- Diageo is failing to provide latest guidelines on their products
- Drinks companies keeping consumers in dark about risky drinking
- Reducing alcohol consumption can address health inequalities
- Alcohol-specific deaths remain at very high levels
- Oh Lila goes digital
- Global first alcohol policy set to save hundreds of Scots' lives
- AFS welcomes minimum unit pricing for alcohol
- Walker's crisp ad exposes children to alcohol marketing
- Truer picture of alcohol harm revealed
- Focus on link between alcohol and obesity
- Alcohol causes 3,700 deaths in Scotland every year
- Last Christmas for heavily discounted alcohol
- Scotland's licensing system needs clearer direction
- Minimum pricing blog
- Minimum pricing gets green light
- Reflections on GAPC 2017
- Alcohol brands and young people
- Time for honest conversations about alcohol
- Q&A on alcohol marketing
- UK children anxious about parents' drinking
- Quarter of Scots drink above guidelines
- Alcohol producers failing to inform public
- Concern over alcohol-related deaths
- We need to make it easier for people to drink less
- Worrying rise in alcohol-related deaths
- Minimum pricing will save lives
- Pocket money prices for alcohol continue
- Scotland's alcohol problem laid bare
- Cheap alcohol is costing Scotland dear
- One drink a day can increase breast cancer risk
- Poverty linked to increased harm from alcohol
- What next for reducing alcohol harm in Scotland?
- Scotland must do more to turn tide of alcohol harm
- Concern as funding for alcohol services cut
- Budget: No change in alcohol duty
- Scottish Government urged to curb alcohol marketing
- Consumers have the right to know health risks
- Chancellor urged to tackle cheap, strong cider in Budget
- Online help for families affected by alcohol
- Alcohol-free childhood is healthiest option
- SWA granted leave to appeal minimum pricing
- Drink drive warning
- Scottish Greens call for action on alcohol marketing
- Scottish Government receives European alcohol award
- SWA will appeal to UK Supreme Court
- Half of alcohol being sold under 50p per unit
- SWA urged to respect minimum pricing decision
- Alcohol and mental health are closely linked
- Minimum pricing can be implemented in Scotland
- Alcohol sold at pocket money prices
- Scotland has so much to gain from reducing how much we drink
- AFS welcomes revised alcohol consumption guidelines
- Emergency services face shocking levels of alcohol abuse
- Every child has the right to grow up safe from alcohol harm
- Public health must prevail over big business
- New toolkit to help children affected by family alcohol problems
- Price check reveals cheap cost of strong alcohol
- Sales increase underlines need for minimum pricing
- Time to kick alcohol out of sport
- Alcohol linked with stomach cancer
- AFS calls for compulsory health warnings on alcoholic drinks
- Are supermarkets 'responsible retailers' when it comes to alcohol?
- Scottish health charities call for excise duty rise to tackle cheap alcohol
- Alcohol campaigners unite to call for stronger protection from alcohol advertising to children
- New resource for people concerned about alcohol in their community
- Minimum pricing decision delayed until summer
- No completely 'safe' level of drinking
- New alcohol guidelines published
- Minimum pricing - European court ruling
- Alcohol fuels ambulance assaults
- 82% of Scots agree drink driving is unacceptable
- Scotland's alcohol strategy - what next?
- Scotland leads way in evidence-based alcohol policy
- New report reveals impact of alcohol on emergency services
- Alcohol: a global concern
Time for honest conversations about alcohol
When I tell someone I haven’t met before that I’m the Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, it’s amazing how many people get defensive about how much they drink.
Most of us - including me - like to have a drink but we also like to disassociate ourselves from some of the more problematic aspects of drinking. There are certain stock arguments many of us turn to, to reassure ourselves that our own drinking is okay.
“Everyone else is drinking the same as me, if not more.”
But do we realise how much we are drinking? When responding to surveys, people tend to under-estimate the amount that they consume. We often don’t know how many units are in our drinks, and many of us aren’t aware of the recommended drinking guidelines.
“The amount I drink is normal.”
It’s clear that drinking alcohol is viewed as a ‘normal’ part of society but the damage that it causes is under-estimated or under-played because drinking is so socially acceptable. At the end of the day, alcohol is a toxic substance that can create dependence and causes serious health and social problems. Just because we don’t want to hear that something we enjoy carries health risks doesn’t alter the scientific evidence - there is no completely safe level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is linked to a wide range of diseases and conditions including breast and bowel cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and mental health problems.
“It’s young folk that are the problem. We need to be educating kids about alcohol in schools.”
Young people are drinking less than ever before, although those who do drink are drinking more. It’s those of us in middle age who are drinking most and suffering the biggest health problems. And, whilst education has a role, the research tells us that it only works in combination with other measures, such as increasing the price, reducing the availability, and restricting the marketing of alcohol.
“My kids aren’t affected by my drinking.”
Kids are far more aware of what their parents are up to than we realise. At a minimum our attitudes and behaviours to alcohol are likely to help shape theirs. But alcohol can also get in the way of us spending time with our kids and giving them our full attention. In other instances, where as a result of drinking our behaviour changes or becomes unpredictable, this may cause them anxiety or upset.
“Government and health groups like you should just butt out – how much I drink is up to me.”
Assuming we are not harming anyone else, each of us needs to make up our own minds whether and how much we want to drink. When making that decision, everyone has the right to know what is in their drink, and what the risks are of consuming it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen at the moment. For example, only 1 in 10 people are aware of the link between cancer and drinking too much, and a recent audit has found that only 1 out of 315 products contained the up-to-date drinking guidelines on its label. Without all of this information, it is almost impossible to make an informed decision on our drinking.
Without the right information and healthy environments within which to make our choices, our behaviours are influenced by the heavy marketing and ready availability of alcohol, driven by global alcohol producers. The alcohol industry and the ‘responsible drinking’ bodies they fund, such as Drinkaware, are constantly working to protect their profits by keeping us in the dark about the health risks of drinking. They have recently been found to misrepresent the evidence about alcohol and the risk of cancer, borrowing from the tactics of tobacco companies to deny the evidence, confuse and distract consumers.
“Making alcohol more expensive or changing how it’s advertised won’t make any difference, us Scots will always have a problem with alcohol.”
It is disheartening to hear that people in Scotland are so resigned and accepting of alcohol harm, even when the evidence is clear that changes can be made. By tackling the cheap, readily available and heavily marketed alcohol, we can all benefit.
Let’s not kid ourselves – Scotland has a problem with alcohol. Even though more of us describe ourselves as non-drinkers, those of us who do drink are drinking more. Last year, enough alcohol was sold in Scotland for each drinker to have drunk the equivalent of 48 bottles of vodka, or 124 bottles of wine. When consuming this amount, it’s no surprise that alcohol is one of Scotland’s biggest killers: 24 people a week die due to alcohol.
Often as the conversation continues, people reveal how alcohol has touched their own lives in some way, whether they’ve had problems with alcohol themselves or seen the consequences of harmful drinking on other people in their lives. It may be growing up with a parent who was emotionally absent due to drink; it may be a relationship that broke down due to a partner’s drinking; or it may be the loss of a family member due to alcohol. The fact is that half of us say we’ve been harmed by another person’s drinking.
We need to have grown-up, open conversations about alcohol, and tackle the myths that we hear on a daily basis. We need to be honest with ourselves about how much we are drinking and to discuss what is driving us to drink. It’s time we recognised the true cost of our drinking culture and asked ourselves “Is it worth it?”
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland