This is the third in a four-part series on alcohol and the dark side of the impact it has on Manitoba communities. Tune in to 680CJOB and watch Global News Winnipeg for more.
Part 4: To come March 14
She spent most of her university years drunk on the weekends.
Erika (not her real name) says her goal when Friday hit was to get drunk with her friends as soon as possible after classes were over.
“It was pretty out of control, I would mix the rum with anything I could find, like Kool-Aid. And I wouldn’t eat so the rum would hit me quicker.”
She graduated university and did her best to do all of her reading and homework during the week so she could let loose on the weekend and not worry about her classes, Erika said.
“I was just under this, like, tremendous pressure to get through everything,” she said. “It was my way to cope.”
The binge drinking got worse. Erika started to black out, or wake up in her bed and not remember how she got there. Other times she woke up on the floor. Her friends stopped drinking with her because she got “angry and mean” when she drank too much, she said.
Erika managed to curb her binge drinking in her fourth year, particularly after a party where she fell into her friend’s pool, embarrassing herself and her friend, she said. She managed to graduate but “I could have done better, my grades could have been better.”
Dr. Sherri Fandrey of the Manitoba Addictions Foundation doesn’t like the term “binge drinking.”
“I’m not sure that anybody would self-identify as ‘oh yes, I’m a binge drinker’ because there is so much baggage attached to the word ‘binge,” she said.
“We call it ‘heavy episodic drinking’ which is not much better. But there are some carefully considered, evidence-based limits for that heavy episodic drinking.”
The general guideline for binge drinkers is for women drinking four or more drinks within two hours, and five drinks within two hours for men.
“Those are standard drinks. Those would equate to a bottle of beer, a five-once glass of wine … so probably less alcohol than what we think a drink would be.”
Now 38, Erika is the mother of two boys, one of whom has just become a teenager. They live in Winnipeg and she has a job in her chosen career. She quit drinking completely when she had her kids, who came only two years apart.
Listen: 680 CJOB’s Brett Megarry shares his experiences with binge drinking
Missing work and lonely, she joined a couple of Mommy and Me classes and made friends there. Some of those friendships deepened and she said she found herself having a drink or two with other moms when they got together. This time, her drink of choice was red wine.
“It was definitely better than what I was doing before, like, I wouldn’t be blackout drunk.”
But soon those glasses became bottles of wine, and then it became bottles of wine by herself in her house after her kids went to bed.
“I was right back there, right back where I began, coping with my stress in my life with alcohol. But because I wasn’t going to work drunk and the kids never really saw me drunk I thought it was OK.”
“Patterns of consumption matter,” said Fandrey. “Drinking heavily on a daily basis is certainly a pattern that is going to cause harm. But drinking heavy on an occasional basis is also going to cause harm, both over the short-term and the long term.”
Erika is now doing better. Diagnosed with anxiety, she is working with a therapist and a doctor and hasn’t had a drink in nearly two years. She is using medication and cannabis to manage her anxiety and working through her issues.
“I don’t consider myself a recovering alcoholic, but I was definitely, definitely a binge drinker. I guess I’m a recovering binge drinker,” said Erika.
Now, her goal is to make sure her boys grow up understanding that drinking alcohol can be done responsibly.
“I’m pretty open with them when they ask me questions and I’ll talk to them more about what happened to me as they get older,” she said.
Fandrey said people can come to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba if they have a problem, or even if they’re not sure. The Manitoba Addictions Helpline is 1-855-662-6605.
Related: Dealing with binge drinking in post-secondary school