Friday, April 28, 2006

The Brits Can't Handle Beer

ALCOHOL has been an important component of many societies for thousands of years – yet of all the drugs available in the UK, alcohol is responsible for more damage and homicides than all the other drugs put together. In fact, the Government is now in discussions with the drinks industry about putting warnings on alcohol and in places where it is sold in a bid to try to hit home the message about drinking sensibly.

THE Prime Minister recently called binge drinking "the new British disease".
And there are many statistics to back up claims that it really is a problem that is creating one big hangover for this country. A new rather sobering survey showed that alcohol consumption in the UK has doubled in the last 50 years, with young people here drinking more than in almost every other European country. The World Health Organization (WHO) would class a whopping 8.2million of our adult population as hazardous drinkers and we are ranked 22nd out of 185 countries in alcohol consumption per head.

Consequently, the Government is making moves to try to call time on the current binge-drinking culture that has evolved and hit home the health hazards that can be linked to over-drinking.
New warnings – similar to those seen on cigarette packets – could soon be seen on the sides of bottles of alcohol, making it harder for people wanting a tipple to ignore the dangers of over indulging!

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint confirmed the move to introduce warning labels could cover pubs, off-licenses and supermarkets and could be introduced within two years.
About 80 per cent of beer packaging already carries a message asking people to drink sensibly, but the new measures plan to go even further – combining information on units with a message such as "don't do drunk" and warnings about health consequences.

Caroline Flint said: "Nobody is saying you can't have a drink, but you know, think about how you're drinking and its consequences." British Beer and Pub Association spokesman Mark Hastings said the industry had been in talks with the Government over the introduction of a standardized message to appear on all bottles and cans.

He added: "This is about standardizing it across all alcoholic drinks packaging. We fully support anything that helps people make better, informed decisions about their drinking to ensure that they don't drink to excess."

But before you dismiss the binge drinking culture as something that is simply limited to drunken teenage lads, downing pint after pint on a Friday night, it could be time to take a sober look at how much alcohol you're consuming, whether it's a few glasses of wine after work, or a relaxed pub lunch.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sarah Hall, from Springwell, admitted that although she didn't drink every day, on most weekends she and her friends exceeded the recommended safe limit.
She said: "I go out with my friends most Friday and Saturday nights, and always have a drink in the house while getting ready to meet my friends for about 7pm.

"Most of the time I drink alcopops or vodka and will easily have about 12 drinks throughout the night before doing the same again on a Saturday. "I reckon I drink about the same as most of my friends and although we all have a good time, we're not really drunk on that amount. "I think people just see it as a sociable thing – a way to relax and have fun at the end of the week."

Father-of-two Darren Robson, of Fulwell added: "Now that I have kids I don't get out to the pub as much – probably about once every two weeks – but I regularly drink in the house.

"It's much more acceptable now to have a drink at home and most nights I will share a bottle of wine with my wife or else have a couple of bottles of lager. At the weekend, we tend to drink a bit more and can easily get through three bottles of wine between us and I will probably have a couple of bottles of lager too.

"It's just part of our culture now and I think as people are increasingly leading stressful, busy lives they need to unwind at the end of the day and alcohol helps them to do that."
But Kevan Martin, chairman of Sunderland-based North East Regional Alcohol Forum believes that a couple of social drinks at the end of the day can often lead to further problems down the line.

Spending years in the building trade, Kevan would often finish the day having a couple of pints in the pub and playing darts – little realizing that he was slowly building a dependency on alcohol.

He admits that for about 20 years he was an alcoholic but when his life hit "rock bottom", managed to find the strength to turn it around and stop drinking. Kevan hasn't touched a drop for seven years now and devotes much of his time to helping others who are addicted to alcohol kick the habit.

He said: "The amount we are now drinking is getting steadily worse. We've gone from a society where 25 years ago we drank a couple of pints, maybe once or twice a week, to drinking regularly – and not only pints, but spirits and shots – and in larger quantities.

"People are not really going out now for a social drink – they're going out to get hammered. And they think the only consequences they have to deal with are a hangover the next day, without giving a thought to the long-term effects – to their health, career and family.

"The problem with alcohol is that it is legal and nobody really warns you that it is dangerous and yet the long-term effects and dependency creep up on you. It's only when people try to cut down or stop that it really dawns on them.

"And the problem is not just isolated to teenagers and pubs – older people are also drinking regularly and heavily within their homes, often up to seven nights a week. "The knock-on effect of this over 20 to 30 years is going to be devastating. Currently, we only have the facilities to treat one in 102 people needing help and that is going to get steadily worse in time.

"I welcome moves to start to put warnings on to the side of bottles, it's a start but I really think the government has to go a lot further than that.

"Alcohol kills, it can cause mental health problems and that message has to be driven home to people. Alcohol is a legal but lethal timebomb.

"There also has to be a network of support in place to help people stop drinking. An alcoholic is often a lonely, solitary person who might only have about half an hour contact with people a day, when they go to the off license to stock up.

"Through the North East Regional Alcohol Forum, we encourage people to get off their bums and get busy – change their lifestyles, get back out into the world."

And the group's ground-breaking work has led to a link up with Sunderland Royal, under a new pioneering scheme whereby counsellors will be on call to go into the hospital and speak to people with alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol is to blame for more than half of admissions to Sunderland's A&E ward, while more than a quarter of injuries treated by casualty staff on weekends are drink-related. The mentoring service will work alongside new drop-in centers that the North East Regional Alcohol Forum is setting up within Sunderland.

More worrying in the long term is the fact that the national debate about alcohol consumption has barely scratched the surface of the complex and growing relationship many have grown up to regard as a bit of "Dutch courage", or indeed something to take for "medicinal purposes". And there is the rub. How many people are using a binge, a drop, or a steady flow of alcohol to medicate themselves? A closer look at the relationship between alcohol and mental health suggests excessive drinking is better described as a symptom than a disease.

At the severe end of the spectrum, co-existing alcohol problems and mental ill-health are very common. People with severe and enduring mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are at least three times as likely to be alcohol dependant as the rest of the population.

The idea that they often use alcohol, with its pharmacological properties, to medicate distressing symptoms is widely understood by mental health workers – despite the fact it mostly worsens the symptoms it is intended to beat or feelings it is supposed to numb.

A research report just published by the Mental Health Foundation, was commissioned to explore why our drinking habits are developing as they are. The Cheers report revealed that 77 per cent of drinkers said alcohol made them feel relaxed, and 63 per cent said it made them feel happy. Approximately one-third of drinkers report that alcohol makes them feel less anxious, less depressed and more able to forget problems.

This is consistent with the theory that many use alcohol to medicate stress, anxiety and depression. The research showed that those drinking to deal with difficult feelings and emotions are most likely to be young, male, single, in full-time work, believe they drink too much, and also believe they would find it difficult to give up.

There is also plenty of evidence to show that people who drink high volumes of alcohol are vulnerable to mental ill-health. Regular drinking is thought to change the chemistry of the brain and deplete the neurotransmitters it needs to prevent anxiety and depression naturally.

According to the WHO, enough evidence exists to assume alcohol contributes to depression.
Many will have suffered the anxiety and low mood that can come on with an ordinary hangover. In fact while we're still drunk, we often experience amplification of feelings we might have been trying to numb – this is because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, removing inhibitions. A sobering additional finding cited in the report is that 70 per cent of men who kill themselves have drunk alcohol before doing so.

As a nation, we are growing a sophisticated understanding of our physical health. But our relationship with alcohol testifies to a phenomenal ignorance about how we can and should look after our mental health, and cope with difficult emotions.

Source – Sonderland Today