We are so inured to drink-related headlines that they barely register. But you've got to pay attention when a cover line on American Vogue's spring bumper issue reads, "Women and alcohol: how much is too much?" Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor, did not get where she is by running scare stories, but by pinpointing our obsessions and giving us the information we crave. Naturally, I couldn't turn to the feature fast enough. Along with "How will I age?", "How old is too old for cork wedges?" and "How come men give up at 40 when we're just getting going?", the question "How much is too much?" is uppermost in every thinking woman's mind.
Yes, we all know about the number of units we're allowed per week, but then don't we also know that a glass of Pinot Noir is good for the heart and that convivial (ie, boozy) situations filled with laughter make for healthy arteries and circulation? What we really need is a sophisticated take on the issue from New York, the city that brought us Cosmopolitans and the mocha decaff soya latte - which is to say, a balanced perspective.
So, here goes. A woman who consumes four alcoholic drinks at one sitting (men are allotted five) is, according to Vogue, a binge drinker who is harming her health. I was trying to think when ever I'd stopped short of the fourth drink at a social "sitting", and narrowed it down to giving-up-January and the times I was on antibiotics. Anyway, apparently the four-glass rule - so much easier to remember than all that unit stuff - does not necessarily mean you are addicted to alcohol, just wrecking your body: "Medical research is finding that even if the occasional night of excess drinking is not a problem in your life, it is a problem to your health, in ways that are not true of men."
We already know that drinking alcohol causes more liver damage to women than to men; then there's the breast cancer risk ("markedly raised with increased alcohol use") and increased chance of heart attacks. In short, the mood Stateside is that equal rights and the "keeping up with the boys" mentality has not just lulled women into a false sense of security, but strapped tubes of gunpowder to our midriffs and left us cuddled up with a smouldering box of matches.
Vogue is less definitive about what constitutes problem drinking in the psychological sense - perhaps because in LA you're a lush if you drink at all, and in New York you've got issues if you order wine with lunch. But the health stuff is quite enough for me. I want to be down to three drinks a sitting by the summer, or perhaps I'll just go for longer gaps between sittings. Trust clever Anna Wintour to make it all so simple: sittings are the new units, three is the magic number (two, if you're ambitious) and you can forget the rest.