Monthly Archives: July 2017

Are alcohol-free alternatives finally coming of age?

This article on alcohol-free alternatives was featured in The Guardian in April.

What to drink when you’re not drinking? Not so long ago, the choice was very limited: tonic without the gin, perhaps? Lime and soda sans vodka? An oversweet fruity number? Or (yawn) another sparkling water? Perhaps it is no wonder that those of us of a certain age tend to be heavier drinkers than the younger generation: alcohol consumption in the UK fell 26% between 2002 and 2012, and the number of people aged 16-25 who drink little or not at all has risen by 40% in a decade. So it’s no great surprise that the marketeers are muscling in with a raft of decent alcohol-free tipples designed to please these sober youngsters and their boozy parents, too.

Most low-alcohol beers are still thin and dull, but Brew Dog’s Nanny State (around £1.25, widely available) is clean and hoppy, with body and balance, and stands up well against its alcoholic craft beer cousins.

When it comes to wine, most with no or low alcohol tend to be fairly grim, too. Torres Natureo Muscat (£5.99, Waitrose) is vinified as wine, then de-alcoholised by distillation and comes out at a healthy 0.5% abv. It’s off-dry, but not too cloying, and would sit well on a springtime supper table, especially if the food is slightly spicy: try it with something Thai.

Seedlip is a non-alcoholic, zero-calorie distilled drink that’s caused a stir even among die-hard drinkers. Treat it as a gin or vodka: I like the savoury freshness of Seedlip Garden (£27.95 The Whisky Exchange, £27.99 Waitrose), flavoured with peas, hay, rosemary and thyme. Drink it with tonic and a cucumber slice. (Seedlip recommends Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic, but it works just as well with good old Schweppes.) For a similar grown-up botanical hit with tonic (and at a fraction of the cost), try a few drops of bitters: classic Angostura (about £10, widely available) with a slice of orange; or the deliciously zingy Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters (£8.71 thedrinkshop.com, £9.85 The Whisky Exchange) with a sprig of mint.

If you do like something fruity, try your hand at making shrubs, or “drinking vinegars”, as the hipsters call them. These are fruit cordials made with vinegar, which gives a pleasing, sour tang. Mix 1kg fruit with a litre of cider vinegar and 750g sugar, leave in a covered container for two weeks, then strain and bottle the liquid. To serve, dilute 1:5 with still or fizzy water. Soft fruit seems to work best: raspberries with crushed black peppercorns thrown into the mix, or gooseberries with chopped green chillies, say.

I’m always up for new AF drinks suggestions & must try the Seedlip Garden too!  If you’d like to try some of the new alcohol free drinks now available why not head to the Mindful Drinking Festival in London next month?  Having read this morning’s headline on the Guardian (Heavy drinking will kill 63,000 people over next five years, doctors warn) it feels like Laura & Jussi, the founders of Club Soda, have set this up at just the right time 🙂

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World

So this is a completely left-field post because it draws on other arenas of interest and influence to me that I don’t normally talk about here on the blog.  The entry point is volatility but the wider life lesson absolutely fits here.

First the definition of volatility:

“liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.”

Then the link to the podcast that blew my mind:

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World (Podcast Number 13)

So yes it’s a finance podcast and the key excerpts of value were from Chris Cole in his talking about viewing life as a hedge  (A hedge is an investment to reduce the risk of adverse movements in value of the underlying asset).  So for me running is a natural hedge (short term pain) for longer term health and longevity (long term gain) –  hopefully.  He even cites drinking as a short on life potentially negatively affecting the risk to your life caused by the health effects over the longer term.  Running reduces health risk while drinking increases health risk.  Except he explains it so much more eloquently and elegantly than I do!

He then mentions this brilliant watch called The Tikker:

The Tikker Watch was designed to provide you with a constant reminder that life is truly short and we should take advantage of the time we have on this planet.   The Tikker System will give you an estimate of your life expectancy and then counts down every second so you can make choices that will enhance your life such as exercise, a healthy diet, or finding ways to reduce stress.  Buy one now and you will see how it immediately and positively affects you and those around you.    Start a new way of looking at life today!

Some may find the premise of this watch maudlin but I think it’s inspired.

And then as a bonus Chris Martenson talks about the nuances of communicating emotionally charged ideas.  And lets face it talking about drinking to anyone can feel emotionally charged at times!

I thought I’d share it here because my mouth dropped open and tears sprang to my eyes on hearing it and for me that’s a indicator to document it here 🙂

10 things you only know if you’re teetotal

I normally steer clear of sharing these kind of lists on the blog but this one I read in The Telegraph in May I quite liked 🙂  As the post title suggests it’s shares the insights that we have because we are teetotal (another label I’m not terrifically keen on!)

