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New poll shows worrying approach to alcohol as 51% polled in Birmingham admit they’d ‘drink to get drunk’ (but Brummies are also the keenest on explicit health warnings on bottles)

  • National poll shows 40% of people say they drink alcohol ‘to get drunk’
  • But that figure rises to 51% among adults in Birmingham
  • This is lower, however, than Sheffield and Manchester (55% and 52% respectively)
  • Drinking heavily can make people less likely to social distance, increasing their vulnerability to Covid-19
  • 63% of locals said they might drink less if they knew how many calories were in their glass
  • The new results come ahead of the Go Sober for October campaign, encouraging people to ‘ditch the drink’ for a month
  • Priory consultant offers advice on how to stop drinking

In the run-up to Go Sober for October, a national campaign encouraging people to go alcohol-free for a month, a new poll shows that more than half of people polled in Birmingham admitted to drinking alcohol ‘to get drunk’.

However, encouragingly, the impact of drinking on health still seems high on the agenda in Birmingham, with 70% saying alcoholic drinks should carry warnings about the risks of cancers such as breast, bowel and liver (compared to an overall, national response of 59%).

More than eight in 10 (81%) of respondents from Birmingham - a figure higher than any other UK region - said they felt current health warnings on alcohol were “too vague” and words like ‘drink responsibly’ were ineffective.

The survey highlighting alcohol consumption is worrying because, as the police have pointed out, people who are inebriated are unable to socially distance’ whether they are ‘happy’ or ‘angry’. Drinking heavily also weakens immunity, and fuels obesity, and reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.

According to the survey1 of more than 1,000 adults in the UK, commissioned by the Priory Group – the addiction and mental health specialists - 51% of those living in Birmingham say they drink to get drunk – significantly above the regional average across the UK (which is still worryingly high at 40%).

Some 23% of those living in Birmingham thought – incorrectly – that 12 pints of average strength beer or 12 medium glasses of average strength wine was the recommended weekly allowance for adults. (In fact, the figure is much less; fourteen units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.)

People from Birmingham were among the most likely to say they feel more comfortable in a social situation if alcohol is available – with 51% admitting to this. This compares to around a third (33%) of people from Aberdeen and 37% of drinkers living in Sheffield.

And 88% (again, higher than any other region) said they felt the UK has a problem with excess drinking.

As thousands of students return to university over next few weeks, 81% of people from Birmingham said they felt universities should be doing more to prevent excessive alcohol consumption.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, a leading UK addiction expert, 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.

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 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.

The Priory Group manages the Priory Hospital Woodbourne, Birmingham and a Wellbeing Centre in the heart of the city centre (Edmund Street, B3 2HB), allowing fast access to expert treatment.

ENDS

For interviews or inquiries, please contact jo.hudson@trinitypr.co.uk or kitty.weale@trinitypr.co,uk

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.

1 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.

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