Let’s grab a pint. Let’s put in for another bottle of red. Let’s try that new craft beer. Much of British life is revolves around booze. It can be challenging to maintain a social life without it, and even at home, it’s common to uncork a bottle of wine after a tough day at work. Yet, despite our country’s ongoing love affair with alcohol, nobody likes to talk about the harm that dependency on the bottle can bring.
One in five harmed by others drinking alcohol over past year, survey finds
So on the rare occasion the issue is addressed, we should take note. A new survey has found that one in five people in England have been harmed by others drinking alcohol over the past year. The survey, which spoke to 5,000 over-16s, reported a range of less serious complaints, from being kept awake to feeling anxious about a person’s behaviour at a social occasion. But nearly one in 20 people reported experiencing aggression – being physically threatened or hurt – or being pressured into something sexual.
The authors of the report stressed that while some of the harm caused by alcohol could be considered less severe than other, more physical, issues, we shouldn’t dismiss the impact it has on health and quality of life, particularly if experienced persistently.
The study’s findings do not come as much of a surprise to me. I enjoy drinking socially, or picking out a bottle of wine for dinner. But I’ve also seen first hand the harm alcohol can do. I grew up in a house affected by alcoholism, and I spent my teenage years coping with a parent heavily affected by a dependency on alcohol. From psychological distress, to being a financial drain, alcohol can wreak havoc on the life of not only the person drinking, but on those closest to them.
Alcoholism affects millions across the UK, and yet we are still failing to confront the extent of alcohol-related problems. As such, I suspect the findings of the study are just the tip of the iceberg. One researcher said it would be difficult to draw concrete conclusions about the negative impact of alcohol because the study dealt with limited data. Indeed, a lack of data is a major problem. Because alcohol has long been considered a normal and necessary part of our lives, we’ve overlooked the harm it can cause to our health, family life and even safety. This has led to a dearth of in-depth research about alcohol, and in turn, has meant the issue is rarely treated as seriously as other health issues. Funding to address the consequences of dependency has also been cut.
And it’s not just that people want to avoid talking about the negative effects of alcohol – many of those affected by it can’t. Around 1% of respondents to the survey said they had been pressured or forced into something sexual because of alcohol; it also found that men and women experienced violence, aggression and emotional harm because of alcohol. But emotional abuse and sexual violence are already issues compounded by stigma and shame. When you weave in alcohol as a factor for such abuse, it makes it much less likely for the most vulnerable to speak up.
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There has been some progress in dispelling the stigma in public life. In the UK, actors such as Simon Pegg and politicians including the Labour MP Jon Ashworth, have talked publicly about their own direct and indirect experiences with alcoholism . However, while we’re moving in the right direction, it’s still difficult to have an honest conversation about alcohol without coming across as a killjoy.
Nobody is saying Britain needs to ditch the drink. Instead, what we need is a clearer understanding of the ways in which alcohol can impact our health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of our loved ones. A more open and honest conversation about it would be a good start.
• Rossalyn Warren is a freelance journalist