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Peer pressure and pub culture… Is alcohol negatively impacting our health? – An ex-Doctor’s viewpoint

This is a guest blog featuring ex-doctor, Adam Sinclair. He shares his view on ‘our’ (the UK’s) culture of alcohol consumption, peer pressure and whether alcohol is negatively impacting our health.

When YADA co-director Mark, a good friend and former colleague of mine, asked me to write a blog post, discussing my views on alcohol consumption and its adverse effects on health, my first thought was “he’ll owe me a pint for this”!

Let’s start with a disclaimer.

Observing my year group at medical school, you’d be forgiven for assuming alcohol formed an important part of our curriculum. I will, therefore, do my utmost to avoid hypocrisy in my writing here and, of course, all views expressed are undoubtedly my own.

The excessive use of alcohol can have devastating effects on one’s mental and physical health – this much is a given. Indeed, harmful alcohol use claims the lives of over 2.5 million people each year worldwide.

The NHS View

The NHS’ view is that regularly consuming more than 14 units of alcohol each week puts your health at risk. The Statistics on Alcohol, published in 2020 (covering England for the period 01 January 2018 to 31 December 2018), reports these alarming figures:

  • 5,698 alcohol-specific deaths in 2018 (1)
  • 358,000 admissions to hospital in 2018/19 where the main reason was due to drinking alcohol (2)
  • 38% of men and 19% of women aged 55 to 64 usually drank over 14 units in a week (3)

Alcohol is seen clearly as the toxin

Whilst I have never personally been hospitalized due to alcohol consumption, I dare say there were times I came close. As a foundation year 1 doctor-on-call, however, I have treated many people whose health, safety and wellbeing were severely impacted by the damaging effects of alcohol. So much so, that they were admitted to hospital.

It is in these moments that alcohol is seen clearly as the toxin that it is for our bodies. And, in its excessive use, how it wreaks havoc on our otherwise balanced physiological state; beautifully maintained without our conscious efforts.

In this post, I will list some of the physical and mental health disorders linked directly to the excessive use of alcohol. But, I really want to draw out the roles peer pressure and “drinking culture” have in influencing a person’s alcohol consumption.

 

Long-term mental and physical health risks associated with excessive alcohol use.

The NHS lists various pathologies as the long-term health risks of consuming excessive alcohol. It is notable, in my view, that these pathologies are diverse in their nature and, inter alia, include:

Depression

Hypertension

Mouth cancer

Bowel cancer

Breast cancer

Dementia

Infertility

Pancreatitis

Stroke

Of course, being social creatures, the excessive consumption of alcohol can affect more than our physical and/or mental health alone. Alcohol can negatively be impacting our health with regards to our social situations and the personal situations we find ourselves in, for example:

Domestic abuse

Homelessness

Financial difficulties

Family break-ups

As compelling as this ist is, there is still the matter of the addictive nature of alcohol to consider, a disease indiscriminate in its reach and ruinous in its effects.

I have seen first-hand, in both professional and personal contexts, patients and friends bravely battling this addiction. I can only admire their courage and commitment to what is, daily, both a fierce battle and a leap of faith.

Alcohol and peer pressure

At the risk of sounding old and obsolete, in my days of heavy “social” drinking, there was always a background of peer pressure to increase – or to at least keep up with my friends’ – drinking.

Honestly speaking, I enjoyed this “in it together” tomfoolery during university. But, once in a position where I had real-world responsibility and increased stress, I soon realised how insidious and pervasive this pressure really was.

I still struggle to resist the pressures of my friends (maybe through fear of losing their respect and/or future companionship). I have many times found myself in the position of resolving not to drink any alcohol that evening, only to later come home inebriated. Suffice to say, peer pressure and consuming too much alcohol is negatively impacting our health!

In my view, a culture with a strong peer resistance to saying “no” to something which is behaviour-changing and potentially jeopardous to our health, is something we need to talk about more.

This is the idea behind YADA – to foster an environment where such perceptions of alcohol are challenged.

Suffice it to say, with two young children who wake up early each morning, honing an ability to be straight-forward and assertive with my alcohol consumption in the presence of others, has become a necessity, not a luxury.