What is your relationship with alcohol? Do you view it as a warm friend who’s always there to relax you after a hard day or week? Do you see alcohol as that confidence boost so that you become the ‘life and soul of the party’? Or is it an addictive, harmful enemy tempting you to a life of dependency and ill health?
Sometimes we might be faced with differing facts about alcohol. For example, is red wine good for your heart? Does alcohol have certain health benefits? Depending on what you read and where you read it, the answers you get to those questions will be different. But one fact is repeated time and time again and that is that the more alcohol you consume, the worse it is for you.
So how can alcohol harm us?
Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions. Evidence shows that any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer, but the more we drink, the high the risk. We know brain function can be impacted through heavy persistent drinking and increases the risk of developing the most common forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. Sexual activity can be inhibited in men through temporary impotence or preventing ejaculation and in women alcohol consumption can result in vaginal dryness.
In terms of mental health, we know that alcohol has been described as ‘the UK’s favourite coping mechanism’, and many of us drink to try and help manage stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. Alcohol is a depressant and therefore depression and heavy drinking is connected. This means either of these conditions increases a person’s chances of experiencing the other.
Behaviourally we understand that alcohol can cloud our judgement, resulting in issues such as drink driving, casual sexual engagements, unprotected sex or non-consensual sexual intercourse.
So what should we do?
As a psychotherapist I would recommend the following:
- Be aware of your own drinking habits and notice when you drink – is it regularly in response to an emotional stimulus? Do you regularly drink alone?
- Ask yourself whether drinking is having a harmful effect on you, but you still do it?
- Do you find it difficult to stop?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I’d recommend you seek further advice and support.
Whatever your relationship with alcohol, I’d recommend that you keep in mind the CMO’s guidelines of not consuming more than 14 units per week and to spread these over three or more days and with a few days off. These guidelines are here to ensure your relationship with alcohol is as safe as possible.