Ready to cut back on alcohol?
Keeping your drinking under control can make a big difference to your health, and your happiness. Unfortunately, too many of us find it difficult to keep to healthy limits (no more than 21 units of alcohol a week for men, and no more than 14 units a week for women).
According to Drinkaware, the alcohol awareness charity, 10 million adults drink above the lower-risk unit guidelines, and up to 17 million working days are lost each year as a result of alcohol-related sickness.
From 2008 to 2011 more than 18,000 under 18s were admitted to hospital because of their drinking. The UK’s excessive drinking culture costs society an estimated £21 billion a year.
You’re not alone
There is some good news though. Figures from a government study in 2011 showed that the number of school pupils who had never drunk alcohol had risen from 39 per cent in 2003 to 55 per cent in 2011. Other statistics show that this is part of a trend away from drinking alcohol.
The proportion of adult frequent drinkers dropped from 22 per cent (men) and 13 per cent (women) in 2005, to 14 per cent (men) and 9 per cent (women) in 2012.
Why we’re drinking less
There are lots of reasons why we cut back on the amount we drink, or give up entirely. It can sometimes be a realisation that we have lost control over our drinking. “People come to understand that, one way or another, alcohol is damaging their lives,” explains a spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous.
An unhappy home life, knowing that drinking is affecting those we love, jeopardising our jobs, and financial problems, are just some of the triggers that can make us tackle our drinking problems.
Some reasons for cutting back on, or giving up, alcohol, can be health related. There are some antibiotics, for instance, that don’t mix well with alcohol. Some sedative drugs, such as diazepam, cause drowsiness, and drinking while taking these can increase your drowsiness, which can be dangerous.
In some cases alcohol can make drugs less effective. If you take drugs for diabetes or epilepsy, giving alcohol up completely could be a good idea (check with your doctor).
It’s not just about hangovers
Regularly drinking more than the daily guidelines can affect your health in many ways. Heavy drinkers increase their risk of developing high blood pressure, cancer (especially breast cancer and cancer of the gullet), liver and heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.
Binge drinkers can also develop unpleasant short-term effects, such as sweating, shaking, bad skin, diarrhoea, blackouts and problems sleeping. And that’s as well as the long-term health problems.
How to cut down
“A really easy way of cutting down on alcohol is to opt for smaller measures. Choose a small (125ml) glass rather than a large (250ml) one for wine. If you’re drinking at home, buy smaller glasses for the house,” says Professor Paul Wallace, chief medical adviser to Drinkaware.
“If you’re a beer drinker, drink halves or bottles (330ml) instead of pints (568ml), and avoid trying to keep pace with the fastest drinker in the group.
Drink a glass of water before you pour your first alcoholic drink. People often guzzle the first drink because they’re thirsty.”
Professor Wallace also suggests only topping up your glass when it’s empty, so you can keep track of how much you’ve had. It’s also a good idea to ask friends and family not to top up your drinks. That way you can keep control of how much you drink.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical adviser to Drinkaware, suggests that if you’re out at a party, tell your friends that you’re driving and can’t drink. Or say that you’re taking antibiotics and don’t want to mix them with alcohol.
“When you’re trying to resist the pressure to have alcohol, get a drink that looks like it’s an alcoholic one. My favourite is tonic water and lime.”
Giving up for good
Martyn Rowe, a senior ebusiness manager, didn’t drink every day, but knew he was a bit of a ‘binge drinker’. “I’d have nothing for a couple of weeks, then once or twice a week I’d have five beers an evening, watching TV.”
Martyn was 40 years old when he decided to give up. He’d realised that it was taking longer to get over hangovers, he wasn’t sleeping well and his wife wasn’t happy about his moods the following day. Martyn also does a lot of Taekwondo and felt he had wasted a day when he missed training sessions through drinking.
“When I found out about the ‘Dry January’ campaign (in January 2013), I decided to give it a go. That January wasn’t too difficult, and when I managed to go to a West Ham vs Manchester United match without a drink (I’d usually have 6 or 7 pints), I knew I could manage anything!”
Giving up alcohol has made a big difference. Martyn’s health and mental wellbeing have improved, he is fitter and functions better at work. His wife and daughter supported him through this personal challenge, and are happy with their new man.
For more information on cutting down on alcohol read our top tips for a few idea or why not submit a question to one of our online experts, who try their hardest to respond within a few days.
Alcoholics Anonymous: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
National Helpline: 0845 769 7555
Units of alcohol: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Recommended-Safe-Limits-of-Alcohol.htm
Government stats on drinking consumption among young people: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB06921/smok-drin-drug-youn-peop-eng-2011-rep1.pdf
Adult drinking habits: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ghs/opinions-and-lifestyle-survey/drinking-habits-amongst-adults--2012/sty-alcohol-consumption.html
Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/download/1/PDFs/Who%20me.pdf
Effects of drinking: http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/healthy-lifestyle/abstinence-from-alcohol