Friday 30 September 2016

The trouble with sobering truths on drink

Published 03/08/2015 | 02:30

What are the consequences: Of scenes like the one captured in the film Interiors?
What are the consequences: Of scenes like the one captured in the film Interiors?

Last night I was fully clothed. My dress didn't ride up and expose half my bottom, probably because I was wearing jeans. I didn't slump on a pavement, looking as if I was about to pass out, but then I was sitting in a chair. I didn't throw up over my friend's handbag, and I didn't feel the world spinning. But I did have a drink. I had two big glasses of rioja and an Aperol spritz, a mix of prosecco and an aperitif made with orange, gentian and rhubarb.

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If the media's cameras had caught me, they would have seen a member of a dangerous new breed. We are middle-class, middle-aged drinkers and we are, according to new research, "sleepwalking" our way to ill-health. The research is contained in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, and it starts at 50 - which, to be honest, makes me want another little tiny drop.

The study looked at "older" people who are healthy, active, sociable and highly educated, and concludes that we are more at risk of harmful drinking than our "less well-off peers". We are, it seems, outdrinking the binge drinkers. We are even outdrinking da yoof. Oh, the shame!

The trouble is, units have shrunk. Well, perhaps they haven't literally shrunk, but in the old days a unit was a glass of wine, and now that glasses are the size of buckets a unit seems about a thimble of Chablis.

The trouble is, there is sex discrimination. Men, according to the guidelines (which must have been drawn up by a man, or perhaps the Old Testament God), are allowed to drink half as much again as women. I will not be outflanked by a man.

The trouble is, 14 units of alcohol - the recommended maximum allowance for a woman - is a bottle and a half of wine. You can get through that in a couple of nights.

The trouble is, the science. You could, I suppose, take the same view that so many Americans do about global warming: you could say that you don't like the science, and therefore the science must be wrong. But quite a few Americans also believe that owning guns reduces crime.

I was recently invited to a private dinner to talk about "everyday freedoms to eat, drink and be merry" and the threats posed to "free enterprise" by the "nanny state". I can't say exactly who said what, but the man who had worked for the tobacco industry wasn't keen on plain packaging; the woman who used to work for the public health quango thought there was a big role for regulation in public health; and the main feeling around that table seemed to be that people should be free to eat, drink and smoke as much as they like.

I went away feeling a bit queasy. It wasn't the food or the wine, which were very nice, but because I couldn't help feeling that middle-class lifestyle choices tended to work out rather well. Most of us aren't going to go blind because we've eaten so much sugar we've now got diabetes. Most of us can get up a staircase without wheezing, and even sometimes run for a bus.

But where does that leave people like me who definitely, according to all the guidelines, drink too much? I don't get drunk. I've rarely had a hangover. I hardly ever drink at home on my own. I drink wine when I'm with people I like because it feels like a celebration. I drink probably six nights out of seven and I feel healthy and fine. But the science still says that I'm increasing my risk of stroke, liver disease and some cancers. And the science, unfortunately, doesn't lie.

Minimum unit pricing won't help me because I think a bottle of wine for a fiver is a snip. "Education" won't help me because I've read the reports, thanks very much, and they didn't cheer me up - but they didn't make me change my behaviour. I honestly don't know what would make me change my behaviour, because my "behaviour" in relation to alcohol is one of the favourite bits of my life.

It looks as though I have made my choice; many of us have. What we don't yet know, and won't until we see it, is quite how that choice will work out.

© Guardian

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