According to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics, teetotalism is on the rise, with 21 per cent of Brits claiming not to drink at all, and almost half drinking less than they previously did. 

As any teetotaller like myself will tell you, the release of stats such as these are always very encouraging (more sober people to speak to at parties!), but somewhat hard to believe. Twenty one per cent may be a notable increase, but it still places us alcohol-shunners firmly in the minority, marginalised from social norms. 

Here are 10 things you only know if you don’t drink. 

1. You get tired of explaining your reasons for abstaining

You go out, someone mentions drinks, and offers you a glass of wine. “No thanks, I don’t drink” you say, in the hope that, as a mature adult, they will respect your choice and move on. No such luck. “You don’t drink? What, not at all?” they cry in disbelief. “Why?” Once you reel out your valid, personal reasons for the millionth time they are still unlikely to be satisfied, and you find yourself contending either with knowing smiles and patronising comments such as “Ah, I just need to introduce you to a good red wine” or a glazed look of incomprehension, as if you’ve just revealed that you are in fact part-martian.

2. You end up finding ways to make it look like you’re drinking

Once you realise that choosing not to consume liquor proves too much for many of your acquaintances to handle, it becomes clear that a more peaceful evening can be had if you avoid the subject altogether. So you either ask for tap water because you’re “thirsty” or secretly order virgin cocktails, and hope that everyone will mistake your San Pellegrino with ice and a slice for a G&T. After several rounds, no one else will notice that you’re still sober, anyway.

3. You can remember all of your birthday parties…

…as well as those of your friends and any weddings, christenings or graduations you may have attended. There is no need to check Facebook or text someone to find out what happened last night, because, being alcohol-free, your memory is preserved. Rather than looking back on a haze of vodka-fuelled antics and missing belongings, you’ll remember the details: the conversations, the laughter, and all the fuzzy emotions. No embarrassment, and no need for an early morning walk of shame. 

4. You can have productive Saturday and Sunday mornings

The benefits of living without hangovers cannot be underestimated. You can go out for an evening safe in the knowledge that, come the morning, you will be able to go about your business as usual without reaching for sunglasses, paracetamol or the nearest paper bag. Days do not need to be written off in advance for recovery, and you can fill your time with other things you enjoy. 

5. You appreciate deep and meaningful​ late night conversations 

All teetotallers know that, once the evening has past a certain point, maintaining any kind of serious conversation with a fellow reveller can become nigh-on impossible, as they segue from discussing Brexit to describing their socks, and complaining about that ex who would always leave toothpaste in the sink. Finding someone at 11pm who is sober enough to have a still have lucid conversation is a source of great joy, and you may end up bonding as a result. 

6. You are sick to death of sparkling water

Although certain bars and brands are taking notice of increasing numbers of non-drinkers, the majority of venues do not offer enticing non-alcoholic options. This means you are faced with over-priced, syrup-laden mocktails, watery fruit juices from concentrate or water. Afraid that by constantly ordering tap water you will appear cheap, a killjoy or just distinctly unimaginative, you are forced to go for the sparkling option, as it appears slightly more grown up, whether or not you actually enjoy it. Sadly, until more bars cotton on to the fact that some of us would be interested in drinking a sophisticated tea or coffee after 7pm, you are forced to endure the abrasive, tasteless bubbles at all social events.   

7. You have extra cash

By choosing not to drink, you are inevitably saving yourself a decent sum of money. A meal out with friends does not automatically mean lining and clearing out the contents of your wallet: not only are you saving on  the hiked-up prices of alcohol in bars, but also the dodgy kebabs, taxi rides, dry-cleaning bills and inevitable Alkaseltzer the following day. As a result, you have extra money to spend on food, clothes and sober activities like going to the cinema or the gym. Crippling rent and bills aside, this makes it less likely that you’ll always be counting down the days til payday and forcing yourself to survive solely on pot noodles. 

8. You realise how grimy most bars are

Everyone knows that alcohol allows you to see the world through rosé-coloured glasses, meaning that those under the influence tend not to notice sticky floors or mouldy walls. A life of sobriety allows you to appreciate all the charming details of the world’s drinking establishments in glorious technicolour, and you quickly understand that many of them are pretty nasty places. From the questionable stains in the toilets to the scum on the drinking glasses, you are forced to notice every unpleasant detail, while your drinking peers gush about how much fun they’re having. 

