“I’m not a heavy drinker, I can sometimes go for hours without touching a drop” (Noel Coward)
It isn’t big and it isn’t clever; nor is it perhaps wise beginning a blog for a Health & Wellbeing site with the admission that A) the inspiration for this article starts with me tipsy in a pub garden (I blame these warm October evenings, personally, oh and friends insisting on one more for the road!); and B) not knowing, when asked, what Stoptober was all about – drinking or smoking for the month? Which, arguably, I would know by now, given the business I am in…but interestingly, and I must point this out for the sake of my defence, none of the party partying knew either.
For the record, I was of the opinion it was alcohol-related. I have never smoked, and never have done, so I suppose this in some way influenced my presumptions.
In collectively-confused situations like these, there’s only one thing for it – Google. And it seems that it was more than simple inebriated ignorance and confusion on our part(s), because I got no further than keying “is Stoptober” into said search assistant when offered up the suggestion “is Stoptober for smoking or drinking”
As you know, these suggestions are borne from real searches done by real people who could well be as confused as we all were (though whether they were drinking/drunk at the time is another matter); with frequency/popularity of the question being a key factor on its ranking – in this case, 2nd out of 6 offered. So, it’s been asked more than once. A lot more.
So, to clarify and thus end all ambiguity, confusion and pub debates; there are actually TWO events in October, challenging you to just say no for the month, potentially make some dosh for good causes, reduce/quit some toxin-laden habits, and maybe come out the other end much healthier, and a whole lot better off, for it. These are;
Go Sober for October (you may also see it referred to as Octsober) is, obviously, all about asking people to pledge a booze-free month to raise money for the excellent cause, that is Macmillan Cancer Support, and in turn, become a ‘Soberhero’.
Stoptober is a Public Health England initiative, and is part of their ‘one you’ campaign – aiming to help us make small, incremental changes to our lifestyle and thus improve our overall health & wellbeing longer term. Stoptober encourages smokers to give up for 28 days; this is based on research indicating a five-fold increase in quitting forever, if you abstain for this timeframe.
And whilst we are on it; there is also Dry January, Alcohol Concern’s ‘flagship campaign’ intended to encourage us to ditch booze following crazy season, and reap the many benefits such abstinence has to offer – weight lost, money saved and according to a study paper on their website, improved drink refusal self-efficacy (i.e., better at saying no in social situations) and a more moderate drinking habit longer-term. Seemingly a small amount of pain for a lot of gain, and a great way to start the year if that’s how you mean to go on.
Two opportunities; two months out of twelve to go dry. But the cynic in me can’t help but keep recalling the words of Chrissie Giles in a BBC article, where she argues how these ‘feats of willpower’, and the ‘heroic’ sacrifice we make, seem to help highlight just how embedded alcohol is in our lives/culture.
Sadly, highly relevant in my case, as on being asked when the last time was I went a month or more without alcohol, I could not think of a time in recent history. Over 10 years ago would be my best guess; due to regular stints in the middle of nowhere as a soldier.
How bad does that sound!? Like I need to be in the wilderness for extended periods of time, without access to booze, to give my liver a break!
But if this wasn’t bad enough, the fourth, and possibly most worrying confession was the fact that the next day, on tallying up the units of alcohol, the alarming discovery was I had consumed no less than 18 units in one sitting. In the space of approximately 4 hours, I had imbibed more than the Department of Health’s recommended weekly alcohol consumption guidelines.
And I know that back in my ‘yoof’; especially those days as a student, as well as the afore mentioned military service, that sort of consumption would have been considered a ‘quiet night out’ – so heaven only knows what I was knocking back in my 20’s and 30’s.
So clearly, I am guilty as charged, of binge-drinking – which the NHS define as exceeding 6 units of alcohol in one sitting – male or female.
Two large (250ml) glasses of wine, somewhere between 2 and 3 pints of lager and you are in the ‘binge zone’ - how easy is that to do? Or is that the last-ditch cry of desperation from a booze hound!?
Or perhaps, I am merely being brutally honest with both myself and you lovely people. Firstly, let’s not forget that A) there was 4 of us all drinking round-for-round, B) we do this about once per month – which is a wake-up call, to say the least, but C) when we DO do it, it’s always a packed pub where getting served at the bar seems like an epic victory worthy of a novel!
I mean, think about it, when did you last see a quiet pub in London? And I’m not just talking about the weekends; one of my most memorable experiences of London when I first moved here from ‘up Norf’ was packed pubs/bars in the week – SCHOOLNIGHTS!!!
And statistics apparently show us northerners drink more than southerners! Hmmm…
And if you think this is my imagination, then consider this; figures published by ONS show £19 BILLION was spent by us Brits on alcohol in 2016. That’s £36,000 per minute! According to the Wine and Spirits Trading Association, this means over £9 billion contribution to the public purse by way of various duties and taxes.
But, this pales into insignificance compared to the costs estimated to the public services (£3.5 bn cost to the NHS, for example) which all contributes to the “total societal harm” (absenteeism, presenteeism, unemployment, etc etc) that alcohol inflicts. Quoted at an ‘estimated’ £21bn or maybe even more, by the Government.
However, when we look at the figures published by the ONS, from their ‘Opinions and lifestyles’ questionnaire, we get the impression that, if anything, we are drinking less and less as a nation with every passing year: Around 57% of adults claim to drink, but teetotalism is apparently on the rise; people drinking at least once and five or more times in the week prior to answering the survey is decreasing. Just over a quarter of people who drink claim to have exceeded the binge-drinking amounts in the week prior.
Is it me, or do these statistics give the impression that we Brits are a sensible bunch of ‘just one to be social’ type crowd? How then, if these statistics are to be considered, do we spend the amount reported and cause the carnage it is ‘estimated’ we cause?
Does anyone else think the maths is out?
Well, call me a cynic, but, the figures quoted by ONS are based on respondents to their survey, which totalled 7,700. Less than 9% of the approximate 66 million UK population. Does this seem representational enough for you? I’m fascinated to know how 7,700 people leads to a Government department claiming 29 million of us drink…but who am I!?
The questions around drink related to the week before completing the survey. Probably because beyond a certain timeframe, it gets harder to recall accurately, but nevertheless, given seasonal influences (long summer evenings, Christmas, etc.,) it does beg the question on how the figures would look like over a 12-month period. It is also self-reported, which time and again, attracts criticism for its lack of accuracy and therefore, its validity.
And this was very much the focus of a study conducted by University College London in 2013. This was on the back of an international study which looked at total sales of alcohol, compared to what people claimed they drank. Would you be surprised to hear there was a discrepancy? Self-reported alcohol consumption only made up 40-60% of total sales. So, a theoretical model was developed which, again, estimated that 44% of men and 31% of women claiming to be drinkers in the UK, were regularly exceeding guidelines – far more than reported by ONS. A further study by the same team in 2014 showed that when people kept a 7-day diary, more drinks were logged than when asked questions at interview at the end of the week.
The conclusions were; drinking is more widespread than we realise, we clearly have a problem recalling how much we drink, and consequently, under-reporting skews the stats.
Ultimately, only YOU know how much you knocked back. Or do you? Following my Saturday night of 18 units, it required serious powers of recollection, cross-questioning of my mates who were at the crime scene, and a check of the NHS unit calculator page, to work it out!
That being said, it could be that my drinking antics may just be a bit more widespread than many of us are able to recall, or worst still, care to admit.
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