Don’t laugh — be­cause it seems that *Mid-life Anx­i­ety Drink­ing Dis­or­der is more com­mon than ever, finds Louise Chunn

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Front Page -

NIGELLA Law­son has long been an icon for women, es­pe­cially for those who have grown up along­side her as she has evolved into an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned cook, au­thor and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity.

Her el­e­gant, of­ten out­spo­ken, take on fem­i­nism, di­ets, fash­ion and en­ter­tain­ing mean that many of us want to join her “mod­ern women of a cer­tain age” tribe. So when Nigella an­nounces she is cut­ting down on al­co­hol as it makes her feel anx­ious, you know she is not alone.

Speak­ing re­cently on singer-song­writer Jessie Ware’s pod­cast Ta­ble Man­ners, Nigella re­vealed she has cut back on drink­ing as it tends to “ex­ac­er­bate” her anx­i­ety. Al­though she believes al­co­hol re­duces her wor­ries at first, it leaves her with “a hor­ri­ble tight feel­ing of worry”. She says she still drinks, “but not very of­ten. If I have even two glasses of wine, I need to have lots of food af­ter­ward”, as it low­ers her blood sugar lev­els.

I recog­nised the sce­nario. In fact, I’d faced it in the past 24 hours. I went out with two fe­male friends last night for a drink and a catch-up. We ate a onecourse meal and shared one bot­tle of white wine. When we fin­ished it, we con­sid­ered an­other glass, but we opted for tap wa­ter. I felt very vir­tu­ous.

But this morn­ing, I woke to a fuzzy head. At break­fast, I heaped on an ex­tra two ta­ble­spoons of muesli and added twice the amount of my usual ba­nana. And a slice of toast and honey. One milky cof­fee was just not enough.

The real killer, though, was the ef­fect of last night’s al­co­hol on my abil­ity to do the cross­word. It was a woe­ful ef­fort. I wouldn’t say I was anx­ious, but I was not by any means filled with self-love.

It’s some­thing I have dis­cussed with many of my friends. We may have laughed when doc­tors sug­gested we try a cup of tea in­stead of a G&T at the end of a work­ing day — but many of us are try­ing to mod­er­ate our be­hav­iour. For some that will be no drinks in the week, ever; for oth­ers, it’s Go Sober Oc­to­ber, in aid of Macmil­lan, which raises aware­ness about the link be­tween can­cer and al­co­hol and which Laura Whit­more has been en­er­get­i­cally pro­mot­ing.

Per­son­ally, I am cir­cling my own ver­sion of the wagon. Af­ter my mother died in April, I found so­lace by drink­ing rose wine on sum­mer evenings in my gar­den.

This is com­mon, a be­reave­ment coun­sel­lor told me, and she re­as­sured me that these feel­ings would pass. They have, largely, but I can see that life’s more dif­fi­cult prob­lems are like ice­bergs for midlife women to hit.

Many doc­tors re­port that women who were once mod­er­ate drinkers run into prob­lems as be­reave­ment, re­tire­ment, empty nests, ill­ness and so forth en­ter their lives.

Like a midlife switch from Mano­los to train­ers, women start to no­tice post-40 that the way their body deals with al­co­hol is chang­ing, too. As their or­gans shrink with age, it is harder for the body to process al­co­hol; also, most peo­ple be­come a lit­tle heav­ier — and as the ex­tra fat can’t ab­sorb al­co­hol, it low­ers your tol­er­ance and in­creases the chance of a bad hang­over.

One re­port sug­gested that this is why women, who typ­i­cally have more body fat than men, are of­ten said to have worse hang­overs.

I run a ther­apy plat­form, well­do­ing.org, and I asked fel­low ther­a­pist Anna Storey what she thought of Nigella’s com­ment. She replied: “Only to­day I was talk­ing to a mid­dle-aged fe­male client who felt she was drink­ing too much. It is one of the ways we have of not deal­ing with stuff in our lives. And many peo­ple strug­gle with that. Speak­ing gen­er­ally, one drink will make you feel bet­ter, but two and more will even­tu­ally make you de­pressed. And the next morn­ing, you are even less likely to deal with the is­sues that are driv­ing you to drink too much.”

Dr Louise New­son, who op­er­ates a menopause and well­be­ing cen­tre, notes that women who are per­i­menopausal or menopausal of­ten have anx­i­ety. She says: “Many of the women I see say their tol­er­ance for al­co­hol changes and they don’t en­joy it as they had in the past.

“Oth­ers drink al­co­hol to numb symp­toms or to try and help them sleep at night, as in­ter­rupted sleep can be a com­mon symp­tom of the per­i­menopause and menopause.

“But drink­ing al­co­hol can ac­tu­ally worsen sleep pat­terns, which ex­ac­er­bates poor sleep — and that in turn can lead to them feel­ing more anx­ious.”

Of course, it’s not just women who are shun­ning al­co­hol. Emmy award­win­ning TV pro­ducer Derek McLean has ef­fec­tively given it up, though he wag­gishly calls him­self “dry-cu­ri­ous”. Writ­ing in the magazine Planet Mind­ful, he tells how it started with a hugely drunk night and his re­al­i­sa­tion that this was not grown-up be­hav­iour.

Urged on by a fe­male friend, he read An­nie Grace’s This Naked Mind and came off the booze. The ef­fect?

“It would be easy to say I feel like a new man, but ac­tu­ally I feel like my old self — my teenage self. Happy, con­fi­dent, not moody. Even­handed, not un­der a cloud, not hat­ing work, not ‘just get­ting through the week’.”

This Naked Mind ,by a Colorado blog­ger and busi­ness­woman, is one of a raft of re­cent books on cut­ting back on the drink. Among the new pub­li­ca­tions are The Un­ex­pected Joy of Be­ing Sober, The Sober Diaries and Mind­ful Drink­ing — and the pub­lish­ing boom is in ad­di­tion to the slew of me­dia sto­ries and TV doc­u­men­taries, such as Adrian Chiles’s Drinkers Like Me on BBC Two.

While Chiles didn’t at first see his 100 units a week as bad, women tend to see much lesser drink­ing as a prob­lem. They are more con­cerned with the ef­fect it will have on their skin, the calo­ries, the so­cial op­pro­brium of be­ing drunk in pub­lic.

At the Univer­sity of Ade­laide in Aus­tralia, re­searchers found that adults aged be­tween 30 and 65 had only “mi­nor” con­cerns about health ef­fects, with em­bar­rass­ment be­ing a more ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent.

I don’t think we’re head­ing back to the days of a sin­gle sherry at Christ­mas — but I do see women adopt­ing a more mea­sured re­sponse. As Nigella said on the pod­cast: “I’ve never been a big drinker but I do like it.

“If you don’t drink, af­ter the first hour of a party you’re in a dif­fer­ent room to every­one else, and that can be quite dif­fi­cult.” But as she has al­ways said, it’s about por­tion con­trol — just as much with wine or spir­its as it is with choco­late.

‘As you age, the way your body deals with booze changes — and it gets harder to process al­co­hol’ ‘Most peo­ple be­come a lit­tle heav­ier — and as the ex­tra fat can’t ab­sorb al­co­hol, it low­ers your tol­er­ance...’

NIGELLA: ‘If you don’t drink, af­ter the first hour of a party you’re in a dif­fer­ent room to every­one else, and that can be quite dif­fi­cult.’

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