9. You are an expert observer of the stages and types of drunkenness 

Being in a minority, the non-drinker in a group has both the advantage and disadvantage of watching everyone else descend into the various types of drunk: the crier, the giggler, the flirt, the overly-sincere etc. You watch with amusement and/or despair as all your friends transform from rational humans into wide-eyed huggers or laughing maniacs, and spend a lot of time listening to people explain with earnest that Michael Jackson really isn’t dead, and that people should be more considerate to the local dormouse population. Whether you choose to remind them of these conversations the next day remains at your discretion. 

10. You appreciate a good evening in 

It is still very possible to maintain a busy social life as a non-drinker, but it’s likely that you are more inclined than most to enjoy the comforts of an evening at home, rather than a crowded bar. You don’t have to spend outrageous money on soft drinks or “bar snacks”, nor do you have to put up with inappropriate fondling from soused acquaintances, force anyone into a taxi, or mop up vomit. You can spend an enjoyable evening catching up with friends (or blissfully alone) on the sofa, cooking up a storm, or gorging on your favourite box set. And you can go to bed when you want. Result. 

The only one I would disagree with is the dislike of sparkling water – which is still my go to drink almost 4 years in.  Any you disagree with?  Any you would add?

Sober Insights: The Self-Torture Game

So continuing reading Healing the Shame that binds you by John Bradshaw and he talks about a process called the self-torture game.  He says that “it is almost always so habitual that it is unconscious”.  Felt pretty apt so I thought I’d discuss it further here.

It was identified by Fritz Perls as Top Dog-Under Dog Thinking.  Here’s a bit more definition from Wiki:

Topdog vs. underdog is a phrase coined by Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt therapy, to describe a self-torture game that people play with themselves in order to avoid the anxiety that they encounter in their environment.

The topdog describes the part of an individual which makes demands based on the idea that the individual should adhere to certain societal norms and standards. These demands are often characterized by “shoulds” and “oughts”.

The underdog describes the part of an individual which makes excuses explaining why these demands should not be met. It is often the case that these excuses act as internal sabotage to ensure that the demands are never met.

Gestalt therapists often guide their patients through an exercise where the patients takes on both of these roles. With the guidance of the therapist, the patients can come to gain insight about themselves which can help them have a healthier relationship with their environment.

I think I engaged in this a great deal when I was drinking and it definitely kept me stuck in shame.  My inner critic was my top dog ‘I shouldn’t drink in the week’ or ‘I ought to be able to have a few nights off without it being a problem’ and my drinking behaviour – the victim or underdog.

It’s been happening again recently but I’ve been noticing it.  I injured my back at work a few weeks ago and it has slowed me down and hobbled my usual activities at home, including running.  In my forced resting state I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading and learning and emotional growth which has been both insightful and overwhelming.  I can recommend three books for emotional recovery work: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker, Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that binds you.  I wouldn’t recommend reading the three back to back as I’ve done as I’ve been the instigator of my own emotional overwhelm because of it.  Tread slowly and gently is what I learned!

I noticed this voice pop up around my reduced activity.  It shows up in my thoughts as anxiety related to gaining weight because I’m not running and about being lazy around the home because I’m resting my back.

Perlz argues that the internal conflict speaks to unfinished business.  What I mean by that is, in this scenario the top dog voice is my internalized early parent figure and the underdog is me as a child being chided for being lazy.  By bringing this into consciousness I get the opportunity to finish the unfinished business by acknowledging the dynamic, become more self-integrating (as this is a defensive split in the human personality) and self-accepting, process the emotions attached and thereby facilitate resolution on this specific personal representation of the ‘self-torture’ game.

Is this something that sounds familiar to you too?  Do you recognise this self-defeating thought pattern?

Statistics on Alcohol England 2017

An excellent blog post as always from Alcohol Policy UK in May looking at the latest statistics on Alcohol England for 2017 & Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) drinking figures.

Over to James:

The annual Statistics on Alcohol for England 2017 has been released, detailing national data for key alcohol-related indicators and health harms.

Mainly bringing together recent alcohol data releases, the overall trend remains one of falls in drinking amongst younger people, whilst many measures of harm including the latest alcohol-related hospital admissions continue to rise, largely driven by heavier drinking mid and older age adults. See here for Guardian and BBC reports.

Key headlines from the release include:

Hospital admissions – broad measure
  • There were 1.1 million estimated admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 4% more than 2014/15.
  • This represents 7.0% of all hospital admissions which is similar to 2014/15 and 2013/14.
  • Blackpool had the highest rate at 3,540 per 100,000 population. Isle of Wight had the lowest rate at 1,400.

