Tag Archives: Alcoholism

Alcohol consumption among university students in the British Isles

university student drinkingSo it feels like we’ve hit pretty much every other demographic from young person to older people except university students.  So to the left is the university drinking league table for 2015 where they quizzed 1,649 UK university students via an online survey, asking all about your drinking habits and attitudes towards alcohol.  And here is the research paper that looks at university student drinking from a research and academic point of view!  My current university it seems is 46th on the list out of 50.



Alcohol is a leading cause of global suffering. Europe reports the uppermost volume of alcohol consumption in the world, with Ireland and the United Kingdom reporting the highest levels of binge drinking and drunkenness. Levels of consumption are elevated among university students. Thus, this literature review aims to summarise the current research on alcohol consumption among university students in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.


MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE and PsychInfo were systematically searched for literature from January 2002 until December 2014. Each database was searched using the following search pillars: alcohol, university student, Ireland or the United Kingdom and prevalence studies.


Two thousand one hundred twenty eight articles were retrieved from electronic database searching. These were title searched for relevance. 113 full texts were retrieved and assessed for eligibility. Of these, 29 articles were deemed to meet inclusion criteria for the review. Almost two thirds of students reported a hazardous alcohol consumption score on the AUDIT scale. Over 20 % reported alcohol problems over their lifetime using CAGE while over 20 % exceed sensible limits each week. Noteworthy is the narrowing of the gender gap throughout the past decade.


This is the first review to investigate consumption patterns of university students in Ireland and the United Kingdom. A range of sampling strategies and screening tools are employed in alcohol research which preclude comparability. The current review provides an overview of consumption patterns to guide policy development.

To read the full paper go here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4759952/

Edited to add: for anyone who missed the excellent Louis Theroux  documentary Drinking to Oblivion last night on BBC 2 it’s showing on iPlayer for the next 29 days here:

Drinking to Oblivion

No link has gone up on Youtube yet but as soon as it does I’ll share it here for my non UK based readers 🙂

Edited to add 30th Sept 2017:

Are universities failing to act on heavy drinking?


Life imitating art

So a couple of weeks ago it was reported in The Guardian that Jon Hamm – the actor who plays Don Draper in the Mad Men series has been treated for alcohol dependence.


Mad Men star Jon Hamm has recently completed a course of treatment for alcoholism, a spokesperson for the actor has confirmed.

Hamm entered rehab to tackle his addiction with the support of his longtime partner, fellow actor and film-maker Jennifer Westfeldt, their publicist Annett Wolf said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The 44-year-old actor has played Don Draper, a troubled advertising executive with a dark past and drinking problems of his own, for seven seasons of Matthew Weiner’s Madison Avenue-set drama.

Disclosure of Mad Men actor’s treatment for alcohol addiction comes as his character Don Draper returns for the final episodes of the US advertising drama

Of course I wish Jon well in his journey to recovery but there is something very poignant about this for me.

I love the series Mad Men and used to watch it avidly.  The last time I watched it was back in 2012 and I had just given up smoking but was still drinking.  I remember watching it, glass of wine in hand, and being envious of them all chuffing away on their cigarettes.  Watching them made me miss smoking.  So having left off at the end of Series 5 if felt only right to catch up and so I’ve been watching Series 6.

What struck me is how this has become life imitating art.  You watch Don Draper drinking from what seems like from morning till night in the series and the fact that his fictional character works within advertising just seems so oddly apt.

(Edited to add: thanks to Lori for this brilliant infographic that breaks down Don Draper’s drinking – click to enlarge)


One of the reasons I love this series is it is so beautifully created and shot and I observe his character sit in a bar light a cigarette and order an ‘old fashioned’ and I so want to be there sat beside him.  For a fleeting second it made me miss drinking.  The connection and subconscious influence is so powerful – just like the advertising world and their tricks that the series focuses on.

