It’s that time of year again….Christmas and New Year over and done with, and the miserable dreariness of January, work and general fatigue induced depression right back on top of us.
I started writing this on what’s widely regarded as the worst day of the year – the first Monday at the head of a full week in January, and it was raining, and there was too much to do and not enough people to do it.
These first couple of weeks in January always bring with them the crashing realisation that I’ve had something to drink every day since goodness knows when. The normal discipline just got thrown out of the window, and night after night, there’d be a glass of wine or a beer.
Not much, never too much, but something, all the time.
I’ve given up booze for January, but I read today that that’s not likely to be worthwhile. Better, they say, to moderate and introduce alcohol free days at least a couple of times a week. Abstinence or detoxing in January does no physical good, and perhaps that’s true – and it does seem likely to be true – but for me and many people it’s not about the physical.
It’s about the psychology of it.
It’s about breaking a cycle, a pattern that, in retrospect, seemed horrifyingly easy to establish, one that needs breaking while it’s still easy to do, because once alcohol gets a grip, digs it’s talons into your mind and your body, it’s an absolute bastard to shift.
Many people simply don’t, and they die because of that.
Just before Christmas, I remember seeing a tweet from somebody banging on about the guidelines around safe alcohol consumption being ‘made up’. There was a definite right-wing bent to the argument, a ‘don’t tell me what to do, I know what’s good for me’ angle that I just find tiresome and naïve.
I thought it was an ill-considered thing to say at the time, and I remember replying that I knew somebody who thought the same, but he’s dead now. Predictably, there was no response.
It stuck with me through, one of those phrases among thousands that just lodged in my mind, and it did make me think hard about what I think about alcohol and the way I approach it.
The thing is, I don’t mind alcohol at all – that shows from a cursory flick through the archives on here – but I do mind what it does to people, and it scares me because of that, it’s ability to change people, to alter their realities and the way they act, to make monsters out of ordinary men and women, to ultimately kill them in the most terrifying and horrifying of ways.
Spend more than ten seconds in any hospital or doctor’s surgery anywhere in the country and there’s a very good chance that you’ll see a poster or a leaflet challenging you about your drinking. Some people may deride this, and the whole concept of guidelines around alcohol consumption as ‘nanny state-ism’, but I see no reason not to challenge people about something that causes such huge burdens on our health system, and I see even less reason not to educate people about how to approach alcohol safely.
Some people might have uncomfortable conversations with doctors or nurses about how much they’re drinking, but better an uncomfortable conversation than a blighted, wasted life.
For years now, advice around alcohol consumption has, quite frankly, been a mess. Original guidelines centred around the concept of a unit of alcohol and the number of recommended units that should be consumed per week (twenty-one for men, fourteen for women). The obvious problem with this is that most people don’t have a clue what a unit of alcohol is, and how many units are in the glass in their hand.
On top of that, setting a weekly limit seemed to encourage binge drinking – saving up units for a massive weekend session. Huge potential for things to end badly, there, don’t you think?
Things shifted to a daily guideline of three or four units a day for men, or two or three for women, with the rider that there is no guaranteed safe level.
The problem with this approach was that it seemed to encourage consistency, which got over the binge drinking question, but…..it gave the green light to drinking every day.
The New Year is a good time to sort all of this out, and new advice seeks to simplify things and raises the concept of going for at least two days a week without drinking any alcohol at all.
Some might dismiss this as state intervention gone too far, but it isn’t, and two days out of seven isn’t really that long, is it?.
You have your own choices, and nobody is going to hold you accountable, so do what you want, but do it with the right facts and in full knowledge of the risks.
If you want to help a friend who has a drinking problem, you can get tips for helping alcoholics from many resources both online and otherwise.
Believe me, I’ve had enough of seeing people scramble for help too late.