Alcohol Awareness Week runs 11th – 17th November. Under the theme of ‘Alcohol and Me’, we are inviting people to become better informed about the effects of alcohol, helping them make positive lifestyle choices.
Many of us enjoy a drink. In fact, according to the Public Health Agency, over 75% of adults in Northern Ireland consume alcohol, though they all drink in different ways.
Like any other drug, alcohol use or misuse can affect every aspect of our lives, from work and relationships to physical health and mental wellbeing. Considering one’s relationship with alcohol helps in understanding its impact.
You might even ask yourself a few questions:
How often have you gone to work with a hangover?
It’s estimated that excessive drinking has cost the local economy nearly £50m in lost working days. The effects, however, can be also be felt when we’re at work. Presenteeism – going to work while ill – also comes with a price to economic performance: over £90 million per year. Individually, negative effects, including tiredness and a lack of concentration, can drag down your performance and productivity, causing, in turn, stress and anxiety.
Do you ever reach for a drink when stressed?
It’s normal to want to relax after a challenging day; however, using alcohol to relieve tension or mask anxiety may ultimately be counter-productive. Alcohol is a depressant – while it can initially lift a mood, one may start to feel agitated as it wears off. In the long term, this may increase the likelihood of experiencing mental ill health, such as depression. A vicious circle can develop: Anxiety and depression are more common in heavy drinkers; heavy drinking is more common in those with anxiety and depression.
Do you often have six or more drinks in one go?
For many, a hangover or feeling ill are two of the short-term effects of excessive drinking. That said, how often do you consider the wider impact on your long-term health? It’s recommended that you drink no more than 14 units per week, spreading these evenly over at least three days. Exceeding these guidelines risks a number of health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as damage to vital organs like the liver.
Do you have a tendency to argue more when you drink?
Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you feel down. This will adversely affect your judgement and influence social interactions. It’s no surprise, then, that when under the influence you may say or do things you regret. Drinking heavily may also affect your relationships with partners, family and friends.
What can you do to reduce the impact of alcohol on your life? Here are some tips:
Know your units
Know how much alcohol is in your drink of choice by checking out medical information. Published by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers, low-risk drinking guidelines exist to provide information to adults who drink alcohol. These guidelines include advice on how many units should be consumed in a week, lowering the risk of harm.
Try out other ways to tackle stress. Rather than opening a beer or pouring a glass of wine at the end of a hard day, go for a run or a swim, attend a yoga class or a talk to a friend about what’s worrying you.
See if alcohol-free days work for you. If you’re a regular drinker, your body starts to build up a tolerance and this is why it’s important to consider taking a break. See if you notice any positive results.
Reduce the harm
There are a number of easy steps for reducing the impact of alcohol:
Eat before you start drinking;
Avoid drinking in rounds;
Try taking water between drinks;
Know your limits and stick to them;
Plan your journey home;
Track how much you’re drinking throughout the evening;
Be aware of how you react to certain drinks;
Take a few alcohol-free days each week.
We encourage people to talk about alcohol and break down the shame, and stigma, that can surround the subject.