I have been looking forward to writing this one. As I approach my one hundredth day alcohol free, I wanted to explore in more depth our relationship with alcohol as a society here in Britain. I have talked at length about my own experiences and dysfunctional courtship with booze but this time I will be exploring what it is we love about drinking alcohol. It in entrenched in our culture, our DNA and is the most common substance to be used daily by society. Drinking alcohol takes many different forms. There are the casual drinks, the out out sessions, the after parties, the drinks at the airport at 5am when you go on holiday. Alcohol is championed like no other drug, but why? I firmly believe knowing now what we do that if it was created today, alcohol would be classified as a high-risk drug like cocaine or heroin. Yet it is far more deadly. According to alcoholchange.org ‘In England in 2019/20, there were 976,425 hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption, a rate 12% higher than in 2016/17’ that is a lot of hospital staff taking care of us all due to our use of alcohol. Now don’t for one second think I am sitting on any morale high ground here just because I am now not drinking. I have had my fair share and someone else’s in terms of drink related hospital visits. I mentioned one in my blog a couple of weeks ago. If you have some free time, have a look online for some key stats on drinking culture in Britain. I will cover some more of these as we go on through this piece.
So, what is it about booze we can’t get enough of? Well firstly there is the price and ease at which we can access it. Go into your local supermarket or nearby shop you can get a hold of high strength drinks for a few quid. The offers are always advertised around the aisles. When you next walk into Asda or whatever shop you go to, you’ll notice that big boxes or crates of booze are sat waiting for you on your arrival. Twenty-four bottles of Peroni (other lagers are available) for a tenner, sounds like a good deal to me. Or so I used to think. Over the last two to three months, I have been trying to recalibrate my brain and my outlook towards alcohol. It hasn’t been easy but sitting here today I think I may have cracked it. I don’t miss drinking, nowhere near as much as I thought I would. And believe me, you would too if you gave it up.
Secondly, we are conditioned to think from a very early age that drinking is cool, its sophisticated and something that you just have to do. When you next have the tv on watching Emmerdale, Coronation Street or whatever shite you enjoy notice how many adverts within those commercial breaks are about alcoholic drinks to buy. Alcohol will never be outlawed of that I am 100% convinced. They tried that in the US in the twenties and it created more problems than solutions. But thankfully for us it meant it created superb dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Lawless so it’s horses for courses, I guess. The adverts we see on tv are usually depicting a setting where they pick a beautiful celebrity to endorse the brand. We as the audience react in exactly the way we are meant to and aspire to be as cool or sexy as those people on screen. Its basic marketing and it works every time. Another key focus of these ads is to show how everyone is enjoying themselves with a drink in hand. You never see the next morning when that person on screen wakes up with a banging headache, a hazy memory of what went on the night before and in some cases a stranger potentially lying next to them that they can’t remember. It should show all the outcomes, shouldn’t it? Of course, it never will because we don’t want to think about that. They know that and we know that but it’s just a non-spoken agreement between us the consumer, the manufacturers, and dealers (barkeeps). In the same way when we see McDonalds telling us about their new release in our head, we think how great that looks when in reality afterwards you think was that even that nice? Well, I do anyway. How often after a night out have you uttered the inevitable words “well I am never drinking again”? We have all done it, but after a couple of lousy days we forget about the hangovers and anxiety we have felt and go back to thinking alcohol is our friend again.
We have now reached a point where there is no longer a recommended weekly allowance of alcohol units. Doctors and medical experts now tell us that any amount of alcohol consumption is damaging to the person. But to be fair, what do they know about health? Your Auntie Karen on Facebook has become more qualified to talk about these matters than individuals who have studied for years to become experts in their chosen fields. During the pandemic we know that alcohol consumption went up considerably especially in those early few lockdown months. Mine did, I was drinking nearly every day because in my head I was thinking well what else is there to do? The Nuffield Trust tells us that “alcohol-specific mortality rates increased 19% from the previous year in 2020,” that’s a hell of a jump. I am going to cover the lockdown months in more detail in another piece as I think it’s an important time to reflect on as it affected so many people and their mental health.
How many of us have associated good times in our lives with booze? I know I definitely have. Speaking to a friend on this recently, he remarked that he could not envisage himself not drinking when socialising out with friends. His view on this was simple, I can’t enjoy the night as much unless I am drinking. This is fine, I am not anti-drinking and if you can have a successful and functional relationship with it then I applaud you because I can’t. I have just explained that any amount of alcohol is good for you, but you could say the same about some foods and fizzy drinks. I guess that the key is moderation. What I don’t believe now having examined this more over the last few months is that you need to drink to have a good time. If we look at the social parameters we have grown up in, a majority of events are based around drinking. Whether it is the venue, type of event or people we are with everything points to having to drink to have the best time possible. For me, I just don’t believe this is the case now. I may be wrong, it does happen sometimes. Having experienced numerous days and nights out with friends or other social and work events these past few months I enjoy the occasions more because I am far more present in the moment. I am not thinking about how many drinks I can cram into a small window of opportunity. This would occupy my brain when I was sat with friends drinking pint after pint and getting more drunk but not enjoying myself and becoming a liability to those around me.
One of the really great things about going out and not drinking is how responsible and respectful my friends, family and partner have been. It’s never been an issue. They respect my decision to abstain and I respect their decision to have a few drinks. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own decisions and choices but not once has my choice been questioned and I thank them all for that. I have read books, blogs and listened to many podcasts where stories have been told of friends or colleagues describing them as boring or no fun because they are not drinking. If you are doing that, please stop. Chances are they will be much better company to you and won’t become an irritant after a few too many sherbets.
Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion per year and society as a whole £21 billion annually. Let those fingers sink in. Staggering I know. What drinks companies and the government would likely argue that the VAT receipts collected on alcohol massively offsets this, which it probably does. However, is that a good thing? It isn’t all bad news. The youngers seem to be drinking less according to Nuffield Health who reported that, “The largest decrease occurred in people aged 16-24, from 29% drinking heavily in 2006 to 15% in 2019,” they must be too busy making Tiktoks or whatever else they do these days. Yep I am sounding old right now. So why are young people turning away from alcohol? Economic factors possibly. We are currently twelve years into Tory rule and are still reeling from the austerity measures inflicted on us by that pig shagger Cameron and Giddeon Osbourne. Younger people now have less disposable income and do not wish to use it on alcohol. Social factors have also changed and the way younger people interact through platforms like Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook etc. They don’t need the environment of pubs and clubs to meet up with their friends. They are able to do this all virtually. I believe that my generation are the last group to be enamored by the local pub. This does not mean that younger people will not turn to alcohol later in life, we don’t know this yet. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
I have been overwhelmed by a number of people getting in touch with their own experiences and I really do appreciate hearing from anyone. The overall reception to the blogs has been great and I can’t thank people enough for their support. Please keep getting in touch, I want to hear from you. It is important we share all our problems and solutions with one another so we can all be stronger.
It is mental health awareness week this week so if you can, check in on someone who you maybe haven’t spoken to in a while whether it’s a friend, colleague or family member we all can be doing more, myself included in that.
Thanks again for reading folks.