Monthly Archives: October 2014

Alcohol responsible for ‘nearly 10 per cent’ of calories consumed in adults who drink

This article was written by Glenis Willmott who is a member of parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee and you can read the full article here

Because alcohol is so high in sugar it contains a significant amount of calories, with an energy content of 7.1 kilocalories per gram. Only fat has a higher energy value per gram than this. A glass of wine contains roughly the same amount of calories as a bar of chocolate, and studies in the UK have shown that alcohol accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the total energy intake amongst adults who drink. Putting aside the other health problems it can cause, such as liver disease and cancer, alcohol is seriously contributing to Europe’s obesity problem.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to keep track of the amount of calories you are consuming from alcohol. Unlike all other food and drink, where ingredients and nutritional information is labelled as standard, the most basic of information on alcohol bottles is missing. Most consumers would find it perplexing. If you buy a bottle of tonic water you will know how much sugar is in it, but if you buy a pre-mixed gin and tonic, you will not.

When I was involved in negotiating the EU food labelling rules, I was calling for alcohol to comply with the same rules as all other food and drink. However, due to opposition from some MEPs and industry, alcoholic beverages were exempted from the legislation. This is something we must rethink. By December this year the European commission should report on including alcohol under the food information regulation, particularly on whether information on the calorie content should be provided. I would like to see the commission propose legislative steps to address the problem.

So yet again the industry lobby hard to make sure that there are no labels on their products so far showing the harm that alcohol does but that it doesn’t show the calories either.  Now if I was cynical I would argue that is because their new growing market is young girls and women who are perhaps keener than most on knowing the calorific value of everything.  I find the industry’s over-arching power and influence at all levels, both UK and EU parliament, deeply concerning and worrying.  And for me I have to question how much alcohol is driving the obesity epidemic we have as a public health concern?  If we tackled the issue of alcohol would we see obesity rates start to drop too?  I suspect the answer to this would be yes ………

Edited to add 7/11/16 (Alcohol Policy UK):

More calories are consumed from alcohol than sugary drinks amongst adults, according to Euromonitor International research. As such ‘tackling Britain’s drink problem could be more important for health than targeting sugar consumption’ the Guardian reported. In the UK, adults are consuming more than 106 calories per head every day from alcoholic drinks, compared with 98 from sugar-sweetened drinks. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said it was time to end the exemption of calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks above 1.2% ABV.

In an IAS guest blog on alcohol and obesity, Vanessa Hebditch says the current Government is reluctant to implement effective policy interventions for either, and that the ‘current reliance on voluntary action by the food and alcohol industry has not worked.’


First alcohol free nightclub in the world opens in Sweden

Saw this news story in my FB feed – thank you Umbrella Cafe 😉

Believed to be the first of its kind in the world “Sober”, the brand child of Swedish entrepreneur Mårten Andersson, will launch this weekend at the Sodra Theatre in Stockholm – a club night at which alcohol is banned.

Upon arrival clubbers with be breath-tested and turned away if they register a blood-alcohol reading with staff trained to spot, and boot out, anyone using drugs.

What’s more, the event is almost sold out.

Mr Andersson, a popular Scandinavian television host and comedian, has said he came up with the idea having quit drinking and wanted to create an adult space for people who chose not to drink.

Launching in Sweden, Anderson believes the concept would work in other locations.

He said: “I strongly believe the world has only seen the start of this movement.

”We’re just trapped inside this dangerous bubble of alcohol and can’t see clearly until we step out of it.”

And this was the news report post the opening night.  It’s worth reading the full story as there’s some video of the night for you to watch should you want to see that sober dancing is possible!  😉

Champagne ice buckets lined the bar, while hipster staff shook brightly-coloured cocktails above their heads. One worker was sipping a beer at the same time. But there was no chance of getting in trouble for drinking on duty. All beverages were non-alcoholic.

