There are maybe 770,000 part-time and full-time jobs connected with alcohol business in the UK, according to an IAS estimate. And there are about 638.000 people who are alcohol dependent, meaning they experience side effects when not inebriated. ■
Western culture makes a fetish of strenuous effort. Put in lots of effort, we are told, and we can reliably expect cracking results. I, like a lot of people, was brought up to believe it. Media reinforce the idea. But it is not true.
Many of us often work extremely hard and get very limited results in return. What we invariably get, however, is fatigue. Over the long term we often get chronic fatigue. We also increase our chances of injury and becoming jaded.
We also boost the chances we crave relief from the pain and strain we have induced. Enthusiastic efforts to improve our health can lead us to look for relief using alcohol or in other counterproductive ways.
I was brought up to be a firm believer in the try hard ethos. Whether it was memorising irregular foreign verbs or running round a playing field until we puked. It was all quite unpleasant, but rest assured the pain would have a pay off.
There is something to be said for seeing where our limits are and experiencing what happens when we reach them. It is instructive, but constantly pushing our gauges into the red is a flawed long-term strategy.
Real achievements typically emerge from steady, sustainable and enjoyable effort. Bodies strengthen, but they take time. Books, academic papers and brick walls take shape, but not thanks to an afternoon of frantic exertion.
Willing ourselves to regularly hit our pain thresholds can induce endorphins that soothe strain and stress. But over the long term this can backfire when we no longer want to endure discomfort simply for a painkilling payoff.
My own experience was that I became tired of the satisfaction and reward of enduring things as an end in itself. Eventually I found what Chinese philosophy calls wu wei, a slippery idea one might say means “never pushing”.
The idea is to never strain oneself. One should look at ways to sail rather than row to a destination. Rather than giving oneself a pat on the back for labouring, one should focus on technique, reducing effort and enhancing enjoyment.
It is an approach that can be well embodied in some tai chi classes. If you feel any pain or strain you are told to stop moving quite so much. The lesson for an inveterate try-harder is stop trying so hard, progress will come anyway.
I did no more than the tai chi basics, but “never pushing” works with anything. I swam this way for three years. I was never injured, tired or stressed and was able to enjoy every minute. I emerged far stronger and with technique improved.
The ultra low intensity meant there was no pain or discomfort during or after. This meant there was not the slightest temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or anything else. Swimming itself became a longed-for stress relief.
Making never pushing and enjoyment the key parameters of success make activities themselves the rewarding relaxation it should be. Well-being not effort is the most reliable basis for progress. ■
The discussion over parliamentary groups is important to tackling alcohol harm, with some promoting alcohol interests while another looks to curb alcohol harm. They are not mutually exclusive.
The chair of a group of UK parliamentarians focused on reducing alcohol harm is also co-chair of another recently revealed to have taken money from an alcohol-industry-linked group.
Christian Wakeford, who switched from the Conservatives to Labour in January, is chair of the Alcohol Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), supported by charity Alcohol Change for a figure of £3,000.
But Wakeford is also co-chair of the alcohol-industry supported group on the Night Time Economy, which has the mission, “To recognise the cultural and economic importance of nightlife to the UK.”
Records show this APPG received £7,500 or more from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which campaigns to #SaveNightlife for pubs, clubs and alcohol companies including Pernod Ricard and Jägermeister.
Wakefield and Alcohol Change were both contacted for comment on the issues raised by this story, but had yet to respond at the time of publication. Any replies will be added accordingly.
Just over half the £25m put into all-parliamentary bodies since 2018 was from the private sector, says research from the Guardian newspaper, a sum which critics say gives them undue sway in politics.
Journalists and members of the public are, arguably, encouraged to confuse reports written and published by commercial interests with one which has had politically balanced parliamentary oversight.
The smallprint of a 46-page NTIA report on the impact of covid-19 last year was billed, “An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Night Time Economy,” and bears the parliamentary portcullis logo.
But, in a small footnote, it adds, “This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees.”
The disproportionate role of commercial interests in establishing and being the real power behind All-Party Parliamentary Groups has wider implications for alcohol harm too.
