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alcohol health alliance uk

Nearly half of NE drinkers who drank more last year felt WORSE

Alcohol - not the answer

Alcohol - not the answer

Posted 01/02/21

Nearly half (44%) of North East drinkers who found themselves drinking more in the last year feel WORSE as a result, according to a new survey by Balance.

2020 was a dreadful year and 2021 not much better so far – but the survey of over 600 people in the North East and North Cumbria suggests that the hangovers, tiredness and low mood caused by alcohol are not the answer.

Meanwhile one in 5 drinkers (18%) say there have been more arguments and tension in their family during the pandemic because of alcohol.

It comes as Balance re-launches the Alcohol-Not the Answer campaign. COVID-19 has been a worrying time but drinking most days can weaken our immune system against infectious diseases like Covid. It can also increase anxiety and depression and raise the risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke.

The campaign launched in November 2020 and led to half (50%) of increasing and higher risk drinkers who saw it feeling like they should cut down, a fifth (21%) of drinkers cutting down how often they drank and a fifth (19%) cutting down on how much they drink[i]. Another 70,000 people also visited the reducemyrisk.tv website for more information.

Meanwhile a separate survey from Public Health England found that nearly half of those who increased their alcohol intake during the second lockdown (45%) intend to reduce their alcohol intake in 2021 [ii].

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “It is too easy for regular drinking to creep up and turn into a daily habit, putting our physical health more at risk from a range of serious conditions and making us feel more tired and more depressed.

“These are worrying times but drinking more is not the answer. In fact, it is clear that many people who drank more in 2020 say it made them feel worse.

“The positive news is that many people who found themselves drinking more want to reduce their drinking in 2021. Some good ways to cut down are to take more drink free days and try to stay within no more than 14 units a week. Keeping alcohol in check is an important way to protect our overall health and fitness for the time when we emerge from this crisis.”

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and lead DPH for alcohol for the North East, said: “The pressures of Covid and lockdown have thrown many people’s lives into worry and chaos. When it comes to alcohol, a huge concern is that heavier drinkers, often men, tend to be drinking more and during the first lockdown we saw a significant increase in people on furlough seeking support.

“While some people have had a wake-up call and are cutting back, the risk is that a daily habit is turning into high risk drinking and dependency, storing up major health problems for the future and placing additional strain on our NHS and public services including an increase in people presenting to treatment services for the first time.

“Alcohol continues to cause unnecessary damage to families and communities across England and we are particularly vulnerable to this harm in the North East. We need a national strategy from the government to tackle alcohol which means addressing price, promotion and the number of places it’s available.”

Graham Carter, 59, from Sunderland, cut back following a series of health scares including being diagnosed with fatty liver tissue and a heart attack, which made him more determined to lead a healthier lifestyle.

He said: “When my blood test results came back, they showed early signs of a pre-fatty liver – an indication that I could have problems with my liver in the future or that I could get diabetes. Although I was reassured it was an early sign, it gave me a shock.

“I have recovered from my heart attack and I’m feeling much better, but it’s on my mind and I want to do all I can to be around for my family. I believe my old lifestyle had an impact on my health.

“Alcohol was part of my daily routine – it was a case of finishing work, going home, opening a bottle of wine, going to the supermarket if there wasn’t one in the house.

“Now I don’t drink on a work night and we try to keep to a couple of glasses of wine at the weekend. I do feel fitter, livelier, sleep easier and don’t snore. I’m also feeling more supple and more mobile – I do car mechanics so it means I can get under my car easier.

“I didn’t want to be seen as an old man – I wanted to feel younger and I don’t have that lethargy.”

Here’s how alcohol can affect us:

Immune system: The World Health Organisation has warned that alcohol use, especially heavy use, can weaken the immune system and leave us more vulnerable to infectious diseases like Covid [iii].

Physical Health: Regularly drinking above 14 units a week increases the risk of a range of conditions, including heart disease, stroke and seven types of cancer. Alcohol can increase your risk of high blood pressure and stroke, even if you don’t drink very large amounts. And if you’ve had a stroke, alcohol could increase your risk of another stroke.

Mental health: According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, regularly drinking alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can increase the risk of depression, low mood and anxiety. Drinking could be making you feel more tired and more down.

Weight: Many people aren’t sure about the number of calories in their drinks, but these can easily stack up. Reducing how much alcohol we drink is a good way to keep our weight in check.

Chief Medical Officer guidelines are that men and women should not drink more than 14 units a week to keep health risks from alcohol low. 14 units means around six pints of regular strength beer or lager, six standard glasses of wine or seven double measures of spirits a week.

For tips, tools, stories and advice to help you cut down visit reducemyrisk.tv.