If the news is to be believed, millennials are drinking less than ever before and are turning teetotal in increasing numbers. And as many of us embrace Dry January, on the surface this is great news. The negative impacts of consuming too much alcohol are widely recognised and in a nation where being healthy isn’t just a sensible choice but also a fashionable one, it seems the millennial generation is recognising the benefits of a more wholesome style of living.
However, this effect sadly doesn’t reflect what we’re experiencing in practice and the headline figures do need to be used carefully. Alcohol continues to be the most common addiction in the UK. We shouldn’t celebrate too soon.
A recent study from the Office of National Statistics shows that despite an overall decline, 16-24 year olds are still the group most likely to binge drink. This finding is particularly prominent for women, with 41% of those 16-24 year olds who drink admitting to binge drinking in the week prior to the survey, compared to 34% of men.
So while fewer people may be drinking, those who do drink are consuming as much as ever. There are myriad reasons for this increase, but one key factor for me is acceptability. As a nation we tend to have a very casual relationship with alcohol, despite the known risks. Compare this to other recreational habits for instance, such as smoking, which has declined rapidly over the past 40 years. Coming in with a hangover after a work party, is something of a badge of honour. It sometimes seems you can’t have a good night out without forgetting most of it.
It’s not a bad thing to have a few beers on a work night out, or a bottle of wine with friends. But all too often this can run into having several drinks on a daily basis. This sort of drinking habit can have devastating consequences, such as chronic liver disease, a silent killer of adults in the UK. However, according to government stats around 90% of liver disease is preventable.
The key? Drinking mindfully. Knowing what you’re consuming, doing so in moderation and managing that drinking, so it’s appropriate and not negatively impacting your health. There are a number of questions I always ask anybody who is concerned about their drinking to consider.
- Be honest. Take a look at how much you drink in an average week and cross-reference that with how much the people close to you think you consume.
- Be aware. Look at the industry you work in or how you chose to spend your leisure time. At work, certain sectors, such as media and marketing, have particularly alcohol-heavy cultures - whether that’s dinners with clients or Friday afternoon drinks. Outside of work, how much time do you base your socialising around drinking? Just because it’s the norm, doesn’t make it healthy.
- Be choosy. How often are you opting for a glass of wine or beer, when a soft drink might be more appropriate for that time of day, i.e. when meeting friends in the afternoon?
- Be responsible. What are the consequences of your drinking? Do you regularly argue with your friends or family after a few drinks? Or struggle to remember how you got home?
- Be reliable. Does drinking affect your work, or day-to-day life? Do you regularly phone in sick due to hangovers, or struggle to complete work? Do you regularly miss pre-planned engagements due to drinking too much the night before?
The long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption are well known, but these also apply to regularly exceeding the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of 14 units of alcohol a week, by any amount. Dry January offers a great kick-start to better understanding our relationship with alcohol and reflecting on how much we consume. But try and keep this healthy understanding going all year, for a better, more balanced lifestyle.
And remember, if you think your drinking has become a more serious problem, speak to your GP or other healthcare provider for further advice and support.