Hospital admissions – narrow measure

  • There were 339 thousand estimated admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 3% higher than 2014/15 and 22% higher than 2005/06.
  • This represents 2.1% of all hospital admissions which has changed little in the last 10 years.

See here for the LAPE statistical commentary [pdf] on the latest alcohol-related hospital admission figures.

Drinking Prevalence

  • 57% of adults reported drinking alcohol in the previous week in 2016 which is a fall from 64% in 2006.
  • This equates to 25.3 million adults in England.
  • Those who drank more than 8/6 units on their heaviest day in the last week fell from 19% to 15%.

Deaths

  • In 2015, there were 6,813 deaths which were related to the consumption of alcohol. This is 1.4% of all deaths.
  • The number of deaths is similar to 2014 but is an increase of 10% on 2005.

[NB Age standardised death rates show a relatively stable trend since 2012].

Prescriptions

  • The number of prescription items dispensed in 2016 was 188 thousand which was 4% lower than 2015 but 63% higher than 2006. This breaks the recent trend of successive year on year increases.
  • The total Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) was £4.87 million. This is 24% higher than in 2015 and more than double the level ten years ago.

Consumption confounders?

The national statistics release includes the latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) data on alcohol consumption, albeit that Heaviest Drinking Day (HDD) in the last week is not well regarded as an accurate indicator of consumption. Health Survey for England (HSE) data may be considered better for consumption trends as it also includes questions on mean weekly or daily consumption.
Recent sets of both data though show similar findings in terms of identified trends and socio-economic or geographical variations. However a small decline in the OPN’s proportion of adult drinkers in Britain to 56.9% based on reported drinking in the last week is the lowest since 2005 when the survey began. This time point has however been described as ‘peak booze’ following several decades of steep increases before the turn of the century. As well as the many important demographic differences behind these overall trends in reported consumption, more detailed research has continued to highlight the ‘rich tapestry’ behind the various drinking groups and the extent of under-estimation in self-report data.
Prescriptions: an unexpected drop?
Whilst the ten year trend for prescriptions to treat alcohol dependency has risen significantly, a 4% drop on 2015 may be notable, though largely due to a significant fall in Disilfiram prescriptions. The release however notes a sharp rise of £22 for the Net Ingredient Cost for Disilfiram giving a likely indication as to why. Also of interest, prescription items for Nalmefene fell by 1,000 from 4,400 in 2015 to 3,400 in 2016 which may reflect the apparent decision by its producers Lundbeck ceasing promotion activity in the UK, but also potentially linked to questions raised over the evidence and licensing process.
Alcohol-related cancers: a further harm measure
The latest LAPE statistical commentary [pdf] also includes estimates of alcohol-related cancer based on the six cancer types which are known to have an alcohol link; mouth, throat, breast, stomach, liver and bowel cancer. The release suggests approximately 19,000 new cancer cases each year attributed to alcohol. Since 2004 these rates have been rising, but a recent small drop in alcohol-related cancer rates for men has not yet been followed by the rates for women.
Looking ahead: sales and pricing?
For those keen on assessing the potential future for harm and consumption trends, interest will no doubt be focused on forthcoming sales data which indicated a return to rising total UK alcohol consumption last year, largely driven by the continued growth in off-sales. As such, health advocates wish to see Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) to curb the availability of the cheapest alcohol – a final conclusion to Scotland’s long running bid is expected imminently.
There has been a great deal of talk recently about JAM (just about managing) or “squeezed middle” in the UK and this share of expenditure being spent on booze can’t be helping financially or otherwise.

A Tunnel That Wakes You – Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed)

Dear Sugar

I think (know) I have a serious problem with alcohol.  It freaks me out; it even wakes me up in my sleep because I am terrified of this tunnel I keep going further into.  No one has ever said anything to me about it, because I’ve always been professional, calm, laid-back and in control.  I don’t think I have control anymore, and it seriously scares me.  I drink before work, when I wake up, drinking during lunch, and drink as soon as I get home to fall asleep, when no on can see me doing it.

But I also drink out socially, with my friends, and they are impossible NOT to drink around, and they actually prefer to see me “on”, which is the only state I seem to be comfortable with now.  I don’t think I can give up drinking out socially, because without my friends, I would probably just end up drinking more at home alone.

I know you are not a psychologist, but I would like to get some unbiased advice about this.  I have tried to approach some people about this before (including therapy), but it has proved fruitless, and also really embarrassing.  I guess I am hoping you have the magic, easy solution to this, and I am going to assume there probably isn’t one.