Outside, excited clubbers queued patiently along the cobbled street, before being ordered to blow into a breathalyser to check that they hadn’t been on the booze earlier in the evening. Specially trained staff also kept an eye out for people who might have taken drugs instead. Only a few ticket holders got turned away from the event, which sold out weeks in advance.
Once safely indoors, guests moved between a room offering house and techno from US Grammy and BRIT Award nominated Zoo Brazil, to another playing commercial classics from Snap’s 90’s anthem Rhythm is a Dancer, to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.
By 11pm, the venue was rammed, with few seeing the need for a traditional pre-club gathering at home or in a bar if the aim of the night wasn’t to get tipsy.
The night is set to run once a month and the owner already had plans to take his clubbing concept to other Swedish and European cities.

LOVE this idea and good on you Sweden !! 🙂

But what’s with an alcohol free night being controversial?!  If they’d been giving out free legal highs that would be controversial but no booze – c’mon really??


Young People and Drinking, Smoking and Drug Use

The National Centre for Social Research UK published their findings recently.

Here’s a bit about them:

Since 1982 we’ve been speaking to young people, aged 11-15, in schools across England about how smoking, drinking and drug use affects their lives.

We collect this information to make sure that the government, charities and health professionals make the right decisions about how to help young people. It also shows how things are changing over the years.

This short animation shows some of our key findings from last year’s study.

I found the statistics about smoking and the impact of people you live with interesting although this did not carry over to alcohol.  Useful information and good to see that alcohol consumption among this age group is going down.

Early intervention is thought to be the best strategy for this age group and schools are a good place for this work to be done.  Here is a link to a briefing paper aimed at informing teachers and practitioners involved in the delivery of alcohol and drug education and prevention in case you’re interested 🙂

Edited to add: 20/10/2014

New evidence review from Scotland looking at alcohol and the developing adolescent brain can be read here


This looks interesting 🙂  Gained a new Twitter follower that goes by the name of SoberGrid.

Their Twitter description says:

Three guys in Boston building a sober app for iPhone and Android phones. Our goal is to provide an app to help sober people.

Launched on the 6th September you can join them here and this is their launch invitation.



I appreciate that it’s design is US based but I’m hoping that it will be open to you where ever you are in the world.  I’ve signed up as the ability to connect with sober people in real life is an ongoing issue for me, although I have been lucky in that people have reached out to me and helped me out and I am now reaching out to others and helping them out 🙂

Veronica Valli & I (3) Psychological vs physical alcohol addiction

So as promised Veronica &  I got together on Skype for another chat which we both love as we learn from each other.   We hope that you also value us sharing our conversations? Please do let us know what you think 🙂

Today we discuss the question posed by Lori to explain further what is meant by, and our understanding of, psychological vs physical alcohol dependence and addiction.  It is longer than our other conversations at about 18 minutes but that’s because there is a lot to say and we both had good stuff to share.

Two amendments to what I said: I mixed up want and need having tried to correct myself!  You end up needing to drink, it goes beyond want.  Also I talk about putting an ascitic tap into the stomach but technically it goes into the peritoneal cavity, so the abdomen.

If anyone else has a question for us please do drop me an email, contact Veronica or put it in the comments section below.

Veronica Valli is an Addictions Therapist and the author of Why you drink and How to stop:…

2013 How to Stop Cover 960x1280


Study on mindfulness based relapse prevention

I’m including this study here because I personally ascribe to this approach and if I think about the sober bloggers that I know, Mrs D in particular, I know that this is a tool used with great success.

Promising signs – but from a single study at a single treatment agency – that integrating Buddhism-inspired mindfulness-based elements creates a more effective supplement to usual (in the US context) 12-step based aftercare than a purely cognitive behavioural approach, helping patients sustain gains from initial intensive treatment.

Summary The featured study tested an intervention based on Buddhism-inspired mindfulness meditation as way of sustaining the gains made by patients who have completed initial intensive treatment. The therapy trains people to focus their attention on emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment and to adopt an accepting and nonjudgmental stance to these experiences. Such controlled attention can be learned through training in meditation, hence ‘mindfulness meditation’. Benefits may for example include the detached self-observation of one’s desires and plans to obtain and use drugs, dissociating these from their emotional force.

Meditation has been incorporated in many therapeutic programmes, commonly in the form of mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally developed for management of chronic pain and stress-related disorders. The usual course consists of eight weekly therapist-led group sessions, one full-day retreat, and daily ‘homework’ assignments. Mindfulness is central to dialectical behaviour therapy developed for borderline personality disorder, acceptance and commitment therapy for mental health problems, and spiritual self-schema therapy for substance use problems. This approach has also been allied with cognitive-behavioural elements, notably in mindfulness-based relapse prevention programmes developed for substance use patients – a version of which was tested in the featured study.

