Both of my grandfathers had, as they’d say here in Ireland, “a problem with the drink.” I myself very much enjoy most aspects of a bit of alcohol on many occasions. As the Irish essayist and playwright John B. Keane has said it, “I have a liking for a drink.”
With my liking and the family history in mind, from my early twenties, I have always taken one month per year off drinking. Well before the trend of Drynuary took off, I took not a drop for the month of February.
Then, after meeting my wife, Caryn (with a February birthday), we shifted my dry month to November. As the month of All Souls — when Catholics traditionally remember the dead — many Irish people of a certain age take November off as well, so I fit in nicely.
This year, as we were both in America for various meetings and visits in November, a drop or two was taken. We decided to shift our dry month to January and felt quite hip and modern for doing so.
After a Month Off the Sauce, a Couple of Drinks Hit Hard
The first Friday in February saw me on my unofficially reserved high stool in my local to enjoy the company and a couple of pints. They really were quite lovely, but it must be said that I noticed a difference in how my body reacted.
After just a pint or two (and the porter I drink is only 4.2 percent alcohol, where most beers are around 5 percent), I noticed that my balance issues had moved into the realm of balance challenges.
I know I’m not alone in my perception that C2H6O’s (the chemical formula for ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, which is found in beer, wine, and spirits) effect on my body is more pronounced than on those who don’t have MS. Many people have mentioned it in our multiple sclerosis (MS) social media feeds over the years. I was just lucky, I guess, to avoid the increased consequences up until now, given my moderate consumption.
What Do We Know About MS and Alcohol?
The National MS Society states on the subject of alcohol and MS that while “there are no studies linking alcohol consumption to an increased risk of developing MS. … Alcohol could affect you differently than someone who does not have MS. Symptoms like imbalance and lack of coordination can temporarily worsen after even just one drink.”
For me — and I suppose for many of us — the balance issues can be compounded by limb weakness as well. If, for example, my equilibrium is more compromised by a drink or two because of MS, that can unexpectedly ask more of my affected left leg. That side of me has always been more damaged by MS.
When that left pin is called upon to hold more of my weight because alcohol and MS have conspired to interrupt my stability, it can lead to falls.
It’s Not Low Alcohol Tolerance; It’s MS
I don’t believe that this is an issue of losing a bit of tolerance over my month off the drink. I was beginning to notice it (as was Caryn) for a few months leading up to that.
The question now is, what to do with this knowledge.
I liken it to people who like to (or need to) continue driving even though their legs can no longer work the pedals. (Note: I never — ever — drive after even one pint). What I’m talking about is that there are workarounds.
In the case of those drivers, hand controls can be fitted to accommodate driving. For me, who would still like to enjoy a pint or two now and again, I’ll have to figure out my version of hand controls.
I might have to bring a sturdier walking aid with me. Maybe matching my pints of the black stuff one-for-one with water to dilute the effects and extend the time between pints would do the trick. Or perhaps I’ll only have one.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.