Are we really in control of our drinking?

First published at Daily Mail, Right Minds

We like to think that we are in control of our lives and as we declaim our autonomy it’s convenient to ignore all the different social, environmental and historical influences on us and our choices, not to mention our dependency tendencies!

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published their report today on Alcohol Guidelines, which reviewed the attempt to influence our drinking through the current advice given by government on safe limits. Notably they say, “We have heard sufficient concerns from experts to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence on alcohol and health risks is due.”

It also reiterates points that was made in 2020health’s report, From one to many (October 2011) that people don’t realise how much they are drinking, that we don’t understand what a unit is or how many units there are in a bottle of wine or beer and there is a need for more education, especially as guidelines are too generalised. We all respond differently to alcohol and 14 units a week may be all right for a 55 year old 5’10” woman weighing 10 1/2 stone but not for a 21 year old of 5’1″ and 7 stone.

The Commons report is only looking at the unit guidelines, which is important, but it makes me wonder if the Behavioural Change Unit at the heart of government are also doing their bit? Because if we really are going to stem the flow of millions of pounds haemorrhaging out of the economy due to alcohol misuse, we need to take a serious look at the other influences on us. Our GP, our family, our friends, our work are the obvious ones, but what about advertising by the alcohol industry?

More than any other country in Europe we are bombarded with alcohol advertising as we have no laws to restrict their assault. Whether it’s the football league, ordering from Amazon, watching TV or going to the cinema we cannot avoid it and are subjected to attempts to brainwash us into thinking that alcohol is a pre-requisite to having a good time (are we that boring when sober?), it’s refreshing (it dehydrates), it makes you more sexy (really?!) or that you need more! Young people of course are especially vulnerable to these messages. Going to the pub with friends is fun and part of our culture, but if we are going to regain control over our drinking, then an important step towards this is out-lawing the propaganda.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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