Alcohol Awareness Week, taking place from 16-22 November 2020, encompasses awareness raising and campaigning in the area of keeping health risks from drinking alcohol low. The Week is the flagship initiative of the charity Alcohol Change UK.
This year’s campaign aims to promote discussions about the link between alcohol and mental health, with a focus on finding the best ways to look after ourselves and the people we love during a year of great change and uncertainty.
Approximately one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year and drinking too much or too often can increase our risk. Many people are unaware of the relationship between alcohol and poor mental health, which is concerning given that drinking is often the first thing people turn to when feeling low, stressed, worried or unable to cope.
It is known that drinking too much or too often can mask or enhance underlying mental health problems, in particular anxiety and depression. Moreover, it can prevent mental health issues from being diagnosed and properly addressed.
Drinking excessively over a long period can result in a multitude of other health and social problems too, including liver disease, one of seven forms of cancer and financial difficulties, amongst others. Tragically, 20 people in the UK die every day as a result of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol problems don’t only impact on individuals who drink; it also affects family and friends, our working lives, those living within our communities and society more generally. In many cases, alcohol is a central contributor to poverty, homelessness, unemployment, domestic abuse, driving bans and a breakdown in relationships.
With this in mind, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub has compiled the below guide to help people ensure that their drinking habits stay within safe, responsible and recommended boundaries.
A GUIDE TO SAFE AND RESPONSIBLE ALCOHOL DRINKING
What is Recommended in Terms of Weekly Alcohol Consumption?
Research has shown that drinkers of wine, beer and spirits remain largely unsure of how many drinks make up the recommended weekly alcohol intake. NHS Scotland guidelines advise that you don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread out over at least three days. This is the same for both men and women.
The 14 unit guideline equates to six pints of medium strength beer, lager or cider, or alternatively six medium glasses of wine. If spirits are your choice of drink, it is equivalent to seven double measures of spirits over the course of a week.
Figures released last year highlighted that in 2018, Scots bought enough alcohol for every adult to drink 19 units of alcohol per week. This means that on average, every adult in Scotland is drinking 36% more than the lower risk guidelines.
Individuals who are keen to make sure they keep within the recommended guidelines can gain more detailed information about the breakdown of 14 units by visiting www.count14.scot. The website incorporates a drinks calculator, which adds up the number of units consumed based on what you drink in a typical week.
What Are the Risks of Drinking More Than is Recommended?
The alcohol guidelines are based on the clear evidence that as alcohol use increases, so does the risk of a range of health harms.
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems and various cancers.
Can Taking Part in Initiatives Like ‘Dry January’ or ‘Sober October’ Help?
Initiatives to help keep our alcohol consumption in check, such as ‘Dry January’ or ‘Sober October’, where people are encouraged to give up drinking for a month, can be helpful to participate in if you feel you are drinking too much.
However, such ventures are generally only beneficial if you are also sensible with your drinking in the longer term. Studies have shown that many Scots who do so well and stop drinking for a month lose the benefits by going back to drinking more than the recommended weekly intake for the remainder of the year.
Are There Any Good Strategies to Help With Cutting Back on Alcohol?
If you are keen to make a change and cut down on the amount you drink, here are some ideas of some small and simple things that you could try to help:
Make a Plan – Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you’re going to drink and stick to it
Set a Budget – Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol
Go Alcohol Free – You could replace some of your alcoholic drinks with beverages such as non-alcoholic lager and mocktails, which do not contain alcohol
Try Mindful Drinking – Learn more about becoming a ‘mindful drinker’ by joining club soda
Downsize – Have a smaller drink every time you have a drink – for example a half-pint instead of a pint, or a single instead of a double
Swap Drinks – Cut down alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %); this can be done by checking the label on the bottle or ask bar staff for advice
Introduce Water and Soft Drinks – Have a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink
Drink-Free Days – Have several drink-free days each week
Cutting Back Gradually – Cut back a little each day; that way, every day you do, is a success
Don’t Go It Alone – Let your friends and family know you’re cutting down and it’s important to you, so they can support you
Make a Drinking Diary – If you’re aiming to cut down your drinking, a good thing to do is to keep a note of what you drink and when.
What Help is Available if Drinking is Becoming a Problem?
If you’re concerned about how much you are drinking or are having problems keeping within the recommended limits, a good first step is to speak to your GP. Be honest with them, and they will be able to discuss a range of options with you in terms of help, support, services and treatments available.
Further excellent information on low-drinking guidelines, the risks of drinking too much, advice on cutting down, and alcohol and pregnancy can be obtained by visiting the NHS Inform website. It also contains details of what to do if controlling your drinking is becoming difficult or problematic.