We find ourselves in the midst of that time of year, when scrutiny of our national drinking habits intensifies, futile resolutions to cut out alcohol abound, and we are bombarded with studies, statistics and warnings over the effects our consumption will have on our weak, succumbing bodies.
The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, is already on record suggesting women should think ‘Do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?’ every time they have a glass of wine. (That after cutting the recommended number units of alcohol per week for men in half in January of last year.) Then, of course, we had the suggestion from NICE that ‘problem drinkers’ should be subjected to mandatory liver scans, and earlier this week, were told that rates of liver cancer were up fourfold in Ireland, alcohol being to blame.
Those with an agenda against drinking pull no punches in spelling out the dangers to the public. And if it is this attitude that is partially to blame for the demise of British pubs – CAMRA says 29 closed per week last year – research suggests the trend may have more negative repercussions, well beyond the nostalgia for lost local businesses.
Psychologists at Oxford have stated in the journal Adaptive Human Behaviour and Psychology that alcohol makes people happier and broadens their social circles, which in turn affects their mental wellbeing and satisfaction with life.
‘Frequenting a local pub can directly affect people’s social network size and how engaged they are with their local community’, claimed professor Robin Dunbar. ‘Our social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness.’
This will come as little surprise to anyone who spends time down their local with a group of friends; the demon drink is the means on which so many of us base our social interactions. Yes, it can have negative effects on our physical health – sometimes, it can kill us – but then, so can anything in a dangerous quantity.
People often aren’t as stupid as health bodies seem to believe them to be. They are aware of what alcohol’s hold is. Yet they keep drinking, much as smokers, for all the efforts to eradicate them, continue to smoke. Why? Because they enjoy it.
Rob Lyons made the case for smoking in Spiked last week, and the same applies to the issue of alcohol consumption. People regularly experience the impact that going for a drink can have on their lives, and frankly, for many people, a trip to the pub on a Friday after work, or a weekend watching the football, pint in hand, is the escape they crave from the drudge of their working lives. That exhilaration, not to mention the endorphins released by contact with others, is surely worth its weight in gold to so many people.
At a time when a crisis of mental health looms large on the horizon of our collective conscious, it seems counter-productive of the CMO and others to try to taint the drinking habits of the public with tinges of guilt every time they tiptoe up to the bar.
A report yesterday claimed that depression was behind 15 per cent of coronary diseases. Men, especially, struggle to deal with discussing personal issues. Pushing them into silence, when the relaxation of alcohol and socialising might help them discuss fears they may have with others, can’t be a good idea.
Of course the intention of lobbyists and health bodies is admirable, but it isn’t their role to bully. Men and women must be free to decide for themselves what is important to them. Besides, even if longevity is achieved, will it make people happy? What’s a long life with no joy to fill it?
Winter is a difficult time to be cheerful without resolutions. If you’re feeling low or unhealthy, put down the green tea, shun dry January, and go to the pub with people who make you laugh. It’s good for you.