Parent organisation of Community Links, Foundation and Bridging the Gap

Alcohol Awareness Week – July 2024

Alcohol Awareness Week – July 2024

‘Understanding Alcohol Harm’

For Alcohol Awareness Week this year we caught up with our CEO, Ruth Kettle about what this week means to her and why it is important to start conversations about how alcohol can cause harm and the changes that need to be made to support those affected by alcohol use.

Not having drunk any alcohol for 4 years I am unsure if that makes me well placed or not to write a blog for Alcohol Awareness Week! 

Thankfully Alcohol Change.Uk, who co-ordinate the campaign every year, have a great website and resources which you can find here

This year’s campaign is to get everyone talking about the role that alcohol plays in our society, and what it means to families, communities, health workers and those in our emergency services.

Alcohol is still centralised in our lives and many of us couldn’t contemplate going out on a night or to a family or social event without a drink to help us relax.  It has been really interesting for me since I stopped drinking how challenging many people find it and how much they try to encourage you to drink or tell you how boring you are! (Who me! Never)

The acceptance of alcohol in British culture is quite at odds with the harm it can do to our health, well-being and relationships.  Each year thousands of people experience long-term health problems as a result of the alcohol they drink or die from alcohol-related causes.  It can be incredibly difficult to address drinking even when it is at harmful levels due to both physical and psychological factors.  

So many of the incidents that Police or emergency services are called to are fuelled by alcohol.  I was at a Police and Crime meeting recently and heard how two friends had an argument on a night out and a single punch had caused the death of one of them.  Tragic.

Talking about harm and problematic drinking can be challenging.  It’s hard to be honest with yourself as to the true extent of your drinking, negative attitudes towards people with problematic drinking can be a barrier to asking for help, it can be difficult to have a conversation about harm reduction without coming across as judgemental.  It’s also hard not to drink at all as you can be treated as if you have broken rank, or that you think you are better than others, but if you ask, everyone has their own story as to why they made the decision to quit.

A press release from 2020 highlights the increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic due to stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, the truth is that increasing levels of drinking usually makes your mental health worse, with the impact in 2020 being disproportionate for ethnic minorities, young people and parents of under 18’s. 

My decision to quit drinking was driven by lockdown and becoming pre-diabetic. Drinking cider with a whopping 10g sugar in every can (alongside far too many sweets) I decided as a single parent to 2 young children that working from home and having the kids with me 24/7 would not end well if I drank through lockdown; so, I gave up “until lockdown finished” but it dragged on for so long I just kept going.  Now my decision to continue not to drink alcohol is based on my health. Using my diet to reverse my pre-diabetes and no longer drinking alcohol have seen such an improvement to my well-being.  I do confess to accepting fewer social invitations especially where they are solely based around drinking.

What is clear to me is that we are living in a paradoxical situation with regards to how we relate to alcohol. Drinking alcohol is bad for your health in many ways, but we positively encourage it, build it in to our social structure and social celebrations – think 18th birthday first legal pint rite of passage as one example – yet we marginalise, judge and shame people who are experiencing problematic drinking, which can often prevent people from getting the help they need.

So what can we do?

If you are concerned about your drinking:

Talk to your GP or visit the Alcohol Change UK website to find out about getting support.

Look for services in your local area or contact our EAP helpline (details on InSite)

If you know people who do not drink, respect their decision, its fine to be curious but don’t challenge it. It could be for many different reasons, health, religion, recovery; to name but a few.

In terms of inclusion in the workplace, if you are going on an after work social do think about where you are going and don’t assume everyone is ok to go to a pub or somewhere alcohol is served.  Check that everyone feels comfortable in the environment.  

Let’s start talking about the role alcohol plays in our society, and what it means to us, our clients and our approach to providing support in order that we normalise the conversations, become more aware of each other’s relationship to alcohol and hopefully anyone who is struggling feels more able to seek support being in an environment where alcohol use is discussed with openness and curiosity, not judgement.