The 286 patients in the study had completed initial 28-day inpatient or 90-day intensive outpatient treatment at one of the two clinics of a US service. Typically they were unemployed men in their thirties and forties who used several drugs with or without alcohol; for just 14% were their substance use problems confined to alcohol.

Authors conclusions:

These findings suggest that the three aftercare options may have been equally effective in the three months after the two relapse prevention programmes ended. After that, these programmes gained greater benefits compared to usual treatment alone, blunting the probability and severity of relapses at the six-month follow-up. By a year after they had ended, the approach incorporating mindfulness elements emerged as preferable to one based solely on cognitive-behavioural elements. Longer-term benefits may be explained by the therapy’s ability to help patients recognise and tolerate discomfort associated with craving or negative emotions and moods. Continued practice in mindfulness over time can strengthen the ability to monitor and address factors contributing to well-being, bolstering long-term outcomes.

Go to the link  below to read the full summary:

In my personal experience, and that is all it is,  I believe that CBT and mindfulness are a good way to manage long term recovery and minimise the danger of relapse.  I will continue to share what I learn about mindfulness and as I learn more myself over the coming months at Cambridge.  If you’ve been using mindfulness has it been helping you?

Early intervention in alcohol misuse & dependence

My CBT therapist and I were discussing this recently as she works for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).  It is an NHS programme that rolled out services across England offering early interventions approved by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for treating people with depression and anxiety disorders launched in 2008.  I’ve attached the 3 year summary from 2012 here.

What the chart below shows is their recovery rates following use of IAPT and the red bar (click on chart to enlarge) is for mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol.

IAPT data 2013-2014

What it shows is a number of people approaching them with issues to do with alcohol which IAPT was not set up to treat.  They are not trained or equipped to deal with this issue and to be fair to them they would refer on to the local Drugs and Alcohol Services.  But if we have early intervention for mental health, and a slew of other health related issues, why does it not exist for alcohol?  Yes we have the Alcohol Brief Intervention (ABI) that GP’s and Practice Nurses can use but that’s it.  Do we need a more robust early intervention programme for alcohol?  I would argue categorically yes because all of us out here getting alcohol free online are doing so, partly through choice, but also because of a lack of existing services.  Granted many may not chose to go to their GP or practice because of fears of the consequences for them and their family and because of the stigma that still surrounds alcohol issues but for many counties you can self-refer to IAPT therefore bypassing your GP if that is what you would prefer.  Who says a similar service would not work for alcohol and these IAPT figures suggests there is a need.

I’ll leave you with the thoughts of the Chief Medical Officer who said in 2013

CMO 2013

This desperately needs to change to prevent this silent public health epidemic getting worse than it already is.   Taken from the National Treatment Agency website:

Alcohol misuse is the third largest cause of avoidable ill health. It’s not only binge drinking or dependent drinking that cause harm. Around nine million (One in five) adults in England are drinking at a level that significantly increases their risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, some cancers and depression.  An estimated 1.6 million adults in England have some degree of alcohol dependence.

If this service existed for alcohol would you have accessed it?  I would have done.

The disease model of addiction and dependence




Thanks to MallardsForUs who shared this presentation with us on her blog first.  She shared it to talk about chronic stress and the dopamine system but for me it was a fantastic study into the disease model of addiction and dependence.  He cites research and evidence which shows categorically that it is not a moral weakness or personal failing as that would be controlled by our higher brain in the frontal cortex.  It is a midbrain response which is our flight or fight limbic brain (which also ties in with the flipping your lid post a few days ago!).  As a nurse who has worked with alcohol dependent patients and as a psychology graduate his presentation nails it – completely.

It is so good and I have talked about it with so many people who haven’t seen it that I’m sharing it again here along with her description of it as it also so good!

