I met a fabulous new patient today. I think a doctor would have to have a heart of stone not to have established an instant rapport with her. She had lots to talk about but was so much fun to be around that I didn’t mind that I was running behind. She signed off with, “I must let you escape to your gin and valium, I’m sure you need it”.
Legend has it, and the stats back it up, that doctors have some of the highest rates of alcoholism and drug abuse of any profession. I learnt in medical school that we are second only to publicans, and perhaps journalists, when it comes to alcohol intake. It’s a very real risk, and reflects the stress of absorbing the emotional and physical pain of people who are in need. I almost always go home and get the children into bed so I can head straight to the bottle of wine, just to “wind down”. Ever aware of health issues, I try to have a couple of dry nights a week, and stick to a small glass a night when I do. Middle class harmful alcohol use is not a new phenomenon, but recognition was slow to dawn.
I’ve been trying to ask more of my patients about their drinking, as I live and practice near some of the alarmingly-labelled hazardous drinking hotspots of the south east. It doesn’t surprise me, but it often surprises my patients, just how little alcohol it takes to take you over the weekly limit. Tonight I did the quiz on the Drinkaware website and it tells me that I’m drinking responsibly. Then I redid it, pretending I drank three small glasses of Rioja, six nights a week. I’m still drinking “responsibly”, but clearly that level of drinking would take me well over the weekly recommended value. But because I’m sitting at home in front of Location Location Location, and not throwing up in a dustbin and falling into a taxi, I might be tempted to feel smug. As it is, I try to be careful and I hope my liver will thank me for it.