And that’s the catch isn’t it?  This series isn’t the real world – it’s a fiction, much like the world that advertising conjures up for us.  The reality is that the actor who plays this character has now had to have treatment for alcoholism.  THIS is the reality.

It reminds me of when the news broke about the Marlboro Man having died of lung cancer.  I was a Marlboro smoker and again that advertising image was iconic.  But the reality again impinged on the world of make believe that advertising created with the real world outcome of his smoking during the promotion of that product causing him to develop lung cancer.  Not quite so glamorous or iconic then is it?

There is a brilliant line in episode 2 of series 6 where Roger Sterling says to Don Draper following an unsuccessful pitch “You know we sold actual death for 25 years with Lucky Strike.  You know how we did it?  We ignored it ………”

Time and again advertising’s smoke (excuse the pun!) and mirrors in all mediums, whether print or screen, makes me think of the film The Wizard of Oz and the scene when they finally get to meet the wizard ……

In the words of the scarecrow – it’s ‘humbug’!  It’s all a big con to make us believe that this is how we should live when the reality of the outcome of that living is very different from the presented image.

I wish Jon Hamm well and can’t wait to catch up with series 6 in readiness to see the final series in the near future.  But I shan’t be missing the fags or the booze as I KNOW the limited benefits are a fiction and that in reality my life is better without them 🙂

The spiral of change

I’m reading this great book called ‘Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?’ by Robert Doyle, a Psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School and expert on alcoholism and Joseph Nowinski, a Clinical Psychologist.  It is really worth a read.

In it they talk about using dialectics to promote an inner dialogue to allow insight and maybe even the catalyst for an ‘aha’ moment!  Dialectics is a way to understand the way things are and the way things change.  The 3 simple rules of dialectics are:

  1. Every thing is made of opposing forces/sides (be it object or process)
  2. Gradual changes leads to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other
  3. Changes move in spirals, not circles


This makes me think of the expression ‘being trapped in a downward spiral’ which is often how my drinking felt.  But we can also have upward spirals which is where I consider myself now as my health, wealth and happiness improve on an almost daily basis.

They give some great examples of dialetic thoughts and questions to ponder such as:

Who am I vs Who do I think I should I be?

What do I want vs Why am I here?

Where have I been vs Where am I going?

I find these questions useful both from a still drinking perspective or a post stopping perspective.  When I was drinking these questions were helpful in aiding my resolve to change my drinking behaviour initially temporarily and then permanently.

Now I’ve stopped I’m thinking about what I want to do with all the time, energy and resources that are now available to me and how I can best use them to make my life feel like it is moving forward and I am growing, learning and reaching my full potential.

Waterloo Road

I had a text from a friend of mine asking me if I had watched this programme the night before last as it had a story line about a recovering alcoholic who had relapsed .  I don’t really watch much TV and wasn’t a regular viewer of this show but my interest was peaked so I watched it last night.

Waterloo Road is a British television drama series set in a Scottish comprehensive school of the same name broadcast on BBC1.

The story line for this character in the summary reads:

Christine’s alcoholism continues to be a recurring storyline in this series as she struggles with being in the demanding role of Head Teacher. With George, a friend and former drinking partner, being around once more old habits appear to be remembered by them both. Christine comes close to downing a whole bottle of vodka during the first episode but declines, proving herself to be stronger than she once was. In the last episode, Christine struggles at Simon and Sue’s wedding reception with the alcoholic drinks that surround her.

The summary of this week’s episode:

Christine wakes up with a horrific hangover. In a massive error of judgement, she gets into her car while still under the influence and drives to school.

From that moment on, Christine’s day descends from bad to worse until her whole future hangs in the balance…

You can watch it here:


To me this felt like watching what would have happened to me if I played the tape forward to the very end of not stopping drinking.  How her error’s of judgement multiple under the influence of either a hangover or drinking.  How rationality and stability is replaced with her increasingly labile emotional state and reactions.  It also showed how unforgiving people can be and how misunderstood addiction to alcohol remains.

