In the same way that we’ve discovered the health risks of smoking and obesity, we now know so much more about the impact on our health from drinking too much alcohol. Doctors, health care professionals and the government have been warning us of the consequences for many years, and now the reasons why are becoming crystal clear.
The hard evidence for us all to digest is that, if we don’t drink more mindfully, we are putting ourselves at risk from a heap of health problems. These include more than 60 medical conditions, such as mouth, throat, stomach, liver and brain cancers; liver damage, the most serious being cirrhosis; heart disease; depression; stroke; and pancreatitis. Public Health England state that 10.8m adults in England alone are drinking at levels that pose some risk to their health.
All too often when we are feeling stressed with work or exhausted after getting little ones to bed, tired after a long day or just needing a pick-me-up, a refreshing cold beer or glass of wine is just wonderful. That first glass in the evening hits the spot and because it lifts your mood, it can easily be followed by one more, two more and so on.
It becomes the go-to evening ritual - it become habitual. And then it’s difficult to break the routine. But is it really helping us feel less stressed, relaxing us after a hard day? Or is the alcohol impacting on us in a negative rather than positive way?
Even on a day-to-day basis, alcohol can have a negative impact on our routines and behaviour. A weekend spend partying can leave us feeling frazzled on Monday morning, affecting work and productivity.
Tiredness after a boozy lunch or midweek celebration might mean skipping a workout session. And other good habits can take a knock because late night drinking often goes hand-in-hand with an attack of the munchies – a chocolate or cheese over-eating indulgence that makes you wish you hadn’t by the morning.
Weight gain from excess alcohol is another side effect from these hidden calories. It makes you wonder if it's worth swapping 'empty calories' for a low or no alcohol alternative (that is usually much lower in calories) even just a few times a week.
Fitness, as we know, is one of the best things for our health. It’s good for energy levels and for physical and mental health and protects against chronic illnesses. One of the good things about exercising is that it often does lead to a better moderation of drinking since it helps our wellbeing awareness levels.
So what if you could finish work and meet up with friends for a 40-minute walk and catch up instead of going to the pub? Perhaps you could go to the gym or the squash court at the end of the day? Or say you took your little one out in the running buggy for 30 minutes in the morning before leaving for work, or put on a Joe Wicks workout before your morning shower?
Energy-boosting activities not only make you feel much better in yourself, they also counter the urge to pour that relaxing first drink of the evening. And if you are running before breakfast, then the chances are you will think twice about drinking the night before.
In 2016, the Chief Medical Officer set out ‘the low-risk drinking guidelines’ of 14 units a week for both men and women, spread over a number of days, with several drink-free days a week.
The warnings have caused quite a stir in the drinks industry at a time when one in three 18-24-year-olds have decided not to drink alcohol. And when more than a third of adults have chosen to cut back on their alcohol consumption. The industry shake-up has led to the launch of a much wider range of low or no alcohol options to meet this demand from consumers seeking more choice.
Ben Taylor of tinylittlechanges.com says that more and more people are “sober curious” nowadays, with many finding that they are happier if they drink less or abstain altogether. He goes on to say that “drinking alcohol-free beer actually gives you a boost of the feel-good chemical dopamine. So, if you like to celebrate the end of the day with a ‘relaxing’ cold beer, you may well find that an alcohol-free version gives you exactly the same feeling.”
Supermarkets and bars now stock a wide range of zero alcohol beers, lagers and spirits. But if you're wanting something truly different, not an imitation of an alcoholic drink, look out for ZAG – a light and refreshing alcohol-free healthy soft drink that is low in sugar, crafted from a blend of botanicals, including kombucha, tea, mint and citrus giving a unique taste. A ‘grown-up’ drink versus the sugary, soft drinks that we used to see stocked behind the bar.
Today it is OK to drink NoLo when you are out with friends at a bar or a pub. And it’s not just because you can’t drink because you are driving or pregnant or on antibiotics! It’s because you are joining the ever-increasing number of drinkers who are wary of the effect of alcohol on their physical and mental well-being.