Most of us like a drink or two with friends, but what if a couple consistently becomes a dozen? Charlotte Dingle takes a look at binge drinking.
You’ve lost your mates, your mobile and your sense of direction. But that’s probably not all you’ve lost – if you’re getting completely plastered on a regular basis, you may well have started to lose your looks and liver function as well. Binge drinking is a real problem in our bar and club-oriented gay scene, and it isn’t one which has an easy solution. Only you can decide to break away from the crowd and cultivate a more sensible relationship with drink – nobody can do it for you.
What started out seeming like a whole bundle of fun, about two or three pints in, can swiftly turn dodgy when you get past drink number six or seven. Problem is, it’s hard to stop when you’re already a bit squiffy. Logic goes out the window; although we may be aware that three large glasses of wine is our limit, some of us just can’t stop when we’ve started. Of course, alcohol truly is a double-edged sword. It can offer up the best of times and the worst of times, depending on how you handle it.
If the embarrassment, inconvenience and hangovers don’t put you off carrying on until you’re blotto, maybe it’s time to think about what all that drinking is doing to your insides. Alcohol can cause a huge number of health problems, including high blood pressure (which can lead to strokes), mouth, throat and gullet cancer, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and malnutrition. It can also contribute to depression and weight gain. The cost of getting blasted every weekend might extend a lot further than the contents of your wallet.
So if your social life is one big whirl of inebriated chaos, and you want to change it, what can you do? It’s not something that people often manage overnight. It may be easier to stop completely than to cut down. This is not a simple move in a world where the majority of social interaction outside of work seems to involve alcohol. As Katie, 30, says: “It’s really hard sitting in a pub and not drinking. I start out with good intentions but always end up getting bored and reaching for the wine.”
There really are ways to have fun that don’t involve a drink, though. You won’t be doing yourself any favours if you put yourself in temptation’s way, so you may want to start swapping that Friday evening pub session for a country walk on Saturday afternoon. Or perhaps you’d rather visit the cinema or an art gallery? There’s plenty out there to keep you distracted. Your friends might even follow in your footsteps and ditch the beer if you keep inviting them along to interesting enough things! Indeed, kicking the bottle is much easier if you’ve got some company. That way, you’ve got someone to talk to when the craving for a bottle of wine kicks in.
Having some kind of perspective on your life as a whole is really important if you want to cut down your alcohol intake. Instead of just looking forward to the next pub session, pave the way for more meaningful developments in your life. Think about where you’d like to be in five, ten, fifteen years time. It’s exciting being alive when you think like this. The buzz of instant gratification you get from a drink is all well and good, but in the long term it isn’t going to give you deep, genuine happiness – in fact, if you abuse booze, it will take it away from you. Lucy, 27, gave up drinking five years ago: “The first thing I noticed, apart from all the weight I lost, was how much time I had suddenly. No more wasted evenings in the pub, or Sundays spent recovering from hangovers. It was like having a new life.”
If you’re going to drink, the best way to regulate it is by following government guidelines. It’s astonishing how many people choose to ignore these. You wouldn’t sit and drink arsenic, so why do you inflict vast amounts of alcohol on your system? Even otherwise health-conscious people seem willing to risk their wellbeing for the sake of a few jars. Kelly, 23, says: “I eat a really healthy diet, and I’m a total gym bunny, but when I go out I completely forget about counting the number of units I drink. I know it’s terrible but all my friends do too, so I kind of justify it to myself somehow.”
The government advises women to stop drinking after two to three units of alcohol. This is the equivalent of a pint of beer, three shots of any spirit, or a standard 175ml glass of wine. It really isn’t very much, and plenty of people drink at least three or four times that on a night out. Consuming huge amounts of booze has unfortunately become normalised in our culture. Alcohol is getting cheaper and cheaper, and it’s quite possible to be drinking at very damaging levels on a budget of as little as £5. In today’s hectic world, people often drink to try and relax, but in reality alcohol causes stress. Giving your body a break from it could be one of the best ways to improve both your physical and mental health. Make mine a J20!
For help with cutting down your drinking, visit: