Saturday, November 14, 2009

Alcohol Awareness Week

I am urging people in the North Down area to ‘think about what you drink’ as we prepare for Alcohol Awareness Week, which begins on Monday, October 19.

This is an opportunity for people to take a long, hard look at their alcohol intake. It may even be worth keeping a ‘drink diary’ across the week to work out how many units you’re taking in – perhaps without even realising.

There is widespread concern that excessive alcohol consumption is an integral part of the modern culture of the United Kingdom and alcohol abuse appears to have reached epidemic proportions.

The guidelines on lower-risk drinking recommend men do not drink more that 3-4 units daily (drinking about two pints or two cans of normal-strength lager or beer on a regular basis) and women do not drink more than 2-3 units daily (regularly drinking about a large glass of wine or three single measures of spirits).

Drinking above these levels can increase your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, liver disease, stroke and other diseases. Drinking above lower-risk guidelines can also impact on your ability to get a good night’s sleep and affect your general health.

My Party colleague, the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, recently informed Assembly Members that the staggering and unacceptable total of 286 people died as a direct result of alcohol in 2008. He also noted that alcohol is 62 per cent more affordable today than it was in 1980.

There is also the issue that alcohol consumption – especially heavy consumption – is a significant factor in criminal and disorderly behaviour. Over three quarters of weekend arrests are alcohol related with violence becoming synonymous with weekend closing times at pubs and clubs.

The cost of alcohol is clear in social, health and policing terms. One only has to watch some of the TV adverse on dangerous driving through alcohol, one of the most poignant is the young happy couple sitting on a wall, when a stupid careless driver kills the young man and leaves the girl in a wheel chair - take heed this is not fantasy!

However, alcohol abuse does not only manifest itself outside clubs at closing time-it is all too easy to get into a routine of regular drinking which is above the lower-risk guidelines.

There are agencies to help those who have become alcoholics and as well those who feel they need help and support to overcome what is a disease. Some find that keeping a drink diary for a week is easy and highlights just how much a person drinks, whether it is being out for a meal, having a night cap, or even at times through boredom while watching TV. The diary can really make you stop and think about whether you ought to be cutting back – and there’s no better time than now, during Alcohol Awareness Week.

Alcohol can have a devastating effect on family life, it can ruin careers and most of all in the present economic times it is a sheer waste of money.