Also, as my friend pointed out, there were no telephone support or advice lines offered at the end of the show to help people who had been affected by the storyline, which is both unusual and disappointing of the BBC.  The BBC should be commended however for tackling this as an issue in a popular TV show that is watched by 4-5 million people.  If I had been watching it with a drink in my hand it would have made very uncomfortable viewing.

(Apologies to those reading this outside of the UK who will not be able to view the episode but there is a clip on Youtube)

Allergy to alcohol

I saw this image and quote, which I love, and it got me thinking.

For many decades, perceived medical wisdom was that stomach ulcers (both gastic and duodenal) were caused by stress and lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking and diet.  Until 1982 when it was discovered that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori was responsible for many presenting cases and could be tested for and managed with a course of ‘triple therapy’ of two different types of antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).  The treatment of gastritis and stomach ulceration was revolutionised with this knowledge.

And then Veronica Valli shared a video of Elizabeth Vargas’ candid admission of her alcoholism on US television last week.  During the video interview she shared how she had described her disease to her children as an allergy to alcohol.

Now in the last 20 years allergies and intolerance’s to food have become common and in some instances, such as peanut allergies, can be life-threatening.  Their existence is accepted and they are managed accordingly.  So my logic was that in the same way that causes of stomach ulceration had been misunderstood in the past could our pigeon-holing and stereotyping of alcoholism have been a victim of the same narrow thinking?  If we were to broaden our thinking about alcohol dependency and alcoholism and consider it as an allergy to alcohol that had negative consequences for those who drank, would people be more likely to admit there was a problem and accept help?  Would it destigmatise the disease sufficiently that we could have an honest conversation with ourselves and each other about the substances effect on us and would it then be managed more appropriately before reaching the equally life-threatening stage?

I have an intolerance to wheat, like an increasing number of people I know, who chose to eat less of it because of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms they suffer as a consequence.  I am not afraid of people knowing this.  Would I be less reluctant to discuss my abstaining from alcohol if I could say that it was because I have an intolerance to it and my life is better if I exclude it, just like I do with wheat?

Just food for thought ……

The secondary effects of drinking

I love my job as I get to work with children and young people in public health.  Unfortunately though whereas in one of my previous nursing specialities I dealt with the physical primary effects of drinking on alcoholics, in this role I deal with the environmental secondary effects of drinking.  What I mean by that is part of my role involves safeguarding children and many of them are under our care because of parental alcohol abuse and dependency.

There have been 2 serious case reviews in the UK in the recent past that have been picked up by the national media.  These were for the deaths of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan.

In the cases of both these children there were many interlinking factors that contributed to their abuse and eventual deaths that included domestic violence, and in the case of Hamzah Khan, maternal mental ill health.  In both cases alcohol abuse and dependency was also present and this is mirrored in local serious case review reports.

Alcohol Concern produced a report in October 2010 called ‘Swept under the carpet: Children affected by parental alcohol misuse’ and it makes grim reading.  The report includes key statistics that include:

  • There is evidence of parental substance misuse in 57% of serious case reviews
  • In a study of four London Boroughs, almost two thirds (62%) of all children subject to care proceedings had parents who misused substances.
  • Alcohol plays a key part in 25-33% of known cases of child abuse
  • Alcohol use is a feature in a majority of domestic abuse offences

I am not sharing these facts to depress but to highlight an area of concern that I see on a daily basis that the UK govt seems to fail to acknowledge when looking at the effects of harmful drinking.  When the impact of harm from secondary smoking was evidenced smoke free laws were implemented.  When will the same level of importance be attached to the impact of the secondary effects of drinking?

 ‘Alcoholism is hidden because it is legal – it’s swept under the carpet’ Girl aged 13

Why do I have a problem with alcohol when others do not?

