Binge drinking and coeliac disease
My first question when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease was: “Can I still have wine though?”. To mine (and my local off-license’s) elation, the answer was yes.
I don’t think I’ve ever drank alcohol in moderation. As a child I was painfully shy, so the introduction of booze at 15 was like a fast-track ticket to confidence. A new Nina. When something traumatic happened in my mid-twenties, I reacted by drinking the trauma away, like an emollient for the mind.
In 2017, I put a hole in my knee after falling through a fence and smashing it onto a jagged rock. Drinking high-strength cider, rum and wine all day has astonishing repercussions on your gravitational pull. But when your own mind carries a weight you struggle to lift, you drink yourself into a human kamikaze.
What does this have to do with coeliac disease?
After my scary (albeit slightly comical) fall to Earth, I didn’t go to hospital and my knee became infected. On top of my body’s battering from booze, I was given a week’s course of antibiotics. As a coeliac, this isn’t great news. Antibiotics have a profound impact on gut microbiota: when it’s imbalanced or impaired, this plays a role in the development of coeliac disease.
As someone highly conscious about what I eat, I felt like this was all so pointlessly damaging to my already diseased digestive system. I was nauseous, tired and generally unwell for weeks. This is an extreme example, of course. But the repercussions of this event made me see the deeper rooted effects alcohol was having on my health and disease.
Before I changed my relationship with alcohol, my guts fluctuated from once-a-week-bowel-movements to never-off-the-toilet. I was napping a couple of times a day (fortunately I work for myself). My anxiety was sky-high and my mood was generally low. Everyday tasks – from folding laundry to paying water bills – were overwhelming.
After a few weeks without alcohol, my systems were running properly. I was going to the toilet daily. I had bags of energy, walking everywhere. Some days I’d be at the gym at 7am – madness.
My brain is so much healthier from ditching my old alcohol habits. Coeliac disease is associated with a range of psychological problems: anxiety, social phobia, panic disorder, depression, mood disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia. Pour alcohol on top of this – a neurological toxin closely linked to mental health issues – and it’s not a pretty picture.
I can smell and taste my food more without constantly dulling my senses with alcohol. My senses are child-like; in technicolour. Life feels easier and my body and brain are able to do what they were designed to do, without a chemical compromise every weekend.
How I changed my relationship with booze
Despite my two-month hiatus in 2017, I drank again. I don’t think I’m alone in saying when I drank, I wanted more and more and more. I kept going until I was out of control: I couldn’t think my thoughts and my thoughts couldn’t think me. This is the problem when you drink to soothe anxiety symptoms (and in my case, PTSD).
After another drunken evening this year which resulted in me being sick in a spa and my old school friend having to help me get my knickers on (LOL, yes, really), I signed up to a programme called One Year No Beer and did a 28-day stint without booze.
The fee includes a very useful and practical email course and access to a Facebook group that’s absolutely overwhelming with its support, advice and inclusiveness. It definitely helps stick out the detox.
For some quick advice, this DrinkAware page has some really useful advice to prevent booze from bashing your brain. I dived deeper and read a book called This Naked Mind. The author Annie Grace absolutely slanders alcohol to hell and back! At one point, I would’ve shoved my fingers in my ears so hard ‘til they bled rather than listen to scientific evidence that Beaujolais was making me sad and mad.
She gave me tips to tackle sobriety and a language to explain a drinking culture we don’t discuss because we were born into it. We can’t distinguish our own separateness from it. We internalise habits we see helping – the glug of red followed by visible relief from someone on the telly, or even your parents – and we reuse them in the future. Hate your job? Glug. In a shit relationship? Glug. Stuck in a vicious cycle of fear and self-loathing? Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug.
“If I told you I could easily go a week without chewing gum, you’d think I was obsessed with chewing gum,” writes Annie.
So how come we’re not mildly concerned when our mate tells us they can go a week without a drink? Weird, isn’t it.
I’m not completely teetotal now – I have drank at a few social events since my months of sobriety. But I no longer need a drink, I no longer think about it all the time, it doesn’t dictate my life. And I know my limits. By ditching drink for months and reevaluating my relationship with it, I opened my eyes in ways I never expected. Particularly, the way it was preventing the healing process of coeliac disease and anxiety disorder.
Alcohol is a temporary solace. The charade of being a good-time girl may have convinced people who don’t really know me, but the real internal battle was always there. Lurking. I never sank it with booze. It just remained: buoyed up in an ocean of Kraken and prosecco and Georges Du-bloody-boeuf.
Everyone can benefit from lowering or stopping their intake of alcohol. Those Daily Mail articles telling you red wine and gin are good for you are balls.
I wasn’t the most extreme example – I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I was problematic. I had reached a point where going to any social event sent my nerves soaring. I would burn with anxiety and the only way to dampen the flames was with a large glass of Pinot. Like a convict waving my get-out-of-jail-free card, as soon as I had a glass in me, I’d have confidence. And I’d have a good night, but I’d be back in a prison of anxiety the next day.
I’m not judging anyone with coeliac disease who chooses to drink – that’s not what this article is about. But I do have coeliac disease and mental health issues and have found alcohol has been holding me back from healing them properly. The contents of this post are basically subjects I wish I’d delved deeper into years ago. I thought it would help my readers, too.
If and when you do drink, here’s what Coeliac UK recommends you do and don’t consume. And on one last note, be careful in pubs and bars. Be as vigilant about cross-contamination in them as you are in a restaurant.
Something I’ve learnt from being drunk and carefree is that you can overlook things like shared jiggers (cross-contaminated with whisky), soda pumps for lemonade dipping into lager shandies, pints of Guinness dripping into your cider as staff pass pints over the bar… the list goes on. Be safe.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this subject. Has your relationship with booze changed since being diagnosed with coeliac disease? Have you stopped or completely cut down, too, and noticed a significant effect on your health? Mentally? Physically? Or are you wanting to lower your alcohol intake, but unsure how? I’m no expert but I’m always happy to chat!