Harmful levels of drinking are misunderstood in our society because of the lack of information, understanding and awareness out there on the subject. Alcohol is also ingrained within our culture, heralded as being positive, beneficial and sometimes even deemed necessary for social interaction. I believe this is why discussing alcohol and its problems can be difficult to do because it makes for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings for those who regularly consume alcohol for pleasure. If you enjoy something and it is highly regarded within society, it can be hard to reconcile negative associations and facts.
UK Government Research published in 2016 showed statistics from England in 2014 which indicated over that over 10 million people, over 18% of the total population at that time, were drinking more than the recommended safe limit of alcohol for health on a weekly basis (over 14 units per week) and 1.9 million of those were drinking at levels deemed to be a high risk factor for ill-health (over 35 units for women and over 50 units for men per week).
To bring those statistics to life, one bottle of 750ml 13.5% (abv) wine is equal to 10 units. Therefore, if you consume 1 ½ bottles of wine per week you are consuming more than the recommended safe level of alcohol.
One pint of 3.6% (abv) lager, beer or cider is equal to 2 units. One pint of 5.2% (abv) lager, beer or cider is equal to 3 units. Therefore, if you consume more than 5-7 pints in a week (depending on the strength of the alcohol), you are drinking more than the recommended safe level of alcohol.
We understand and are told that smoking cigarettes on daily basis is bad for our health, as is being overweight. However, seldom are we reminded how bad alcohol is for our health on a daily basis.
The UK Government report that alcohol is the third leading cause of disease and disability behind smoking and obesity.
Alcohol was previously reported as the leading cause of death of men aged 16-54 years in the UK.
A European report suggested that if food standards were applied to alcohol, the safe limit of alcohol in respect of risk for cancer would be just 2 units of alcohol per year!
The following is taken from Professor David Nutt's book 'Drink?'
This makes for uncomfortable understanding for many people in our society because many people regularly drink more than this, and it is socially acceptable to do so despite being proven to be harmful to health and longevity.
Drinking in UK Culture
One particular pop culture reality TV show that has been on our screens for the last decade is a prime example of why alcohol is a very poor lubricant for social interaction.
Episode after episode, the characters (I realise they are real people, but I would argue that for reality TV there is an element of playing up to a given character for the show) get drunk, go out, have fun, get too tipsy, fall all over the place, argue and end the night with upset. They then wake up in a house of carnage, drinking vessels and food debris all over the place, not to mention clothes taken off wherever they landed the night before, with a hangover they then have to endure the following day.
Despite this, for some reason this is the model of drinking we seem to aspire to in the UK.
There is nothing healthy about the social interactions that occur in this TV show.
It begs the question why we still hang on to the thought that alcohol is required for social interaction when most of us have personally experienced the downside of alcohol within social interactions.
I really like the idea of a values-based identity*, one that is not built upon external things or labels. However, I think we grow up being encouraged to develop an identity based on external things and labels.
In the UK I believe that the majority grow up with an internal image that our adult identity is linked in some way to being alcohol consuming beings.
This is historical as reaching the legal drinking age has been a significant right of passage into adulthood in the UK for much of the 20th and 21st centuries. It then makes sense that being alcohol consuming beings forms part of what we view as our adult identity.
I think this is what many previous alcohol addicts and dependants struggle with when going sober. I have read many accounts of people who have turned to sobriety where they experience a loss from not having alcohol in their life.
As someone who has never been overly enamoured by alcohol, I still experienced this. I felt like a failure for not being able to consume alcohol sensibly as an adult. Even I had consumed this notion of human adults being alcohol consuming beings.
The truth of the matter is we are not innate alcohol consuming beings. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and is damaging to the human organism. Therefore, we should not hang our adult identity or our ability to socialise on requiring alcohol.
For anyone who chooses to significantly reduce or stop drinking, I believe there is a need to reconcile our own identity in order that we don’t experience these feelings of inadequacy for not drinking. This is where the Values-Based Identity can become a very useful tool.
* Values-Based Identity
The best way for me to explain what I mean is as follows:
I participate and compete in both Olympic Weightlifting & Indoor Rowing, my identity isn’t I’m a Weightlifter or an Indoor Rower
I experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), my identity isn’t I have PTSD
I am attracted to women, my identity isn’t I’m a lesbian
My identity is built on values:
I value health and wellbeing and want to live a long and enjoyable life
I value love and having nurturing, kind and loving relationships in my life
I value self-development and self-discovery in order to make the most of life
When I was unable to weightlift due to injury I did not become withdrawn. I sought a new activity which meant I could remain active. It was less upsetting because the injury did not damage my identity. If my identity was linked to being a weightlifter, I may well have had much more of an emotional struggle dealing with the injury.
PTSD is something I experience, it is not my identity. I therefore know I will be able to break free from its chains as I work to process the root cause of the distress.
By choosing a values-based identity I am not tripped up by or held in a particular place mentally because of external things or labels.