Alcohol quiz

Test your knowledge of key facts and curious details about alcohol and us, as explored in the book Alcohol Companion.

For most of its history alcohol was considered a medicine.

Do today’s medical professionals recommended drinking alcohol to treat or prevent any physical or mental health complaint?
Is Guinness, or any other stout, a good source of iron?

From which language does the word “alcohol” derive?

Do species other than humans develop alcohol problems in their natural environment?

Which organ's behaviour do we seek to influence when we drink alcohol?

How many kilometres of “wiring” are there in the human brain?

What percentage of the body’s power does the human brain typically consume?

Which of these does the brain control? (Multiple answers)
Do we sleep better after drinking alcohol?

Which of the following alters our response to alcohol? (Multiple answers)

How much more often do people with alcohol dependent parents become alcohol dependent themselves?

Which of these is more likely to happen after we have a “placebo drink”, like an alcohol-free beer, that might be mistaken for an alcoholic one?

Which food group’s calories compares most closely to alcohol?

On what percentage of the times that British men drink do they "binge", by having four or more pints?

And what proportion of times do British women binge in an equivalent way?

Drinking more alcohol makes controlling the amount we drink...

Roughly what proportion of people develop some degree of alcohol dependency after five years of heavy drinking?

The top 10% biggest alcohol drinkers drink roughly what percentage of the total?
Being inebriated tends to do what to the factors we feed into our decisions?

The dopamine neurotransmitter, which alcohol can trigger, is most accurately associated with which of the following sensations?

Roughly what percentage of violent crimes were committed drunk?

What is a realistic time-frame to recover from the primary symptoms of alcohol dependency?

Only if you want the results emailed

Liberty includes the freedom to think clearly

Restricting alcohol use can dramatically improve our decision-making, the key to our personal freedom.

Our choice to consume alcohol is often coerced, through social pressure and misleading ideas. And alcohol reduces our ability to assess our options. Continue reading “Liberty includes the freedom to think clearly”

Alcohol: Go with the flow🗼


Being alcohol aware can help us to be brain aware too, by going with the flow from which all our thoughts and feelings arise.

Continue reading “Alcohol: Go with the flow🗼”

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CAMRA leaders to discuss minimum alcohol pricing

The leaders of a traditional pub campaign group are set to discuss a call for it to support the “urgent introduction” of minimum alcohol pricing in England later this month.

The move comes in response to a motion passed at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) annual conference in Dundee earlier this month, which saw the arrival of a new chairman Nik Antona.

Alcohol has retailed for more than 50p ($0.66) per 10ml UK unit in Scotland since May last year. Supporters hope it will curtail the drinking of very heavy drinkers who gravitate towards cheap sources of alcohol. In England the price per unit starts at 16p.

The price of beer sold in pubs is unaffected by minimum pricing, typically being more than three times the 50p minimum price. Supporters within CAMRA argue minimum pricing may help counter the decline of British pubs by narrowing the price gap with supermarkets.

Others do not see it this way, saying on social media the pro-minimum price motion panders to “anti-alcohol” forces, threatening to cancel their CAMRA memberships. Some, however, wonder if an appreciation of untainted liberal economics is a necessary part of appreciating traditional beer.

The tension is not new. CAMRA’s former chairman Colin Valentine, who stood down last year, is said to have spoken in support of the minimum price motion. Yet, under Valentine’s chairmanship, CAMRA also echoed alcohol industry opposition to it.

Help may be at hand. An initial evaluation of the short-term economic impact of minimum pricing in Scotland is due later this year. And some insight into its effectiveness in achieving its goal of reducing harmful drinking is expected next year. ■

“Losers” is a Netflix winner

Losers”, an eight part series on Netflix, offers welcome and uplifting insight into the rich rewards of failing.

There are hardly any winners among us so it is extraordinary the extent to which they hog our attention.

The exceptional is curious and curiosity attracts audiences, but making an exception a media staple makes for an exceptionally warped outlook.

Comparing our running to Usain Bolt’s, our business to Warren Buffett’s or writing to Mark Twain’s is a recipe for feeling pretty ordinary.

There are necessarily 99.999%, or more, losers in most rankings, most of which we never even get a chance to join.

It is inaccurate and harmful to believe we operate in a meritocracy. Luck plays the largest part in any success we have.


Redressing the balance
“Losers” helps by telling the story of sportspeople who were near the top of their field, but were lucky enough to miss the number one spot.

It offers joyful tales of the suboptimal from boxers, ice skaters, dog sledders, curlers, ultra runners, footballers, golfers and basketball players.

Being denied the pinnacle in one narrow area, we learn, is often a helpful reminder its pursuit comes at the expense of other things.

French ice skater Surya Bonaly (right) found it impossible to secure Olympic gold, I knew. The fact she prospered afterwards, I did not.

So the heroic failures in this series led to new types of goal and new forms of success, typically better than being breifly number one.

