Alcohol – do we drink too much?

You’ve had a hard day at work, the children are playing up and there’s no-one to talk to about it all. So you pour a drink – just one won’t hurt and then you pour another. And before you know it that’s half a bottle in one evening and so it goes on all week.

Drinking is an acceptable social pastime and relaxant but for many people in Britain it is getting out of hand.

• 1.3 million children have parents with alcohol problems
• One in ten people drink double the government guidelines (see box)
• 5.9 million Britons are binge drinkers
• One in 20 of us can’t get through the day without a drink
• Alcohol accounts for 3.5 per cent of deaths and disability worldwide, while illegal drugs account for 0.6 per cent

A drink problem?

There are many mixed messages out there and we live in a drinks culture. It is true that moderate consumption of red wine is good for your health, but when does what you are drinking become too much?

Around 25 per cent of women in the UK are drinking above safe levels and although it may appear to be socially acceptable alcohol causes long term damage to health. If you find you can’t go a day without a drink, that you are preoccupied with getting that first glass, get into trouble when drinking or conversely find that you are completely tolerant to alcohol you may have a problem.

Safe drinking

Women: between 14 and 21 units a week
Men – between 21 and 28

A unit is one small glass of wine, one measure of spirits, half a pint of beer equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol. According to the Dept of Health a pint of ordinary strength lager such as:

  • Carling Black Label or Fosters is two units
  • A 175ml glass of red or white wine is 2
  • An Alcopop is around 1.5 units

If you are drinking to relieve depression be aware that alcohol is a depressant and in the long term it will make you feel worse. As well as health problems such as high blood pressure, liver damage, increased likelihood of cancer, heart disease and strokes, and untold problems for unborn babies, excessive drinking has many social effects.

People often find they cannot maintain relationships, they become aggressive or depressed and are unable to keep on top of everyday tasks or jobs. Even slightly too much drinking can disturb sleep patterns, induce skin rashes and poor complexion and make people forgetful and confused. Many who give up for a while find they feel more alert and energetic.

What can you do to relax?

But life is tough and if you haven’t got your bottle of wine and bar of chocolate to look forward to what can you do? Time is often at a premium particularly if your children are young and you don’t have much help but even so maybe it’s possible to squeeze in a bit of ‘me’ time

• Learn meditation – it is calming, helps you to focus the mind and can lower blood pressure
• Or try to spend 20 minutes a day lying or sitting quietly with eyes closed or listening to relaxing music – tell the family this is what you’re doing and ask for them to leave you alone (they’ll appreciate a calmer you)
• Go for a walk or jog with the children if necessary – it’s free
• Get a dog to take for a walk but be aware that it’s another commitment
• Join a gym, a tennis club, go swimming or whatever takes your fancy
• Go to yoga or t’ai chi classes which are good for mind, body and spirit, incredibly relaxing and calming
• Get a mini bouncer for the garden if you are tied to the home

• Use Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy to calm you down instead of alcohol
• If feeling very fraught try taking Valerian, Passiflora or Avena Sativa herbal calmers, but if you’re on other medication check with your GP first
• Experts suggest having more sex, but this may be easier said than done!

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Tips to cut down on drinking:

• Choose wine over spirits as it has health benefits
• Sip the drink slowly
• Drink a glass of water for each glass of alcohol you drink
• Only drink on weekends and have Monday to Thursday alcohol free
• Don’t buy in bulk – buy as you need it (it will save you money)
• Don’t drink before you eat – the French only drink with meals and handle their wine well
• Meet someone in a café or go to a cinema instead of going to the pub
• Think about your friends – can you enjoy some people’s company without a drink and if so could you avoid the heavy drinking set?

Complementary therapies:

If you have addiction problems you may get a referral from the doctor to clinics that use complementary therapies such as acupuncture which works on the cravings, hypnotherapy which changes your thinking about alcohol or herbal medicine – there are some remedies that relieve cravings for alcohol. If you can afford these therapies they may help to relax you and support you through cutting down.

The Gateway Clinic in Lewisham uses Chinese Herbal Medicine and acupuncture for people with addictions – if in the area ask your GP for a referral as it’s available on the NHS.

Getting Help

Drinkline: 0800 9178282

Talk to Frank: 0800 776600

Alcohol Concern, and

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – every Yellow Pages has a local listing. Meetings involve structured group therapy with people discussing their problems in a caring environment.

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