Think about your drinking?
Have you made a New Year’s resolution to get fitter and healthier?
You could start by thinking about your drinking. Alcoholic drinks are full of calories - so drinking less will help you to lose some of the extra pounds you put on over Christmas. Regularly drinking – whether it’s a couple of ciders or pints of beer - can increase your waistline.
It can also affect the way you are without you realising it – and how you act around your children.
Alcohol and being a parent
Ever stopped to think about the future and how our children will be drinking? That’s what they will learn from us.
Drinking regularly or drinking large amounts around your children can affect how you behave. It can affect your family directly – when you are drinking – or afterwards when you don’t feel too great. It can make you feel more relaxed, and temporarily happy, but can also result in you saying or doing things you normally wouldn’t – and maybe wish you hadn’t. If you’re already fed up when you start drinking, it can actually make you feel worse – more emotional or angry.
Remember – alcohol is a depressant.
It can also affect your:
Perhaps sex isn’t as good as it could be, causing resentment – or you don’t communicate well because your judgement is affected, resulting in an argument.
There are more subtle and unintended – but equally important - effects on your family that are easy to overlook. Children do notice what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. As parents, we can make the biggest contribution - we can influence how they behave around alcohol when they’re older.
Research shows that children learn about drinking from their parents and family from a young age, and notice quite a lot about what is being drunk and how much. Before they ever drink alcohol themselves, they have formed expectations and beliefs – these will go on to influence how they drink as adults. Put simply, the more you drink as a parent, the more likely it is that your children will drink too.
Already we do know that:
- around 1 in 5 of our 14-year-olds living in the Kirklees area drink alcohol weekly or more
- about a quarter feel that their family or close friends drink too much
- worryingly, more than half of those young drinkers get their alcohol from family or relatives living at home.
The positive side to this is that what you teach your children about alcohol can protect them. Even when children grow into their teens, your influence will affect how they react around peers when drinking – even if you think they don’t listen to you!
What’s the right guidance for parents?
It can be confusing knowing the right way to talk to your children about alcohol, and whether you should let them drink. Although many parents think it is sensible to introduce alcohol to children at home, the evidence does show that the earlier in life someone starts drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to drink a lot and develop drink problems. Added to that, young people who drink heavily risk affecting their brain development, physical health and growth. They are also more likely to:
- have alcohol-related injuries
- be involved in violence
- take risks e.g. with sex, or drugs
- develop mental health problems.
So the reasons for delaying your children’s drinking far outweigh the benefits.
The recommendations are:
- Children up to 15 years should avoid alcohol altogether
- Children of 16 and 17 should only drink alcohol occasionally i.e. up to once a week - and under your supervision
Clear rules and close relationships will help to protect them and ensure they have a healthy attitude to drinking. Your children may challenge you, and be curious about tasting alcoholic drinks. Use this opportunity to talk to them about why it’s safer for them to wait until they’re older, and give them the facts. It’s also worth thinking about how your children might be exposed to drinking at a friend’s house, or when out socialising. It’s better to talk to them sooner and prepare them for those situations, so they know how to handle them and are not taken by surprise.
If you have your children’s teenage friends in your house where they might have access to alcohol, remember you’re responsible for them too, so make sure you’ve consulted with their parents and know how they feel about the issue.
You can find out more about talking to your children about alcohol, including guidance on parties, at Drinkware and Parentingstrategies
For guidance from the Chief Medical Officer, see here.
Alcohol and your health
Of course, alcohol also has a direct impact on your health. You may have come across information about this already. For example, the links between drinking alcohol over the lower-risk levels and increasing your chances of developing:
- Cancers (breast, neck, throat and mouth)
- Liver cirrhosis
- High blood pressure
Those are in addition to sexual problems, feeling tired and not sleeping well, and the possibility of gaining weight from those ‘empty’ calories
Some people think these guidelines are unrealistic – but the plain fact is that the risk of developing these illnesses increases the more you drink. The lower risk levels are there to help protect you.
Alcohol can be a ticking time bomb. You don’t always know that it is causing a problem with your physical health – until it’s too late. We don’t want to stop you having a good time – and you still can if you’re careful.
How do I know this affects me, and what can I do about it anyway?
If you’re not sure whether any of this applies to you, or you think that all that stuff about units is just confusing, see how you measure up here:
The tools are simple and easy to follow.
You can also find other people’s stories and experiences here
If you find there is something you’d like to change, there are useful tips too.
Why is this important now?
Everyone can remember a story about drinking or being drunk. Perhaps you can remember a story from your childhood about your parents or family drinking? Are those memories fond – or do they make you uncomfortable? Has your drinking been shaped by how your family drink? Thinking back 20, 30 or more years ago, getting drunk was, for many people, something you did now and again. Is this how you remember it? How has this changed?
It’s not uncommon now to turn on the TV and see people in their teens or 20s being rowdy and drunk, vomiting in the street. It’s tempting to think that group of people are the ones drinking too much. But believe it or not, more people are drinking more than they used to – at all ages. That doesn’t have to mean appearing to be blind drunk. Drinking rates have increased 60% since the 1970s, and people are drinking 3 times more than they did when consumption was lowest. And with it, rates of illness have changed. Illnesses related to alcohol are showing up sooner. People in their 20s and 30s are now dying from liver disease.
Young people, who do drink, are drinking more – teenagers are drinking twice as much as they did in 1990, and women are drinking almost as much as men. People in their 30s and 40s are drinking more when at home. You may have your own ideas why this is.
- Alcohol is very cheap and you can buy it almost anywhere
- Drinking in pubs is more expensive
- People are drinking differently – drinking more and some drinking stronger drinks e.g. wine or premium strength beers/ciders
- People don’t measure drinks when they drink at home
Everybody is doing it…aren’t they?
Drinking alcohol has become so acceptable that if you choose not to drink when other people are, it can be embarrassing and difficult. Why is this? If someone you socialise with says they don’t want to drink, are they treated differently? Do you feel strange drinking around anyone sober?
A common idea is that just about everybody is drinking regularly. This is an easy assumption to make - it could just be because people who like to do something (like drinking) spend time with others who do the same.
Not everyone is drinking the same amount – but the number of people drinking too much, like it or not, is costing us an estimated £20 billion per year in England
Nobody wants to get a lecture about their drinking, and we’d rather not ask you to change your ways and stop enjoying life.
So: how can we stop alcohol costing us more? How can we make sure our families don’t bear the burden?
Most people are lower-risk drinkers
Where can I get more information or help?
If you want to speak to someone in confidence about your drinking – with no pressure – or maybe about someone else, then you can approach your GP or practice nurse at your local surgery.
If you think your drinking is becoming more of a problem and you need help to cope, contact one of the support services listed.
I want to tell you what I think...
This is a controversial issue and you may have something to say. We hope we’ve given you something to mull over. Maybe we’ve told you about something new. Do you have experiences you’d like to share? Or tips to pass onto others? Maybe you just want to voice your opinion about some of this? We’d love to hear from you.
You can join the conversation here: www.facebook.com/boozeandviews
You’ll also find topical debates, quizzes & more. We welcome your suggestions.
What is the ‘Think about your drinking’ campaign about?
This campaign is about the big part that alcohol has come to play in our culture. For many it is part of
everyday life, and unless it causes illness or violence, the subject of drinking is taken lightly. It’s something most of us laugh about, and we don’t see the harm of it. Sometimes the effects can be subtle or take a long time to impact on us. This campaign is not about stopping people drinking altogether, or spoiling anyone’s enjoyment. It is not here to tell you what to do. But it is here to ask you to do one thing: think about your drinking.