box sets and a bit of chocolate).

And I honestly believed that quitting booze seven months before I found the tumour (which had been lurking for years) saved my life.

For a start, being healthier and slimmer made me more aware of my body, and more able to find the lump.

Secondly, having found it I was unable to make the fear go away - I had to deal with it straight away. Had I still been drinking I would have drunk every time the fear emerged, convincing myself to wait a few weeks to see if it went away by itself...

Thirdly, my tumour was massively hormone receptive. Which means that, had I still been drinking, it would have grown much faster.

Because I was diagnosed early and, by this point at least, my tumour was deemed 'slow growing', I avoided chemotherapy and will, in all likelihood, die of something altogether different, hopefully a long time from now.

BUT I still have to live with constant fear of recurrence, and take Tamoxifen (with a dizzying list of potential side effects) for at least a decade.

So PLEASE don't think it's never going to happen to you:


Healthy hugs,

SM x


  1. That must have made tough reading for you this morning SM. If there can ever be a silver lining to what you've been through, your blog is undoubtedly going to save the lives of many woman like us by highlighting that we are not invincible and, whether or not we consider ourselves to be alcoholics, our health is under serious threat. But we have the chance to make a change. I'm with you on the sober train all the way! Day 80 of no booze for me today and I'm very flipping happy about it too! Hugs to you. Love SPB. xxx

    1. 80! Whoop whoop! Reminds me of my fave joke: what did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt!

  2. I love the research you do for your posts. Day 8.

    1. Thanks Lia, and congrats on day 8! Awesome!

  3. Reason #4: You live happier. I loved the point you made about not being able to drink the worry away. How often did I do that instead of facing thing? How many things, health, relationships got worse nad worse because booze helped me avoid dealing with them. Too many, I'll tell you that. (BTW, You and I must be receiving messages from the same Superior Life Form)

    1. I think we are, Kary Mary, because Happiness was going to be #4! hugs xx

  4. This is so important and I nearly cheered when I heard it on the radio this morning. When i was diagnosed with my breast cancer at 48 the only bad thing I did was drink a lot of red wine. I had just completed a marathon when I found the lump so was tip top physically. Thankfully caught early but operation 3 mths chemo and 5 weeks radio - so anyone reading this and thinking about giving up just do it now.

    Not once during treatment or at the end going forward did anyone ever mention drinking or indeed not drinking as it may be the cause or help a recurrence.

    There will be plenty of people thinking it won't happen or they don't drink that month but is it worth the risk. You are right SM everybody says that thing about got to die of something, but thats easy to say until some horrible illness happens to you.

    On a brighter note, looking forward to the happiness blog. X

    1. Well done you getting through it all, Sharon, and giving up the booze'll hopefully ensure you never have to go through it again! Xxx

  5. The BBC article on alcohol guidelines has generated just under 2000 comments so far and sadly most don't seem to be from our enlightened younger generation! It makes slightly tragic reading to see how vigorously some people are prepared to defend their drinking habits... mainly by attacking others... My conclusion is they are definitely not happy and need pointing in this direction pronto!

    1. They are definitely in that muddy field with no flowers or rabbits!!!

  6. OMG - what are we (collectively) DOING to ourselves? Did we get the vote and burn our bras for this? Everyday I am so thankful that I saw the light, AND that you did too - and share with us everyday. If it's OK, I'm going to share this post SM - its so important xxx

  7. Great post as usual SM. Those statistics are incredible. I feel ill when I think about how much I used to drink. I could so easily have gotten breast cancer myself. Hopefully now that I'm not drinking my risk has dropped considerably. And thank God you stopped when you did. Your outcome could have been very different. A x

  8. You are right, no one thinks it will happen to them. Every time I put my estrogen patch on my hip to help deal with nasty menopausal symptoms and then drank copious amounts of wine, I knew I was playing with double, maybe triple the fire. Maybe I will even be able to ditch the patch, without wine coursing through my veins on a daily basis! Thank you for another great blog. Getting ready to settle in with Jason Vale.

  9. Oh and day 7, almost twice since my last post, doesn't seem like much, but is the longest since rehab two and half years ago!

  10. I now secretly watch those tv docs about how bad drinking is for you and have a little internal dance for myself. Or turn up the radio when the next set of results come out about how drinking does this or that to you...woop!

  11. A friend of mine is just dying (literally she is dying - she has the death rattle) of cancer. She is 39 and has a 9 year old son. My heart is breaking for her. Two things strike me 1. despite waiting for the news and living within walking distance of wine at 80 cents a litre (in the mountains of southern Spain), it hasn't occurred to me to drink and 2. the last time I spoke to her I had just, I can't believe only just, learnt the connection between cancer and alcohol and as we discussed her imminent death (which was surreal, to have such a conversation). I told her about my discovery and it being one of the reasons I quit. And she said "You just don't need it...." She was not a big drinker but was pumped full of hormones in order to undergo IVF, and that was probably what caused her cancer...but her words will always stay with me. I doubt I shall ever drink again now. Because of what it does, and in her memory.