The wine and spirits APPG produced a report last week on the “unworkability” of the government’s tax proposals. Some of its contentions were inaccurate but still gained uncritical media attention. ■
The average European’s household spends more on alcohol than on supplementing state education, says the European Commission. At €250 a year alcohol spending accounts for around 1.6% of household expenses, but the proportion varies widely across the bloc: In the Baltic States it is around four times the average, while in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Finland it is around three. The UK is almost exactly average in this regard, as is Germany, while Spain and Italy the percentage is around half the EU mean. ■
[Some detail exploring the underpinnings of this brief blog post.]
Reports of a study linking different kinds of alcoholic drinks with different mood states were making the rounds recently. The research used 30,000 survey responses from the Global Drug Survey and found that people attached different emotions to different alcoholic drinks.
For instance, more respondents reported feeling aggressive when drinking spirits than when drinking wine.
We all have friends who swear they feel differently when drinking different types of alcohol. But can different drinks really influence your mood in different ways?
Alcohol is alcohol
Let’s cut to the chase. No matter what the drink, the active ingredient is the same: ethanol.
When you have a drink, ethanol enters the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine and is then processed in the liver. The liver can process only a limited amount of alcohol at a time so any excess remains in the blood and travels to other organs, including your brain where mood is regulated.
The direct effects of alcohol are the same whether you drink wine, beer or spirits. There’s no evidence that different types of alcohol cause different mood states. People aren’t even very good at recognising their mood states when they have been drinking.
So where does the myth come from?
Scientists have studied specific alcohol-related beliefs called “expectancies”. If you believe a particular type of drink makes you angry, sad or sexed up, then it is more likely to.
We develop expectancies from a number of sources, including our own and others’ experiences. If wine makes you relaxed, it’s probably because you usually sip it slowly in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. If tequila makes you crazy, maybe it’s because you usually drink it in shots, which is bound to be on a wild night out.
Or if you regularly saw your parents sitting around on a Sunday afternoon with their friends and a few beers, you might expect beer to make you more sociable. Kids as young as six have been found to have expectancies about alcohol, well before any experience of drinking.
We build conscious and unconscious associations between alcohol and our emotions every time we drink or see someone else drinking.
We could even be influenced by music and art. “Tequila makes me crazy” is a common belief, which also happens to be a line in a Kenny Chesney song, and Billy Joel’s Piano Man might reinforce the idea that gin makes you melancholy.
It’s the ‘how’ more than the ‘what’
Other chemicals, called congeners, can be produced in the process of making alcohol. Different drinks produce different congeners. Some argue these could have different effects on mood, but the only real effect of these chemicals is on the taste and smell of a beverage. They can also contribute to a cracker of a hangover.
But there is no evidence that these congeners produce specific mood or behavioural effects while you are drinking.
The critical factor in the physical and psychological effects you experience when drinking really comes down to how you drink rather than what you drink. Different drinks have different alcohol content and the more alcohol you ingest—and the faster you ingest it—the stronger the effects.
Spirits have a higher concentration of alcohol (40%) than beer (5%) or wine (12%) and are often downed quickly, either in shots or with a sweet mixer. This rapidly increases blood alcohol concentration, and therefore alcohol’s effects, including changes in mood.
The same goes for mixing drinks. You might have heard the saying “Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear”, but again it’s the amount of alcohol that might get you into trouble rather than mixing different types.
Mixing a stimulant (like an energy drink) with alcohol can also mask how intoxicated you feel, allowing you to drink more.
You can reduce the risk of extreme mood changes by drinking slowly, eating food before and while you drink, and spacing alcoholic drinks with water, juice or soft drink. Stick to drinking within the Australian alcohol guidelines of no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion.
Party animals and bad eggs
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows the brain’s functioning. Alcohol’s effects include reducing activity in the part of the brain that regulates thinking, reasoning and decision-making, known as the prefrontal cortex. Alcohol also decreases inhibitions and our ability to regulate emotions.
“In vino veritas” (in wine there is truth) is a saying that suggests that when drinking we are more likely to reveal our true selves. While that’s not completely accurate, the changes in mood when someone is drinking often reflect underlying personal styles that become less regulated with alcohol on board.
Studies of aggression and alcohol, for example, show that people who are normally irritable, cranky or low in empathy when they are not drinking are more likely to be aggressive when their inhibitions are lowered while drinking.
As with all drugs, the effect alcohol has on your mood is a combination of the alcohol itself, where you are drinking it and how you’re feeling at the time.
So does alcohol make you crazy, mean or sad? If it does, you were probably a bit that way inclined already, and if you believe it enough it may just come true. ■
Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.