This is a question that I have asked myself many times, mostly in a whiny toddler voice when I’d like to have a drink and know I shouldn’t or can’t, like Christmas Eve.  It’s the question that wolfie shows up in time and time again.  And when I talk to anyone who knows me well about my issue with alcohol in any great depth they all say to a man – but you didn’t really drink that much did you?

I nursed alcoholics so know how alcoholism presents and even now struggle to put myself in the same category as those I cared for.  But the only difference between them and me is that I have stopped drinking before I reach the place that they did.  I was psychologically addicted to alcohol, or alcohol dependent, which is only a short step away from physical addiction and the move between psychological and physical dependence can happen in a matter of weeks.  I was heavily dependent and had a high tolerance.  I had blackouts.  If I was honest with myself I consumed waaay more than the Govt recommended guidelines.  I wasn’t consuming as many units as the alcoholics I used to nurse but I was closer to their numbers than the recommended unit guidance.

I was reading this today and it helped me with the answer to that question.

Risk factors for addiction include:

Genetic predisposition

A history of mental health issues

Early use of drugs

Environmental factors, like growing up in a family of drinkers or working in an environment where heavy drinking is common

Childhood trauma

Of those 5 I could check 4.

Now I could go back to drinking but knowing this helps me face the fact that I am probably only a few drinks away from full blown alcoholism.  The odds are not in my favour and it would be like a game of Russian Roulette.  That’s a game I no longer want to play and to be honest having not drunk now for over 100 days why would I?  I feel better than I can ever remember and when I look back on Christmas and New Year I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.  So why risk the bullet and it’s consequences?

Neural network of a dependent drinker

These words of wisdom came from a blogger on Soberistas who goes by the name of Pip:

‘The brain is full of neural pathways and the “priorities” pathways are the ones that give us the ‘want/urge/desire/need to eat, drink water, be sociable and mate… all for survival. If we ignore them we will die.  The pathways created by an addiction will take priority over many others, giving us the ‘want/urge/desire/need (craving) to take alcohol as though the body thinks it will die if it doesn’t have it as it thinks it needs it for survival.  When we stop putting alcohol in, the brain starts sending loud messages out that it wants and needs this chemical to survive.  WE know that we won’t die, but the brain doesn’t.  If we stop using these pathways for long enough, they will narrow down.  New ones are being made with every minute/day we don’t use this chemical (alcohol).  The chemical balance of the brain returns to normal and all the receptors and dopamine, etc start working normally, without being confused by alcohol.

Cravings are the brain thinking we need this substance for survival.  Stop using the pathways and new ones are created.  Then the desire to drink lessens.’

This is supported by research which shows that several characteristics that were identified by a pruned neural network have previously been shown to be important in this disease (alcoholism) based on more traditional linkage and association studies. (Falk, 2005).

The sober blogging community is a beautiful thing.  We are forming networks of sober bloggers like our brains are forming new non-drinking neural networks.  Synchronicity in action 🙂


Day 80

Is it true?

Well I survived my first big birthday party with the only learn from the evening being not to drink 3 slimline tonics in quick succession as the quinine in it it will make you jittery!  One of my favourite tipples was a g&t so most people must have thought that that was what I was drinking and so very few questions were asked.  Had some lovely chocolate cake too 🙂

We left the club in Soho, central London at about 11pm and boy oh boy were the streets full of drinking casualties.  I don’t know if in my past I have ever been in this part of town at this time of night and not been in a similar state.  How sad is that but conversely last night was another personal first to add to the list! Oh and 6 weeks today 🙂

A comment in my last blog and the sober observations of the Friday night carnage got me thinking.  We think in the UK that we have a societal problem with alcohol worse than anywhere else, but is this true?  Does every country think they have the worst drinking problem?  The lovely Mrs D (thanks for the 2nd comment too) might be able to share the view from New Zealand, but if anyone else happens to read this and would like to share their experience from their corner of the world that would be great!  This isn’t a competition but I wonder if we all think that our countries problem is worse and unique when the reality is that this is a global epidemic not a national one?