The Repercussions of Gerard Depardieu’s 12 Bottles of Wine a Day

The Repercussions of Gerard Depardieu's 12 Bottles of Wine a Day

Gerard Depardieu in 2005. Photo by Getty Images.

French-born actor Gerard Depardieu must have a hollow leg — or one seriously scarred liver. The Oscar-nominated thespian, who ditched France to become a Russian citizen in 2013 and was found guilty in a 2012 DUI arrest, is making headlines once again since telling UK publication So Film that he can drink “12, 13, 14 bottles” of wine a day — and barely feel a thing.

“I’m never totally drunk, just a little pissed,” he said, using British parlance for “buzzed,” and explaining, “When I’m bored, I drink, apart from occasional compulsory moments of abstinence. After undergoing bypass surgery (five times), and also because of cholesterol and stuff, I have to be careful.”

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Depardieu, who is currently starring in “Welcome to New York,” based on the Dominic Strauss-Khan scandal, added that drinking a case of wine in one day doesn’t even slow him down. “All you need is a 10-minute nap and voilà, a slurp of rosé wine and I feel as fresh as a daisy!” he said. “I have to admit that when I start counting, doctors start worrying.”

That’s not exactly a surprise, according to Dr. James Garbutt, professor of psychiatry and a research scientist at University of North Carolina’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. “That’s a tremendous amount of alcohol,” Garbutt told Yahoo Health — even, he added, when considering a range of possibilities, such as that Depardieu chooses wine with low alcohol content, or takes the stretch of an entire day to sip his way through the many bottles.

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While consuming that amount of alcohol is unusual, Garbutt added, “It’s probably possible,” although, he added, “people exaggerate.” Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), surmised (and hoped) that Depardieu meant to say “glasses” instead of “bottles.” The actor’s 12-to-14-bottle claim is “far beyond what any of our clinicians have ever seen,” he said, adding that while the total is “remotely possible,” one would be “pushing the envelope to oblivion when you get to this range.” 

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended limit for men is two drinks per day; it’s one drink per day for women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “heavy drinking” for a man as consuming more than 15 standard drinks per week; for a woman, that goes down to eight drinks a week.

The body can compensate for high levels of alcohol toxicity because, Koob explained, “When you are an alcoholic, you are able to induce the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in your liver [called ADH], so you can double your metabolism.” This is known as having metabolic tolerance, while “being able to walk around with a blood alcohol level that would normally kill a person,” Koob added, is known as functional tolerance. Depardieu, he surmised, has both.

Garbutt noted that alcohol tolerance can be either genetic or acquired. “Some people have a built-in tolerance, and we don’t understand all the reasons for why that is,” he said. “But if you can drink like a fish in early life, then you’re at risk for drinking problems.” Still, whether its natural or acquired, having functional tolerance — meaning the chemistry of your brain has actually changed to accommodate the alcohol — it can be misleading, he warned. “Because even if you can still walk and talk,” he warned, “your body is experiencing medical consequences.”

All people are affected differently, however. Some drinkers will develop cirrhosis of the liver — a condition that begins with the organ enlarging, and then, as cells die off, a scarring, which causes the liver to harden, shrink and stop functioning. “Truthfully, if Monseiur Gerard Depardieu is drinking that much alcohol, I’m guessing his liver enzymes are in a state of disarray,” Koob noted.

Garbutt added, “Cirrhosis is a very serious disease, because the liver has so many functions, so many body processes begin to fail as a result,” he said. “And that’s just one organ.”

Other troubles caused by heavy drinking, the experts noted, can include high blood pressure, nerve problems, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal disorders, stomach ulcers, various cancers, and a range of neurotoxic effects, including balance problems, compromised mental function, and even dementia or death from alcohol poisoning. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, alcohol researcher and University of Massachusetts Medical School professor Gyongyi Szabo found that just one binge-drinking experience was enough to permanently change the amount of bacteria leaking from one’s gut, leading to a range of serious health problems. “With an individual who drinks this amount,” Szabo told Yahoo Health, “I’m sure he would have the same results, but amplified.”

Koob pointed out that heart disease — something the actor has a history of — can be either “exacerbated or induced by that amount of alcohol.” But among Koob’s biggest concerns, he said, is the way heavy drinkers are impaired when it comes to doing things like driving or even walking around. “At a minimum, navigating our world becomes a problem,” he said. “Even though you think you’re okay, your blind spot becomes bigger, your reaction time is slowed, and your judgment is off.”

But Depardieu doesn’t seem too worried, at least at this point. “Anyway, I’m not going to die. Not now. I still have energy,” he told So Film. “But if I ever start drinking…I can’t drink like a normal person.”

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