Stylish racegoers go big on glamour (and hats) at this year's Ascot
The dangers of binge-drinking
The party season is on the horizon – bringing with it a plethora of opportunities to either let your hair down, enjoy a few drinks and socialise with friends, or, depending on your ability to say ‘enough is enough’, get sick in your hair, drink until you can’t see straight and make a fool of yourself in front of everyone you know.
It’s really up to you. However, health experts have noted a number of worrying trends regarding adults and alcohol consumption, fuelled partly by a lack of education as far as knowing when to put the cork back into the bottle is concerned.
In one example, the charity 4Children recently warned of a “silent epidemic” of alcohol misuse amongst middle-class parents, who are drinking excessively as a way of coping with the demands of family life.
The charity’s report claims that two million parents drink alcohol daily, with higher earners imbibing the most, and suggests that around a third of mothers and fathers exceed their recommended units every week. Despite this, most (62%) of the 575 parents questioned said that their drinking habits had no impact on their family life.
The campaign group Drinkaware (drinkaware.co.uk), meanwhile, warns that while we have seen some improvements in drinking behaviour, there are still a number of knowledge gaps which need to be filled, particularly regarding units of alcohol. Drinkaware’s Sohila Sawhney says: “According to NHS Information Centre Statistics on Alcohol in England, there has been a long-term downward trend in the proportion of adults who reported drinking on at least one day in the week prior to interview. In 1998, 59% of women drank on at least one day in the week prior to interview, compared to 54% of women in 2010. We are also seeing really positive changes in the attitudes and behaviours of under-25s when it comes to alcohol.
“At the same time, there has been an 11% increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions between 2009/10 and 2010/11, so there is still a lot of work to be done to educate consumers and help them make healthy lifestyle choices, particularly with understanding units and keeping to the advised guidelines.”
Everything in moderation
First things first – no-one is saying you should cut out alcohol completely and adopt a completely monastic lifestyle. Alcohol is fine, and has even been linked to moderate health benefits (such as the antioxidant content of red wine) – so long as you drink it in moderation. Sawhney says: “The government advises women should not drink more than 2-3 units a day, the equivalent of a medium 175ml glass of wine. Regularly drinking more than this (every day or most days of the week) can put you at increased risk of health problems.”
The term ‘binge-drinking’ probably makes you think of teenagers falling out of clubs and puking into the gutter, but the reality is quite different. In fact – you probably ‘binge’ on booze more often than you think. “Binge drinking for women is drinking more than six units,” says Sawhney, “that’s the equivalent of two medium glasses of wine.”
“Drinking a lot of alcohol very quickly can also cause alcohol poisoning which can leave you feeling confused, nauseas and prone to blackout. Many of the traditional ‘cures’ for alcohol poisoning – giving someone black coffee, making them sick or leaving them to sleep it off – can do more harm than good.
“In the long-term, regular excessive drinking has a range of health consequences from weight gain to increasing your risk of developing cancer, heart disease and liver disease – which has no warning signs. Alcohol is a depressant, too much of it can alter the brain’s chemistry and increases the risk of depression.”
If the long-term health risks aren’t enough to convince you to rein in your drinking, then perhaps the thought of not being able to slip into your little black dress this Christmas will help twist your arm. Booze is incredibly calorific, says Siobhan McCann, Head of Campaigns and Communication at Drinkaware.
“December and the festive season is a time for getting together with friends and loved ones to celebrate – in fact lots of people say it is the one month of the year they can drink and not feel guilty,” she says. But extra tipples at Christmas parties and other occasions all add up and so do the calories. Two glasses of champagne have a similar number of calories as a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine is the equivalent of eating three pieces of chocolate orange.”
Beat the binge
With so many shindigs to go to, it’s easy to lose discipline and forget how many drinks you’ve had. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to stay on the sensible side of tipsy. McCann says: “Adopting simple tips like only accepting a top up when your glass is empty, choosing a smaller glass size and alternating alcoholic drinks with soft ones can help ensure you have a merry festive season without it turning into an extended hangover.”
Sawhney adds this advice: “Start moderating your drinking by making smart changes like drinking lower alcoholic drinks, drinking water instead of an alcoholic drink if you’re thirsty and make sure you stick to the daily guidelines of 2-3 units for women.”
The NHS also recommends working out a daily limit and sticking to it, doing more activities that do not involve drinking (such as taking up a new sport or hobby), eating before you consume alcohol and letting your friends and family know that you are trying to drink less, so they won’t keep topping up your glass.
Extra vigilance is required if you’re out with colleagues. Embarrassing yourself in front of your BFFs is one thing – doing it in the company of colleagues can have disastrous consequences. McCann says: “When Drinkaware interviewed over 2,000 18-24 year olds, 52% of them admitted to getting ‘very drunk’ with colleagues at least once a month, with 61% admitting they had done something they regret as a result of drinking too much after work. It may feel like the thing to do… but drinking to excess can damage your reputation and career.”
To prevent this from happening, and to avoid the various health problems caused by extreme drinking sessions, start keeping a diary of your alcohol consumption, or track it using a tool like mydrinkaware.co.uk, an online drinks diary and unit calculator which provides you with personalised feedback based on your input.
Finally, if you feel like you’ve done everything you can to cut down on your drinking, without success, then don’t be scared to talk to your GP. It could save your health, and your reputation.