I was surprised and pleased to see a headline about drinking alcohol on the front page of The Guardian Friday last week which said:
“Drinking will shorten your life, study finds”.
Let me clarify. I wasn’t surprised by the headline finding at all. To be honest, my reaction was very much along the “No s**t Sherlock” line. It’s really not news either to anyone who has worried about their own drinking or that of someone close to them. It’s certainly not news to the health staff who see the increasing levels of damage and death, particularly amongst baby boomers. According to the ONS, in 2016 there were 5,208 deaths in Britain of people aged 50-plus wholly attributable to alcohol, compared with 3,582 in 2001. That doesn’t even take account of deaths where alcohol was probably a contributory factor.
Drinking is serious enough to be front-page news
No, the surprise was that the issue had made front-page news in a “serious” paper and wasn’t linked to a sensationalist story of a celebrity’s alcohol-fueled death or fall from grace. Instead, the article covers the findings of a major study by Cambridge University published in the Lancet which supports the recommended limits for men and women of 14 units per week, which were so fiercely challenged when they were introduced in 2016. It spells out clearly the risks to our health by drinking above the recommended limit for men and women of 14 units per week and compares them to the risks of smoking.
And pleased for goodness sake? Why on earth would I be pleased with such a negative story? I’m pleased because this is a serious discussion we need to have without the sensationalism and drama that so often accompanies reporting about alcohol.
Stop assuming we know who’s drinking
We need to be able to take a step back from the stereotypes and assumptions about what alcohol-related damage to health looks like. We need to stop assuming we know who is affected; the rough sleepers, the Gazzers and Amy Winehouses, the “alkies” necking cheap, superstrength cider, the “others”. Insert your stereotype of choice.
Not us, successful people living responsible lives holding down good jobs and never taking a day off sick. Not us, bright, high flying professional women and men who enjoy a good bottle of wine. Not us, enjoying a trip to the champagne or Prosecco bar with friends or colleagues and wearing the thick head the next day as a badge of pride. Not us, the go-getter entrepreneurs working and playing hard, using booze as a social lubricant.
And definitely not us; brilliant, loving, stretched women looking after everything and everyone else. Putting work, kids, elderly parents etc, before we look after ourselves, who just treat ourselves to a glass of wine when everything else is done because that’s the only “me time” we get and frankly if we didn’t have that we’d scream.
That’s not us. It can’t hurt. My dear friends, it is and it does – and we need to talk about it and find much better ways of treating and being kind to ourselves.