Thanks, Drinker

Dear Drinker,

My unbiased advice is that you know you’re addicted to alcohol and you need help.  You’re right that there is no “magic easy solution” to this, sweet pea, but there is a solution.  It’s that you stop using alcohol.  Privately.  Socially.  Morning.  Noon.  Night.  And probably forever.

You will need to do this when you’re ready to do this.  To be ready you need only the desire to change your life.  To succeed, most people need a community of support.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a good place to begin.  There, you will find those who struggle in the same ways you do; people who once told themselves the same lies about what was “impossible.”

Addiction is a tunnel that wakes you up in the middle of the night.  Everything else happens out here in the light.

Yours, Sugar

Taken from Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Commons alcohol policy briefings

Thanks once again to Alcohol Policy UK for this information shared in April.  A spate of alcohol research briefings produced by the House of Commons Library have recently been released, suggesting continuing Government interest in alcohol’s impact on society.  An expectation of the need to tackle alcohol harms now seems further embedded amongst the general population.

The recent House of Commons Library briefings include:

Alcohol: minimum pricing

The recent Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) briefing [pdf] sets out a brief history of MUP in the UK, highlighting:

‘The Government has said that MUP “remains under review pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government, and the impact of the implementation of this policy in Scotland”.

The Coalition Government introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price from 28 May 2014. This is one of the licensing conditions of the mandatory code of practice that applies to licensed premises.

The Coalition Government’s alcohol strategy (March 2012) had included a commitment to introduce MUP. A consultation (November 2012) on the strategy recommended a price of 45p per unit. The commitment was dropped in July 2013 – the then Government claimed that its analysis of consultation responses showed there was not enough “concrete evidence” that MUP would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.’

The briefing further review the details of recent policy developments, including the long-running Scottish Government’s effort to implement MUP in face of successive legal challenges and appeals by sections of the alcohol industry. A final conclusion to the saga is expected this year, which should it result in implementation will be likely to increase pressure on any Government in Westminster to make commitments pending  positive outcomes. Wales and Ireland meanwhile take the view the evidence is already conclusive enough and are seeking MUP irrespectively.

Alcohol taxation and the pub trade

Often tied in with MUP debates, debates over the potential for taxation as a pricing lever can be equally hard fought. A newly released briefing on taxation and the pub trade [pdf] extensively details some of the key issues including the way alcoholic drinks are taxed, Labour’s introduction of a ‘duty escalator’ in 2008, and reported concerns in the pub trade over the impact of the policy. It further considers the Coalition Government decision to remove the duty escalator in two stages in 2013 and 2014, and the current Government’s approach to the taxation of alcohol.

Indeed the growing price gap between off and on-trade sales has been charged with the shift towards home drinking and continued decline in pubs. Whilst multiple factors are likely to be at play, many are concerned that cheap off-trade sales fuel heavy drinking in unregulated environments and ‘pre-loading’. A current consultation on changes to white cider may have some effect down the line, but will not address many of the broader public health concerns.

Alcohol: mandatory licensing conditions

A briefing on the mandatory licensing conditions [pdf] has also been released, detailing the amendments made to the Licensing Act intended to address ‘irresponsible drinking’. A mandatory condition in 2014 introduced the controversial ‘below cost ban’ – an alternative price floor following the MUP u-turn, but in reality thought to affect few if any drinks on sale to the public.

Existing mandatory conditions introduced in 2010, which too may have been of questionable impact or unknowns over national levels of adherence, include:

  • ban irresponsible promotions
  • ensure free potable water for customers
  • ensure that small measures of beers, wine and spirits are offered and that customers are made aware of them
  • ensure that all those who sell or supply alcohol have an age verification policy in place requiring them to ask anyone who looks under 18 for proof of age

Children in pubs

A new briefing relating to children in pubs [pdf] sets out the various legal and policy considerations for this rather complex area. Whilst the Licensing Act includes the protection of children as one of its four main objectives, children can attend most pubs if accompanied by an adult and within certain hours. However certain other laws and circumstances exist, as well as important considerations around age checks, employment and other issues.

Alcohol: drinking in the street

A recent briefing on issues pertaining to street drinking highlights that whilst consuming alcohol in public places is not illegal per se, a range of legislation and controlled zones exist which can authorise confiscation or arrest related to public space consumption. Since their introduction, powers of confiscation, dispersals or penalty notices have been significantly utilised and are likely to have contributed to falls in arrests for drunk and disorderly or being drunk in a public place. Street drinking however remains a concern in many areas; a toolkit for ‘Tackling street drinking’ was released last year, intended to help ‘reduce the incidents of, and burden from, street drinking and to improve the interventions provided to street drinkers themselves.’

Let’s see if what they said is followed up with actions ….