Dry January is drawing to a close for another year but is it time we took a longer, harder look at our relationship with booze?
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Something to celebrate? Pop open some bubbles. Bad news? Take comfort in the bottle.
Alcohol plays a huge role in the lives of most people in Suffolk, and the country as a whole – but is the relationship turning sour? As Dry January draws to a close, Richard Porritt investigates.
The abstinence marathon, originally dreamt up to raise awareness for Alcohol Concern, now seems to be as much about fundraising as a break for your liver.
But what does this say about our drinking habits? Is the fact we are impressed someone can stay out of the pub for four-and-a-half weeks revealing?
Dry January offers an excuse for not drinking – but if you order a lemonade in a pub in July, expect your fellow revellers to believe you are either pregnant or an on-the-wagon alcoholic.
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Why do people raise an eyebrow if you pass on the offer of a glass of wine? Even the answer “I’m driving” is often met with “you can still have one”.
So, even though dedicating a month to soft drinks is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, should we be taking a longer, harder look at our relationship with booze?
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Britain has around one-and-a-half million people who are deemed to drink to seriously problematic levels. These are drinkers who, although not necessarily completely in the grip of addiction, regularly drink in excess of the recommended levels.
Last year it is estimated two million people quit booze for the duration of January – but evidence does not suggest the challenge is being tackled by those who have the biggest problem. In fact, many experts believe that those who do avoid alcohol to start the year are unlikely to be problem drinkers during the other 11 months either.
But because Dry January has no way to track or analyse participants, the facts are scant. That is not the case when it comes to the size of Britain’s habit, though.
In 2012 almost 8,500 deaths were blamed directly on alcohol misuse in the UK. This is a 19% jump since 2001.
Alcohol Concern believe more than nine million people regularly consume more than the recommended daily limits.
And the biggest strain on the country is not street drinkers and those in and out of rehab. As income goes up, so does the amount we drink.
The worrying jump in liver disease – up 20% in a decade – is fuelled by middle class mums and dads and their bottles of wine after a hard day in the office.
All this proves one startling fact: Britain needs help to beat the bottle.
Making a change
Turning Point is an organisation that helps people with issues as diverse as mental health problems and substance misuse.
Ruth Croft, the youth and engagement manager for Turning Point in Suffolk, believes Dry January is a great starting point but in general old habits persist.
“From what we know there is still a high level of people who drink too much and people continue to binge drink and pre-load – drink a lot at home before they go out,” she said.
“Dry January is brilliant in that it gets more people thinking about how much they drink and hopefully how much better they feel without alcohol.
“We are asking people who are doing Dry January if they are sleeping better and if they are enjoying not having a hangover every Saturday morning.
“But it is just a starting point. Not drinking for a month and then returning to heavy drinking ? in the belief that you have abstained, so it is OK ? is not right.”
Ruth believes that, for significant changes to occur, Britain needs a shift in culture.
She added: “Drinking is part of everyday life in Britain and has been for a very long time.
“But pubs are closing and the way people drink at home is very different – there is no-one measuring out your wine at home and often you don’t even need to leave your seat to get a refill.
“But perhaps even more worrying is the loss of community – people can drink to excess every night at home and by the time someone recognises there is a problem it might have been going on for some time.
“I don’t think anyone is saying that alcohol should be demonized in the way smoking has been. We just need to be honest and realistic.
“At the moment there is too much confusion about what a unit is, or what the recommended maximum levels of alcohol are each week.
“On top of that, when people ask for help with addiction they are seen as weak – actually asking for help proves some strength to want to sort the problem out.
“Firstly we need to have conversations – we need to ask ourselves about our own relationship with alcohol and whether it is a problem.”
Turning Point offers a 24-hour helpline for anyone concerned about alcohol or drug misuse – 0300 123 0872.