Dominant winners will typically only get this chance when they get over the hill. Losers get this chance handed to us early.

Reevaluating dedication
Our dedications are praised, while our addictions are often scorned, but they can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

Dedication to something, just like an addiction, can obscure the negative effects it can have. Losing is a lucky chance to take stock.

“Losers” offers a range of inspiring and engaging stories about how our misfortunes can turn into new kinds of winning.

Point-scoring helps keep us entertained and motivated, but is an extremely unreliable measure of success. ■

Alcohol Companion, video, March 2019

This episode: We should not be surprised alcohol harms poorer people so much more; Toasting brewing giants’ alcohol-free successes. And the unique challenges of alcohol’s popularity. And the unlikely comforts of cold showers.
– Book and resources
http://philcain.com/alcohol-companion
– Poorer Scots 13 times more likely to be treated for alcohol-related psychiatric disorders
https://twitter.com/philcaincom/status/1101091152558784512
– The unique challenge posed by alcohol’s popularity
https://www.smartrecovery.org/embedded-alcohol/
– Finding joy in cold showers
http://www.philcain.com/sto…/cold-showers-resilience-on-tap/

The unique challenge of alcohol’s popularity

“If you are trying to change your approach alcohol and feel a bit out of place in the world, little wonder. It isn’t just you. This is alcohol’s unique challenge, which is not matched by other drugs, which do not stir such near-universal affection.”

Cold showers: Happiness on tap?

What I thought were eccentricities born of writing a book on alcohol turn out to be a “thing”—a thing called the Wim Hof Method.

It is surprisingly easy to slip into a daily routine that, on first impression, might not seem out of place in a Victorian lunatic asylum.

I had learned regular deep, diaphragm breathing and breath-holding exercises can calm our nervous systems. So I did them.

And an intrepid friend lured me into distinctly nippy sea swimming off Brighton, having a clear mood-boosting and soothing effect.

It tallied with some research suggesting cold water exposure might also help downshift our nervous systems.

Sea-less, I improvised with cold showers, applying the key pro tip of starting slowly and, above all, relaxing.

Literary inspiration
The connection to my book is that these methods may help tackle two common drivers of alcohol consumption, anxiety and low mood.

A bid to overcome these two are among the most common reasons we choose to drink alcohol. Fine, except it makes them worse.

Knowing this gives a strong motive to look for new ways to soothe our woes, one or two might actually work.

Like for Tigger, it is our ability to bounce which seems to make us feel sustained happiness, not simply accumulating highs.

More than any one thing, for me this has meant making a habit of saying Yes to things which might add some boing.

Less than outlandish
After outlining my penchant for heavy breathing and cold showers over coffee the other day, I expected at least a raised eyebrow.

But, no, far from being taken aback, my companion just said, “Oh, you mean the Wim Hof Method?” I was a little crestfallen.

It turns I had concocted a homespun version of a routine popularised by Dutch daredevil Wim Hof, who has ascended Everest in just shorts.

The official routine involves more vigorous breathing and a super-long breath hold. Mine was over three minutes this morning.

And the cold exposure is longer than mine was too, as one might expect from a record-breaking “iceman” rather than a weakling journalist.

Gearing up my homespun routine using the new method has lead to some noticeable improvements.

On a scale of one to ten, where ten is running around, arms in the air, my anxiety/gloom level was about four. Now it’s about three.

One thing missing from any self-made regime is the support and community. It is good to be part of an actual thing now.

As an outrider to Wim Hofers worldwide I will take heart from a shared experience and gladly draw on ideas, knowledge and enthusiasm.

It is great to know similar ideas and inspiration land and grow in separate places, and can come together and reinforce one another.

Cold comfort
Cold water and breathing exercises, Hof or otherwise, are by no means a unique way to boost our bounce.

But what is perhaps special is their accessibility, being almost free to anyone in decent respiratory health with access to a bathroom.

The science which grows up around this type of practice will surely help explain and increase their effectiveness.

My guess is the mood boost comes from pain relievers our bodies release to counteract the cold, rather as they do in strenuous exercise.

We might also be cheered by notch up an achievements. And the calming effect may come from learning to suppress our alarm response.

The long breath hold and the water may also help trigger our innate water diving responses which could low our nervous responess.

It may not actually stop us getting ill, as some claim it does, but they may well help us endure the symptoms. That would be good enough.

We should also be alert to potential downsides too. Being more resilient is great, but not everything. Sensitivity has a place too.

After trying it for a full 31 day I can see enough upsides to continue to invest the 20 minutes it requires most days, if not every day.

My goal is not to explore extremes or test my limits, but I am more than happy to defy my initial wariness to harness the positives. ■

Alcohol Companion, video, January 2019

What next after Dry January?; Welcome news of the possible return of guideline labelling in the UK; And why alcohol is an important subject. Links mentioned
Alcohol Companion book and resources
Why it’s worth considering carrying on after Dry January
Guideline labelling’s welcome return in the UK
Support independent alcohol journalism