Alcohol consumption will soon follow smoking and meat-eating in becoming a social evil

The number of units people drink is declining and consuming less may soon become a badge of honour in the same way not smoking or not eating meat have become

Tola Fisher
Sunday 03 November 2019 16:16
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Daily glass of wine increases risk of early death by 20 per cent, study shows

I grew up in a teetotal household and my siblings still don’t drink. I was with my English ex-husband on my first visit to a pub and I asked the baffled bartender if they had any herbal teas. By the time we split up, I was pairing wine with my food and turning my nose up at the lower shelves in the alcohol aisles at Waitrose.

We are a nation of drinkers. But stats show that the number of us drinking is steadily declining. The latest Health Survey for England (HSE) says that the proportion of both men and women drinking at increased or higher risk of harm (more than 14 units per week) decreased between 2011 and 2017; from 34 per cent to 28 per cent of men, and from 18 per cent to 14 per cent of women.

In the second series of his reality TV show with wife Vogue Williams, Spencer Matthews shared his plans to produce alcohol-free gin. As he celebrates being sober for just over a year, Matthews predicts that alcohol will soon go the way of meat and cigarettes – both tainted with links to ill health and the environmental crisis.

With many of us claiming to be flexitarian – someone whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat and fish – it can be hard to get realistic figures on our meat-eating habits. According the The Grocer, most British shoppers still describe themselves as meat eaters, with only 2 per cent identifying as vegan. But almost 20 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds say they don’t eat meat with a third of those under 35 say they are looking to eat less meat in the next 12 months. As for smoking, the public ban in the UK came into effect in July 2007 but the HSE reported that cigarette smoking among adults was already on the decline. Between 1993 and 2017, the percentage of adults smoking fell from 27 per cent to 17 per cent.

Smoking and eating meat are fast becoming the social ills of the 21st century and it looks like alcohol consumption might be joining them.

Last month was Sober October, an initiative by cancer charity Macmillan. Sober October is a challenge for people to say no to booze for 31 days and raise money for people living with cancer. The challenge being, of course, that most of us have a glass of wine, or something else, at the end of a good/bad day. There are also the temptations of bottomless brunch cocktails at the weekend and a few more glasses with our Sunday roast. And this is before we factor in date drinks, pre-drinks, nights out drinks, leaving drinks, birthday drinks and Friday drinks.

But how do we feel about those of us who don’t drink? Known for their contribution to awkward dining experiences, meat avoiders may be unpopular house guests but there are a growing number of restaurants catering for specific diets. And smokers can pop out for a quick cigarette without really bothering anyone, unless you’re left shuffling around awkwardly inside on your own.

When it comes to drinking, people always want to know why – are you pregnant? On a diet? On antibiotics? In a large group, a non-drinker will always stand out and awkwardly so, when it comes to buying rounds with your colleagues.

But there are many good reasons to stop drinking. As I get older, I feel the effects of alcohol much more than I did a decade ago, and it no longer seems worth it to spend my weekend in recovery after a heavy Friday night.

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I know lots of people who look forward to the reprieve of Dry January after an indulgent Christmas period – either from the shame of alcohol-induced behaviour or overconsumption. A friend of mine deliberately stopped buying alcohol to save money and pay off her credit card bill. She did it in less than six months.

Right now, I’m tempted to give it up for my physical and financial health. I’ve noticed I have lighter and easier periods when I stop drinking for a while – and more money in my bank account. I’d like to give an alcohol-free lifestyle a try, but it might take a while to get my social life on side. Maybe I’ll start in January? I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

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