Execs Drinking to Excess

iStock_000007443548XSmall_1_.jpgby Elizabeth Harrin (London)

You wouldn’t say no to a pay rise, would you? Well, be warned. Once your salary rises above £52,000 (about US$75,000) your alcohol consumption is likely to go up too, according to figures from the UK government released in January.

Women earning more than £52,000 a year drink more heavily than women who earn less. It’s not only the frequency of consuming alcohol – high-earning women also drink more units than lower earners. A lot of this is wine: half the weekly maximum recommended units of alcohol drunk by managerial and professional women comes from sloshing back the Chardonnay, Bordeaux or Zinfandel. And we’re not very sociable when we do it: women in managerial roles drink more wine than other women, but we are also more likely to drink at home.

“Executives drink more heavily because they tend to have more work related responsibility and a higher level of stress,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Complete Natural Guide to Women’s Health. “Additionally, alcohol is addictive which sets-up a cycle of progressively increased consumption. There are many possible triggers for increased alcohol consumption by executives but most are related to pressure and stress be it emotional, familial, economic or work related.”

High-flying women can turn to alcohol as a method of dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, or insomnia, according to Dr Dean. “To try to alleviate stress, executives tend to resort to alcohol consumption which on an immediate basis acts as a stimulant and takes their mind off their stress and relaxes their nerves but in fact acts as a toxin further depleting vital nutrients and minerals from their body which would help them defend against stress.”

It’s a Catch-22 situation, and at the same time, women in senior roles tend to be very busy. This leaves them open to the risks of poor diet or skipping meals and not getting enough exercise, all of which further depletes their bodies of vital nutrients and minerals making them even more sensitive to stress. The health issues related to over-indulging in alcohol are many. Alcohol misuse has been estimated to cost the UK’s National Health Service £1.7 billion a year, and liver disease can be fatal in over a quarter of cases, according to the British Liver Trust.

“Some executives have spent years solely focused on monetary gain, while dismissing other aspects of their lives, such as their emotional and physical well-being, family relationships and even friendships,” says Dr Craig April, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist. “Keeping this in mind, their lives may be filled with chronic emptiness, depression and even anxiety with an underdeveloped ability to cope.”

It’s a pretty bleak picture at the dark end of alcohol dependency. The UK charity Drinkaware is currently running a poster campaign on London’s underground suggesting that you use the amount of empties in your recycling bin as a gauge to estimate how much you are drinking in any week and whether that could be a problem.

“For those who recognize themselves in this situation, there are a variety of treatment options including drug and alcohol rehab centers, 12 step groups [the AA] and addiction therapy” adds Dr. April. “The treatment of choice should be based on severity. As with any addiction, what must be addressed other than how to move towards sobriety, is what each individual struggling with a drinking problem is escaping from,” he says. “The addiction has served a purpose, albeit a destructive one that needs to change. The purpose has been to avoid that which the individual feels she cannot tolerate or deal with.”

There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine a couple of times a week, but the advice from experts is to give your body time to recover in between ‘alcohol days’, to recognize your limits and stick to the government guidelines of 2-3 units a day for women. If you do feel that your job, whatever you earn, is contributing to your drinking, you can always get advice from your doctor. There are also specialist charities and organisations that can help. Women working in the legal profession can turn to LawCare, for example, an advisory and support service to help lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to deal with health problems.