A fantastic and insightful lecture was posted in the bfb facebook group this week by Dr. Kevin Mccauley. Brilliant. Completely brilliant. What enticed me the most was his discussion in the second half of the lecture in which he discusses the part of the brain that is affected by drugs, the midbrain. This, he describes as the part of the brain that seeks survival. He discusses the IMMENSE contributor in the development of an addiction: STRESS. Seems simple, but when you hear him discuss it, it all comes together. This is chronic, debilitating stress over time. He describes stress affecting the midbrain which then kicks in the threat of survival, the desperate need to relieve this stress. This stress, he explains, “breaks” our dopamine system, the system that allows us to feel pleasure. The chronic stress sets new thresholds, higher thresholds, for experiencing and feeling pleasure through our environment. Our ability to perceive pleasure becomes broken. So, we begin to notice the things that can break this new high pleasure threshold…what does that for us: Drugs. Alcohol. 

We take a drink, and at some point in our lives when stress has already broken this dopamine threshold, this drink is now “tagged” in the brain as THE answer to any stress or ill feeling- our survival mechanism- the only thing that has been shown to achieve relief and pleasure. He describes addiction in one sense, as the “stress induced defect in the brain’s ability to properly perceive pleasure.”

Amazing presentation and well worth your time 🙂  Thanks again Mallards!

Oct-sober: The best alcohol free drinks

This was a recent article in The Daily Telegraph that I thought would be worth sharing here called Oct-sober, the best alcohol free drinks.   Any tips on good alcohol free drinks is a winner in my book and I particularly liked the opening paragraph! 🙂

Within a decade or so drinking more than an occasional unit of alcohol will provoke the same kind of incredulous contempt and social panic as smoking. The purveyors of fat-making sugar, flatulence-inducing fizz and liver-curdling ethanol may spend millions on their packaging and promotions, but the facts are plain: boozing is destined to go the same way as the Great British Pub – downwards into oblivion.

“We’ve seen a gradual trend away from excessive drinking. It’s now cool to be sober. Too many pubs still treat people who ask for alcohol-free alternatives with contempt, so people don’t bother asking for them or just don’t bother going to pubs.”

With John’s help and the advice of a few tonic-meisters, Temperance merchants, seltzer-sluggers and juice-junkies, I came up with what I hope are 15 appetising non-alcoholic alternatives for anyone who wants to get on the wagon, for a month, or for good.

1. James White Russet Apple Juice. Made on a fruit farm outside Ipswich using 100% pressed apples, this rich-tasting, pungent, silky textured drink might well be the finest apple juice around. Good cold and at room temp, it’s like having cider for breakfast.

2. Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer. The default substitute for temporary teetotallers, ginger beer can be a sickly sugar rush. The Devon-based firm have concocted a fiery, sparkly, strong-tasting, lemony brew. Great with Chinese food, and it stops the tastebuds from needing anything as flimsy as lager.

3. Peter Spanton Cardamom Tonic. This bijou mixer – sold at Selfridges and other exclusive outlets – is one of seven tonics designed to enhance gin and other spirits. As a soft drink, served with lots of ice and a slice of English apple, it’s a lively aperitif. If the cardamom hit was a little stronger, it would be superb.

4. Bavaria Wit Beer. Sometimes you need one. This cloudy 0% beer has the fruity notes of an ordinary wheat beer. While somewhat thinner than the alcoholic stuff, it’s refreshing with a nice fizz and is one of the best of its kind on the market. (Many beers are low alcohol – under 0.5%; this is zero). There’s no excuse not to try it.

5. Bottle Green Blackcurrant and Coffee. Now owned by SHS (the makers of WKD), the UK’s best-selling premium cordial-maker still delivers the goods. I know the ginger and the tonics well and like them, but this limited-edition drink seems to be an attempt at a digestif – but one that a child might invent with Nescafé and Ribena. Peculiar.

6. ViVa White Peach and Melon. From Venice Beach, California to the Medway City Estate, Kent – the “functional drink” has arrived. This is a low-sugar, slightly tropical beverage with a creamy texture, and additional shots of chamomile and valerian root, for “stress relief”. Slightly marred by the aftertaste concentrated peach always produces. The Mint and Lemon, with inulin, lemongrass and prickly pear, was more appetising.

7. Eisberg Alcohol-free Rosé. Harvested and produced in the normal way, with the alcohol removed at the end of the process (the remaining 0.05% is negligible), this wine has a pleasant, fruity nose and an appealing if sweetish rose-and-strawberry flavour. The heavy body and slightly acrid aftertaste of normal wine are missing, but this is a decent pastiche. Very low calories, too.

