Kevan Christie: Alcoholism can prompt and also mask mental health issues

Most of us know the problems that can be caused by consumption of alcohol, but a significant number don't seem to care.
Most of us know the problems that can be caused by consumption of alcohol, but a significant number don't seem to care.
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The move by campaigners urging Scots to cut the amount of alcohol they consume by at least 10 per cent over the next decade deserves to be treated with more respect than the usual ‘lip service’ paid to these type of reports by drinkers.

All too often the debate becomes centred around a predictable battle between campaigners, who are unfairly accused of nannyism, and drinks Goliaths eager to promote their brands and the fun they claim their product can offer – provided we all ‘drink sensibly’.

The easy narrative is to point the finger at the alcohol industry who lure us in with their clever advertising campaigns, based around our gallows humour and streetwise sense of ourselves as being impossible to con.

Tie this in with the pain of following the national football or rugby teams and you’re on to a winner.

Lager is the drink of choice for the football while huge banners for a craft brewery adorn BT Murrayfield Stadium in the style of the ancient Roman senate outside the coliseum.

The message here for the rugger crowd conveys an all-together classier type of beverage with random words like artisan thrown in.

However, it’s about time we all wised up a bit and took more responsibility as citizens for our drinking habits. A simple fact worth remembering is that what we are actually drinking is no more than flavoured ethanol, that has been through a fermentation process. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure, and is linked with myriad illnesses that will shorten our lives. Next time you see someone holding a full pint, imagine a squirrel carrying a giant nut – that’s how ridiculous it looks.

There’s little point in blaming the drinks industry, it’s there to satisfy demand and make huge profits while making us feel ‘cool’ about imbibing a substance that if abused could kill us.

Measures like implementing a 50p minimum unit price and developing a strategy to reduce the availability of alcohol and improving existing licensing regulations are all necessary, but people who crave alcohol will stop at nothing to obtain it.

This is getting to the crux of the ‘devastating’ impact of Scotland’s troubled relationship with the hard stuff.

The simple fact is that everyone knows the dangers of alcohol abuse. We are a nation of experts on the subject, from the first spin of our teenage bedrooms to persuading an older kid to buy us some cans from the local shop. The problem here is – despite the wealth of readily available knowledge to hand and the best efforts of groups like Alcohol Focus – a sizeable number of us don’t care.

Worked 50 hours this week? Pass the Prosecco. Kids away on the school trip? Let’s hit the town. Exeter City are playing Barnet – Tuesday night in the EFL Trophy and it’s live on Sky Sports 5? Well, what are we waiting for? Get them in.

On a more serious note, we should look at different ways to view societal problems like binge drinking and the steady decline towards alcoholism as potential mental health issues.

This is beyond the scope of this column, but it’s worth noting that heavy drinking can bring on depression with many people who sadly take their lives after having drinking problems. People who are, or have been, in recovery for alcohol problems get the mental health link – your average binge drinker would take it as an insult.

For years, drunks have been accepted as a normal part of Scottish society with most families joking about an uncle who enjoys a drink too much. Maybe it’s time to consider that behind the alcoholism is a mental health issue.