Wednesday 18 April 2018

Wake up tipplers, your nice plonk is not actually doing you any good

As the safe limits for alcohol are lowered, it’s time middle-class drinkers realised a comfortable lifestyle won’t save you from health consequences, writes Barbara Ellen in the Guardian. Read on: 

When are certain drinkers going to realise that they’re just drinkers, consuming alcohol, like everyone else, with no special exemption from health consequences?

Research from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation, which looked at 600,000 drinkers globally, revealed that drinking more than five glasses of wine or beer a week could shorten your life and that the risks for a 40-year-old drinking over the limit were comparable with smoking.

Moreover, while there are some benefits to drinking small amounts, on balance they’re outweighed by other risks. As the new upper safe limit would be around 12.5 units (even stricter than the 2016 guidelines of 14 units a week), the researchers are confident that the alcohol industry will denounce their findings as implausible. I’m sure they will, but they probably won’t be the only ones.

‘People fool themselves that there’s “nice” alcohol and then there’s the other sort.’ Photograph: Tony Stone
Obviously, it’s far more harmful to drink heavily. However, the part of the study relating to moderate drinking appears to be mainly middle-class territory – the “one (or two) glasses of red a night won’t do me any harm and probably quite a bit of good” self-delusion desperados, who seem to think their alcohol can’t hurt them because they bought it from Waitrose.

I don’t mean to sound judgmental about any form of hedonism – given the way I used to drink and smoke, I remain pleasantly surprised that I didn’t end up coughing up my full set of internal organs. This isn’t about morality – it’s about how self-delusion can set it. The politely semi-sozzled culture that decides that having a certain kind of lifestyle (the home, the attitude, the Roberts radio, the organic veg still caked in authentic soil) somehow renders alcohol more benign. These people fool themselves that there’s “nice” alcohol and the other sort and their demurely sipped mid-price plonk is “different” somehow to a slugged-back pint.

In truth, while a better, more moneyed lifestyle (good diet, lower stress, more exercise) protects health generally, alcohol remains stubbornly… well, alcoholic and recognised by the body as such. It could be a pricey bottle or a dented can from the budget bin of the supermarket, but drink too much of it, at the right strength, and it will affect your health.

Oddly, this middle-class blind spot only seems to relate to stealth-drinking. As far as I’m aware, nobody is busy pretending that they’re insulated from the health hazards of cigarettes – that, like with the wine, there’s a moderate way to smoke that is “actually healthier than non-smoking”. Nor do you tend to get people sticking a needle in their arm at dinner parties, arguing: “Heroin lowers my stress levels and gives me a sense of wellbeing, so what’s wrong with that?” Only with alcohol is there this poignant belief that the effects can be waved away with a kind of wand. Just as being comfortably off was never a magic health talisman against the dangers of smoking, neither is it against drinking too much.

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