While there is no age in which it is illegal to drink alcohol in New Zealand, there are strict parameters for minors, such as parental consent, conditions of responsibility and laws around supply (you cannot sell alcohol to those under 18). Why is it that we have laws to protect our children from alcohol?
Research has shown that alcohol consumption interferes with brain development. Alcohol is a often a contributing factor in the lead cause of death among our youth (accidents and suicide). Alcohol can damage organs and lead to health problems down the track. Sadly, it can be addictive for some.
Essentially, we have been using alcohol as a social drug for thousands of years. Why would the younger generation think it’s bad for them when large numbers of the adults they know drink frequently or every day. Are we truly setting the best example for our children?
I personally don’t think we are.
Some adults will tell children they can’t drink, whilst they themselves may have a regular wine or two with dinner or a few too many over the weekend. What message are we conveying? You can’t drink but it’s totally acceptable for us to imbibe alcoholic beverages regularly. I’m surmising that many of us growing up have seen those in the ‘know’ get tipsy, argumentative, tearful or outrageous. We might have thought, if adults can, why shouldn’t we?
I have to confess, growing up I never considered the consequences of drinking. Drinking was the norm! My relationship with alcohol has changed significantly over the years and hopefully I can inspire you to look at alcohol in a different light.
Is there something magical about alcohol that makes it so attractive? Is it conditioning, good marketing, peer pressure or a combination of them all?
Have you ever asked yourself why you drink? Is it to be social? Is it to get tipsy? Does it give you social confidence? Is it because all your friends or family drink? Do you feel left out if the only one not drinking? Is it a habit or a need?
Drinking can become part of our routine. That glass of wine after a long day. Message to self, you deserve this! When we engage socially on a regular basis, it provides a sense of community, identity and belonging.
The reasons will be different for everybody but just because it is ‘socially acceptable’, it doesn’t mean that it is good for us. Nor does it give us what all those marketing companies promise, in the long-term.
Marketing, whether we realise it or not, hugely impacts our emotions, desires and decisions. The subliminal messages that you are cool, a real man’s man or you deserve ‘wine time’ could influence your desire for a drink.
Women are being targeted more and more. Marketing is appealing to what women are wanting in their lives – friendship, relaxation and empowerment. Children and adolescents are exposed to advertising through TV, billboards and social media. Tip this with natural curiosity and you have youngsters experimenting at a young age.
Ladies, something for you to consider. We don’t have the same capacity as males, we cannot process alcohol as quickly or as efficiently. Women are more at risk of developing an alcohol-related disease. Alcohol can cause breast cancer at even low doses.
What about those articles that tout the health benefits of alcoholic beverages? Red wine seems to be the clear winner because of its antioxidants, which are believed to reduce inflammation, lower heart disease and extend one’s lifespan. Are these good reasons for us to drink without worrying about the consequences?
Personally, I would prefer to get my antioxidants from fruit and vegetables. It turns out that even moderate levels of drinking can be detrimental to our health. In fact, just one alcoholic drink a day can increase a person’s risk for health problems. On the flip side, an occasional drink with friends can be a social tonic and could contribute to health and wellbeing.
A study published in Lancet concluded that alcohol is a leading risk factor for disease, accounting for nearly 10% of global deaths among populations aged 15 to 49 years of age. It recommended that the widely held view of the health benefits needed to be revised, since their findings demonstrated that the safest level of drinking is none.
Alcohol has been implicated in cancer, liver disease, heart disease, depression, addiction, poor sleep, nutritional deficiencies and memory problems.
As a nutritionist, I know that alcohol has a negative impact on our immunity and gut health. Alcohol irritates the gut and stomach lining and also harms our resident bacteria. This can lead to bowel problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea, bloating, indigestion, heart burn and in some cases stomach ulcers. It sadly ages us too.
The question remains, what are you getting from alcohol? Is it truly worth it? Are we giving the right message to our youth?
Is it time to break your relationship with alcohol? Perhaps you may be asking how you can drink less, let’s explore some options.
• Challenge yourself to take a three month break, work out how much you save by not drinking and what improvements in your health you noticed. Dry July is a good month to start.
• If that’s too extreme, aim to not drink during the week.
• Have the tonic without the gin.
• Drink a glass of water after every drink.
• Swap to low alcohol versions.
• Volunteer to be the designated driver.
• Set a drink limit and stick to it.
• If you come home hankering after a drink. Use the same glass and exchange the content with a glass of dilute grape juice (wine), a glass of sparkling water with lemon (gin), cold herbal tea or an occasional kombucha. Kombucha is a tonic and one shouldn’t drink too much of it, since it can cause yeast problems for some.
• Change your routine, so that alcohol isn’t the focus.
• Make sure you eat a nutritious meal.
• Take a good probiotic to look after your gut bacteria and something to support your liver.
My personal view, is that alcohol is nobody’s best friend. I wish I’d had a better understanding of the impact of alcohol on one’s health growing up. It has little nutritional value. It can change our behaviour and may impact our decision making. It can affect our sleep and mood.
Our behaviour can impact our children’s views on alcohol. Perhaps it’s time for some of us to become better role models and to truly consider our relationship with alcohol.