Christmas has become synonymous with alcohol, but that doesn’t have to be the case and we must allow people to abstain, says Evelyn Gillan
FOR the past couple of months we’ve been bombarded with adverts reminding us, as if we could possibly escape it, that it’s the season of excess. Over-indulgence in food, drink and presents is the only way to have the “perfect” festive season apparently.
Most people drink more than usual, what with office parties, catching up with friends and family, and bringing in the New Year. The licensed trade enjoys its busiest time and supermarkets use every opportunity to increase footfall with special offers on beers, wines and spirits. It seems Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the shops competing to offer the cheapest alcohol deals.
Spare a thought for people who have alcohol problems or who have been through treatment and are trying to stay sober. This can be an especially tough time of year for them and their families. The pressure to drink is everywhere and people can give in to temptation and experience a relapse. It is difficult to always make the healthy choice when surrounded by cheap alcohol, which is easily available and aggressively marketed. The alcohol industry relies on customers who drink too much to boost their gains – if everyone drank in moderation, their profits would plummet.
There is also the endless encouragement to drink from well-meaning friends, family and colleagues. Never pressure someone into having a drink. There are a whole host of reasons why someone doesn’t want to drink alcohol. They could be driving, or pregnant, or on medication, recovering from alcohol problems – or maybe they just don’t drink. No-one should need an excuse to refuse a drink but we’ve all been in the situation where we’ve been made to feel uncomfortable for saying “no thanks”. You wouldn’t force any other toxic substance on someone, so why alcohol?
The perfectly produced, twinkly television adverts full of smiling families celebrating with glasses of Champagne are a far cry from the booze-fuelled mayhem that the emergency services have to deal with as nights out (and in) end in hospitals and police cells. It isn’t just teenagers and twentysomethings who get into vulnerable situations when drunk. Illness and injury, risky behaviour, regrets and falling out with friends, family and colleagues are the chance anyone who drinks too much takes.
Try celebrating with less alcohol this year – pace yourself, have plenty of water or soft drinks in between alcoholic drinks and eat something before you go out. Staying safe means staying in control and planning ahead how you will get home. The new lower drink drive limit means you shouldn’t drink anything if you plan to get behind the wheel, and think twice about driving the next morning too if you have had a lot to drink the night before. If in any doubt, use public transport.
A Christmas party binge might be a one-off, but it’s easy to go from drinking in moderation to regularly drinking to excess, and before you know it your alcohol consumption is at the level which is damaging your health, relationships or work. Drinking isn’t a cure for the winter blues; rather than being a stress reliever, alcohol can make feelings of anxiety and depression worse. There are better, healthier ways to cope with stress than using alcohol. If you are having problems controlling your drinking, or are worried about a loved one, you should talk to your GP.
Once the festive season is over, thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions and forming healthier habits. Taking a breather from alcohol lets your body recover and you will quickly feel the benefits of cutting down or not drinking at all.
In the short term, you may notice you sleep better, have improved concentration, lose weight and save cash, and you certainly won’t miss the fuzzy head and nausea of a hangover. In the longer term, you will be doing your health a big favour by reducing your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and liver damage. Taking part in a campaign like Dry January gives people the perfect opportunity to have a break from alcohol so they can reassess how much they’re drinking. Research has shown that a month off can lower liver fat, blood glucose and blood cholesterol.
This year, enjoy the benefits of drinking less, not just for the month of January, but all year round.
• Dr Evelyn Gillan is chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, www.alcohol-focus-scotland.org.uk