8. Clayton’s Kola Tonic. Originally from Battersea, now made in Barbados, this cordial-cum-mixer contains West African kola nuts, said to be a stimulant (because of its caffeine), antidepressant, aid digestion, reduce fatigue and hunger, and work as an aphrodisiac. Diluted with soda water, it smells like creosote and tastes like bitter Coke with an orangey, citric undertone. Mixes well with iced tea and ginger beer.

9. Torres Natureo Syrah. The first low-alcohol red wine (0.5% is very low) to thrill the experts, this de-alcoholised Spanish varietal has redcurrant notes, decent tannins and a nice juicy feel on the palate. The Natureo Muscat is good too.

10. Big Tom. If making a Virgin Mary is a bit of a palaver, this blend of tomato juice and herbs, spices, vinegar, veggie Worcestershire sauce, celery, onion, garlic and lemon – 21 ingredients in all – is a lushly textured substitute. There’s no stinting on the heat and pepper, but beefy tomato still comes through.

11. Mr Fitzpatricks Sarsaparilla. The Aztecs used the Central American vine Smilax ornate as a medicine and the Spaniards jumped on it as a cure for syphilis. This cordial from a Lancastrian firm that has been around since Temperance times becomes a vivacious long drink when diluted with fizzy water, and the rich flavours – winter green, wood, cough mixture, root beer – are a perfect balance of sweetness, tartness and tanginess. It reminded me of the “pop man” of my childhood; the dandelion and burdock is also superlative.

12. Abel & Cole Green Juicing Box. This came with seasonal apples and kale, as well as celery, broccoli, cucumber, ginger, lemon and parsley; the resulting pea-coloured punch was a pleasant change from sweet, fruit-only drinks and the best de-tox drink of the lot. Abel & Cole delivers a whole range of non-alcoholic drinks too.

13. Belvoir Coconut and Lime Pressé. I know Belvoir’s cordials well and they’re excellent, lasting longer than the competition. This pressé is more of a party drink, with lots of bubbles and the lime nicely balancing the coconut’s sweetness.

14. Marks & Spencer Elderflower Cordial. The bone-white petals of the sambucus nigra have been embraced by the middle classes to make this the most popular posh cordial. Only ten per cent elderflower flavour in the ingredients is a bit mean, but this supermarket variety works well at three parts to one with fizzy water and a slice of lemon or ginger.

15. Carl Jung Mousseux Sparkling Wine. You can even celebrate soberly, with a handsome bottle of bubbly that contains less than 0.5%ABV. This demi-sec made from Riesling and Muller Thurgau has nice fruity notes, lots of bubbles and no nasty sweetness – very refreshing. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung is credited with inspiring the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Loved the tone of this article and let’s hope it’s the first of many.  Not because I’m some born again temperance fanatic but because I’d like there to be a balance between alcohol advertising and non-alcohol drink advertising and this piece does that for me 🙂


Little pig, little pig, let me come in …..

I was thinking about nursery rhyme’s involving wolves and this one sprang to mind.  Why stories involving a wolf particularly?  Because our dear ‘wolfie’ is probably a relative and so I was looking for inspiration!

As a side note it also makes me think of a 1970’s UK TV series called ‘Citizen Smith’ who’s lead character (played by Robert Lindsay) was also called ‘Wolfie’ 🙂


Anyway back to the nursery rhyme’s and the story of the Three Little Pigs.  This reminds me so much of the sober community.  How so?  If you struggle on your own and build a house of straw or sticks then wolfie is likely to blow your house down.  It was only when the three little pigs were all together in the house of bricks that he couldn’t blow it down.  And so the story goes:

He then attempts to trick the pig out of the house by asking to meet him at various places, but is outwitted each time. Finally, the wolf resolves to come down the chimney, whereupon the pig catches the wolf in a cauldron of boiling water, slams the lid on, and cooks and eats him.  Yum yum yum 😉

So safety in numbers it would seem! I’m all for that.  Would anyone else in our little sober brick house like a piece of braised wolf?  ‘Power to the People!’ indeed 🙂