Sometimes Others Say Things Better Than We Can.

We are, after all, a very small, effective, low profile, practice here in southern California. It’s just Mary Ellen and me (and Scruffy), along with our medical consultant, Physician Tim Norcross, D.O.

Despite that, through a series of coincidences over the past 4 years, we ended up in the Wall Street Journal and with a personal interview by the London Times. Hard to believe.

Still, if these prestigious newspapers are willing to give us space we must be doing something right and you deserve to know that what we write, and offer, isn’t just marketing hype, magic, and the pixie dust of the “Steps.”

That said, here’s what the London Times had to say:

Cut Down Your Drinking – The Rules For Women
by Barbara McMahan

The most common reasons women drink too much are anxiety, loneliness, and boredom, says counselor Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes. The usual drink of choice is wine. “I’d say 90% of the women we see drink chardonnay and for the rest it’s vodka, beer, and red wine,” her colleague Dr. Ed Wilson adds.

For the past ten years women from all over the world, including the U.K., have sought help from the two counselors who practice in Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles. The doctors are on the front line of the female drinking epidemic in the U.S. Most of the women they treat are aged between 40 and 65.

Women drinkers fall into two categories, they say. A few are alcohol dependent and start having withdrawal symptoms the minute they quit drinking. Most of the women they see are alcohol abusers and will be able to get their drinking under control if they really want to. Some even find it easy once they start.

They say it is unhelpful to generalize alcohol abuse. “It’s a mosaic with a spectrum, just like any condition,” says Dr. Wilson. “There is no one size fits all problem or treatment. Everybody’s triggers and risk factors are different.”

The counselors say the CAGE test is a useful exercise to help women determine if they are drinking too much.

C: Have you ever felt you should cut down your drinking?
A: Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
G: Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
E: The eye-opener. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

If you say “yes” to two answers you could have a drinking problem; if you say ‘yes’ to three or more, you definitely have a drinking problem.

Answering “yes” to these questions also indicates a problem:
Do you plan your day around your favorite drinking time
Do you usually pick restaurants based on their wine list or whether they have a full bar, rather than the food, ambiance, or company?
Do you take alcohol with you when you travel, “just in case”?

The London Times continues:

Their advice to help women get their drinking under control is:

Eat something before you go home from work that will help your blood sugar rise, so you don’t walk in the door tired and your blood sugar level so low the wine is “screaming for you to come and get it.”

Be active and engaged in life. Happy people do not develop alcohol problems. “For women, or men for that matter, alcohol problems generally means that something is not working in their lives,” says Dr. Barnes. “Women may not know how to handle stress or, perhaps, they aren’t assertive in their personal relationships and therefore feel unheard and powerless and frustrated in their marriage. Maybe they are bored, or lonely. The thing that women need to understand is that alcohol abuse is the symptom, not the primary problem. Of course, if the alcohol problem gets too bad, or goes on for too many years, it can become a huge problem itself. But generally, when a woman addresses what isn’t working, then she can more easily conquer the alcohol problem.

Plan activities to relieve stress in the early evening when you might be tempted to start drinking. Go to the gym, do yoga, go out for a run, or go to the cinema or theater. If you are menopausal or peri-menopausal, think about getting some HRT if you find your alcohol consumption increasing due to hormonal/menopausal symptoms.”

Changing behavior patterns is critical, they say. “Let’s say that my pattern is that I walk in the door, kick off my shoes, flip on the TV and watch the news,” explains Dr. Barnes. “If I’m worried I’m drinking too much, I might grab a glass of cranberry juice instead of a glass of wine but I’m doing 99% of the behavior pattern and leaving out the 1% that is my favorite. That doesn’t work.”

Women should not despair if they fall off the wagon, Dr. Barnes explains: ‘It’s like losing 50 lbs. You’re dieting, changing your habits and eating patterns, and the holidays come along and you’re going to all of these parties and you gain three pounds. But you’ve still lost 47 lbs., so right after the holidays you get back on your eating and exercise plan. With alcohol, it’s the same thing. I’ve had people call me in a panic to say they’ve had two drinks. Big Deal. They were having a bad day and flipped back to using alcohol as self-medication. You learn from it and move on.”

Women generally start looking better as soon as they stop drinking. “The puffiness in their faces goes away within a week, they get that healthy glow back in their skin within a month. Their eyes start to sparkle again. It really is a great way to lose ten years off your face in about thirty days,” says Dr. Barnes.

At their centre, the counselors do intense, one-on-one treatment, which may involve a course of a craving-suppressing drug. They keep track of clients for a year after they have finished treatment.

The counselors say about 75% of women are happy with the results, whether it is drinking moderately or abstaining. Of the rest, half report that they are still struggling with alcohol and half have disappeared.

The most common outcome is that women who want to moderate their drinking end up giving it up completely.

Dr. Barnes says, “We see a lot of women who quit for a while, get their lives under control, and then say, ‘You know what? I’m happy without the booze. I don’t want to risk going back there.’”

Assuming you, whether you’re a woman or a man, want that same choice, well, that’s what we’re here for.