What word links a pandemic and an alcoholic drink? Corona! And what do they have in common apart from a word? They can both do hardly any damage at all to us, or they can kill us.
While the virus continues to wreak havoc on lives across the world, pubs are re-opening to serve alcohol and food to people who desperately want to get on with life as they knew it before lock-down. A video that was posted on social media over the weekend showed a crowd of around 250 people congregating outside a Dublin pub, pints of beer in hand, cosying up to one another as though COVID-19 was but a bad dream. The more beers that were consumed, the less inhibitions got in the way of their enjoyment. No care was given by the publican who served them, instead choosing to flout the rules laid out by the Irish Government. For the time being, pubs and bars that wish to reopen for business must operate as restaurants meaning they must serve food with drinks and there is a time limit of 105 minutes per sitting. I was chatting to one family member over the weekend who described the scene of a group of friends gathered around one big bowl of chips with curry sauce while downing as many pints of beer as possible in the allocated time. And here’s where I start to get a bit concerned. Having been on a huge journey of discovery these past 14 months or so since my last glass of wine, I can’t help but gasp at the damage people are doing to themselves by pouring ethanol (aka alcohol) into their bodies.
Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning will have heard it all before but I’m not going to apologise for repeating myself. Alcohol is a drug. Just because it’s legal does not mean it’s not dangerous. According to the Global Status Report on Alcohol published by the World Health Organisation, around three million people die from alcohol-related illness each year. The UK accounts for a staggering 10% of this, with close to 300,000 deaths every year. The greatest number of these deaths was due to cardiovascular disease directly linked to alcohol consumption. If you don’t believe me, follow this link to the UK alcohol education charity,
Liver disease, cancer and accidents were the other causes of deaths linked to drinking. Yet alcohol continues to be glorified as the all-important ingredient to get the party going and help people to have a good time.
I don’t mean to be evangelical and I’m certainly not foolish enough to believe that everybody is a problem drinker, as I was. But I do think that there needs to be an improved awareness about the risks involved in drinking more than the recommended limits of 14 units per week. We need to remember that alcohol is a toxin that affects our body, mind and spirit in ways that can be detrimental to our health in the long term.
The key is to drink responsibly and to be mindful of the damage caused by excessive consumption. It’s also helpful to understand why some people might develop a dependency and others don’t. There is not a black and white explanation for this, as I have learnt. Some people are born with personality traits that can predispose them to addiction. Traits such as being anxious, obsessive, perfectionist or lacking self-esteem can lead a person to feeling they need to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. Other people might become physically addicted to the substance and need it to function from the moment they wake up each day.
Since embracing a sober life, I have learnt that I have been battling with anxiety since I was a child. I have had to face up to my weaknesses and failings and I have had to own my behaviour instead of blaming it on others or circumstances. A prerequisite to my personal transformation is my ongoing self-honesty. This allows me to stop playing the victim and to break the cycle of negative behaviour because I know that I am in control of how I behave. My addiction to alcohol was much more mental than physical. I was never one to drink in the daytime and could always go a few days without it. But even when I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about it, and I spent a lot of energy trying to control it. What a relief to no longer have to live like this. My brain is definitely more balanced without it. As I’ve said before, alcohol messes with the chemical balance of the brain by enhancing the GABA, serotonin and dopamine levels while blocking glutamate and noradrenaline. According to experts in neuropsychopharmacology who study the effects of drugs on the brain, alcohol is the most harmful drug of them all.
Drinking alcohol has been a thing for thousands of years but not to the levels we see today. There has been a massive shift in the way we consume alcohol over the years, and I believe this is largely due to marketing. Once upon a time, alcohol was treated differently to everything else we ate and drank which is why it was only sold in ‘off-licences’ and pubs. It wasn’t given the status is has today. Licensing laws attempted to prevent crime and disorder caused by drunk individuals, promote public health and safety and to protect children from harm. Now, even with some licensing laws still in place, alcohol can be found on shelves in our supermarkets alongside groceries and other essential items as though it’s as innocuous as a sliced pan. But it really isn’t surprising when you consider the impact advertising has on us and how pervasive it is in our lives. Consider this: Diageo, one of the world’s largest producer of spirits and beers, spent around £2bn (almost A$4bn) on advertising last year. Their net profit in the same year was up by 10% at a whopping £4bn because of strong demand for their products such as Smirnoff vodka and Guinness.
And here’s a statistic that should shock you and make you understand why alcohol continues to be a legal substance: Last year, the UK government alone received £10bn (A$20bn) in taxes from the sale of alcohol. It’s big business alright. But here’s the thing, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, the cost to the UK National Health Service of alcohol-related illness runs into the tens of billions of pounds. How dumb is that!
It’s time to reconsider whether this toxic ingredient is actually necessary to enjoy life and perhaps find healthier things to do when we get together with others. I was buying a birthday card for a neighbour’s daughter who is turning 18 this week and to my dismay, two thirds of the cards had a message and a photo relating to the fact that 18-year-olds have reached the age where they can drink alcohol, legally. I question the message that this sends to our young folk whose brains are still developing and are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. I guess all we can do is educate them about the dangers and the importance of self-preservation. There was a time when smoking was seen as cool. Almost every Hollywood movie featured a smoker who was portrayed as sophisticated. Big corporations like Philip Morris were ploughing billions into their advertising campaigns to encourage the deadly habit. Now, thanks to increased awareness, smoking is seen as just that… a deadly habit.
I’d be worried if I were Diageo because, one day in the future, they might find themselves up against a whole heap of lawsuits.
In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to choose carefully and to live the best life we can. While none of us knows what’s around the corner, there is so much we can do to prevent disease and to feel our best. Whether you are religious or not, you might like to consider the message in what has become known as the recovery prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.