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Nearly six in 10 Londoners ‘drink to get drunk’ according to new poll

  • Poll shows 58% of Londoners drink to get drunk
  • This is higher than other regions of the UK
  • Drinking heavily can weaken the immune system, and can make people less likely to social distance, increasing their vulnerability to Covid-19
  • People said they might drink less if they knew how many calories were in their glass, suggesting this might be a way of discouraging excess alcohol consumption in the longer-term

More than half of Londoners who drink alcohol ‘drink to get drunk’, according to a new poll.

The survey, carried out as the UK emerges from lockdown, shows the extent to which alcohol is consumed to excess – and the widespread disregard of its effects on physical, and mental, health.

The finding is even more worrying because, as the police have pointed out, people who are inebriated are unable to socially distance’ whether they are ‘happy’ or ‘angry’ as a result of their drinking. Drinking heavily also weakens immunity and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.

According to the survey of more than 1,000 adults, conducted by the Priory Group, 58% of those in London say they drink to get drunk – the highest result for regions polled, and above the national average, which is still high at 40%.

For other large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, the response rates were slightly lower, but still over half, 51% for Birmingham and 52% for Manchester.

Londoners were also among the highest to feel more comfortable in a social situation only if alcohol was involved – with 59% mentioning this.

This was higher than in the North East (51%), and the North West (54%).

Yet image-conscious Londoners are concerned with the way they look, specifically their weight: 61% of those from London said they would cut down on drinking if they knew the calorie content of the drink (vs the national average of 48%).

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, a leading UK addiction expert based at the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, said; “Drinking to get drunk is dangerous, and cannot be a worse strategy. It can quickly become habitual, and as drink is a depressant, it will have an effect on your mental as well as physical health. I see it all the time in my patients.

Alcohol has effects, both short-term and long-term, on almost every single organ of your body and even in small quantities is known to cause certain types of cancer.

And overall, the evidence suggests that there is no safe limit – in fact, the risk of damage to your health increases with each drink of alcohol consumed.

“Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and therefore reduces your ability to cope with infectious diseases, including Covid-19.

Dr Campbell added: “While some are now going to bars and pubs to drink, many people are working from home or ‘drinking from home’ as one lawyer put it, and some are slipping into habits of drinking earlier to cope with the stress of lockdown, job insecurity, and concerns about a global recession.

Drinking at home is much cheaper than drinking in a pub or restaurant, and there are fewer social constraints by which I mean there are less people around you making you feel you need to stop – and none if you live alone. And there is constant access to alcohol.

“We need to transform the way we talk about alcohol so we all understand exactly how much we are drinking – and what it is doing to us. This is especially important because we all want to live longer – and may be expected to work longer, and work longer hours in a recession – in good health.”

Top ten tips to give up alcohol

The 'look yourself in the mirror' moment

Dr Campbell said: "I see lives devastated by alcohol. You need to look honestly at your weekly alcohol consumption. Keep a drink diary if you don't know. Familiarise yourself with what a 'unit' consists of and what the alcohol unit guidelines are (no more than 14 units a week). It's not as simple as one drink, one unit. Large wine glasses hold 250ml, which is nearly three units or more in a single glass. Likewise, one pint of strong lager can contain more than three units of alcohol. A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine contains around 10 units. By knowing what you consume, you can make the decision to stop. If you are a heavy drinker and stop suddenly, you can get withdrawal seizures so you should always consult a doctor. I often see people whose drinking levels have crept up on them over several years and who use alcohol to cope with unreasonable work pressures, or life crises such as divorce or bereavement. But drinking is not a coping strategy.

Know your ABVs

When looking at your consumption, consider the ABV of what you were drinking. Wine that says '13 ABV' - ABV stands for 'alcohol by volume' - on its label contains 13% pure alcohol. The ABV of popular 'new world' wines from New Zealand and Australia can be more than European wines. You won't have to worry about any of this when you stop drinking.

What's your real motivation for stopping?

Ask yourself why? I say to patients at the Priory that they should assess alcohol’s true toll on their physical, mental and emotional health. Remind yourself of your worst or most embarrassing hangover. Do you constantly feel lethargic and foggy-headed at work? Do you lose days to hangovers? Do you find it hard to kick-start yourself in the mornings? Thinking about these things will help you decide you really want to change, because the benefits of giving up alcohol are manifold. Now is a good time to give up alcohol. The present situation is a unique opportunity to quit drinking, or at least to cut down considerably, as various social events aren’t possible.

Get allies

Talk to a friend and, if possible, get them to give up alcohol at the same time as you - then support each other. You might take up a sport at the same time, go running together, or swap your lagers for lattes. Discuss times when you might be tempted to go the pub and opt for the cinema or coffee bar, or binge watch Netflix. Discuss your mutual motivations for giving up alcohol. Even a Phone App might be useful as your supportive buddy. Spend time with friends who don't drink.

Resist peer pressure

Mentally prepare how you will refuse alcohol, though it's far more common now for non-drinkers to say 'I am not drinking at the moment'. You don't have to use the old cliché that you are on antibiotics. Keep away from supermarket aisles stocked full of alcohol. Don't put yourself in a high-risk situation.

Instead of alcohol?

Low alcohol beer is ok although it can give you a taste for the real stuff. But think of this period of partial lockdown as a detox and you might want to give up caffeine at the same time. Get in the habit of drinking at least five glasses of water each day as your body desperately needs water for almost everything it does. Fruit juices are better than caffeinated, artificially sweetened soft drinks.

Think of losing weight

Giving up alcohol is a huge incentive to losing weight and looking better, because there are lots of hidden calories in alcohol. According to a YouGov survey, the average wine drinker in England takes in around 2,000 calories from alcohol every month. Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200 calories over a year, which is equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts.

You can drive everywhere

Giving up alcohol means no more worrying about who is driving at the end of a night out or a weekend lunch, or no more expensive taxi journeys home.

Count the cash

You will have more money in your wallet when you give up drinking. If you spend, say, around £20 a week on 2 bottles of wine, you will save £1,040 by the year's end. Invest in something you enjoy, and reward yourself.

So - those other benefits...

I had a patient whose skin was puffy and blotchy as a result of alcohol. Now their skin is completely fine. This is an important confidence booster in our image-obsessed world. But there are loads of other benefits to giving up alcohol; your blood sugar will normalise, you will feel much more clear-headed, less depressed and your sleep patterns are likely to improve within a week. Heavy drinking causes blood cells to become larger and that makes you more tired because they are unable to transport oxygen efficiently around the body. Alcohol is toxic to your largest organ - your skin. The toxins make your skin less elastic and it is very ageing. Your liver will begin to repair itself in as little as two months. Many people report that their mood or outlook on life seems better. Reducing your weight brings a lot of other benefits. You help to reduce further your risk of developing Type II diabetes and you lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your blood pressure drops, and you may find pain on your joints reduces as the body isn't trying to carry as much weight. If you fall off the wagon just get back on. Don't beat yourself up about it. Drinking alcohol is a well-established factor for a range of cancers, including tumours of the mouth, liver, breast and colon and bowel. And the risk of cancer rises with levels of alcohol consumed. New figures show that accumulated drinking over a lifetime is taking its toll. Older people are increasingly dying from alcohol abuse as decades of drinking take their toll on the baby-boomer generation. That's a wake-up call for us all.

ENDS

The online survey was conducted by Atomik Research on behalf of Priory Group, among 1,004 respondents from the UK, all of whom drank alcohol to some degree. The research fieldwork took place on 13th – 14th July 2020. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.

For interviews or inquiries, please contact communications@priorygroup.com

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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