Press release: Is your drinking putting your health and relationships at risk?

November 2021 | 12 minutes

A new survey, commissioned by charity Alcohol Change UK, shows around one in five drinkers (22%) have drunk to try to cope with relationship problems in the past six months, or because of an argument with a family member (20%). A similar proportion of drinkers (19%) have struggled to socialise without alcohol.

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Press release for Alcohol Awareness Week 2021

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The survey has been carried out to mark the start of Alcohol Awareness Week, led by Alcohol Change UK, which takes place from 15-21 November on this year’s theme of ‘Alcohol and relationships’.

Research consistently shows that the coronavirus pandemic has created conditions for more people to drink more heavily and more often than usual. While occasional and low level alcohol only brings low risks, when we drink too much and too often, it can cause or exacerbate all sorts of problems with our physical and mental health, as well as negatively affecting our relationships.

It can heighten family tensions, get in the way of clear communication, and mean we are less present for each other, including our children. And if a loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge worry. There is also a real risk of someone’s drinking causing conflict, with alcohol being a factor in many cases of child neglect and domestic abuse.

Over half of respondents (51%) to the survey reported having, or having had, a friend, family member, or partner with a drink problem. But the harm is felt more heavily among people from certain ethnic groups - with a quarter of those from mixed, multiple ethnic groups (25%) and Asian, Asian British backgrounds (23%) identifying as having a drink problem over the past six months, compared to 14% of people from white British backgrounds and 8% from Black, African, Caribbean and Black British backgrounds.

When looking at the effect of drinking on our mental health, the survey revealed almost three in 10 drinkers (29%) have felt anxious, stressed or worried during or after drinking in the past six months, more than one in three (36%) have had poor sleep quality, while around three in 10 drinkers have felt irritable or angry (28%), or sad or low (31%).

With more of us socialising following a return to a more normal life, people are feeling extra pressures too – pressures to drink due to sober shaming (being made to feel that not drinking is wrong), and the pressures we put on ourselves to get back to ‘normal’ socialising.

Yet more than one in three drinkers (34%) prefer to socialise without alcohol, and a similar number (36%) felt it would be easier to choose not to drink if their partner also chose not to.

The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with a series of statements. When asked whether ‘My relationships are healthier when I’m not drinking’, almost one in three people (30%) agreed.

In support of this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week, we’re encouraging people to think about the impact that alcohol can have on our relationships. Talking, and be prepared to listen more, about the way your own or someone else’s drinking is affecting you and those around you, can help you to consider making some changes for a healthier and happier life.

To mark the start of the week, Parliamentarians including Christian Wakeford MP and Dan Carden MP are meeting online today [15 November] for an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm event to discuss the impact of alcohol on relationships.

In addition, thousands of community groups across the UK are taking part in Alcohol Awareness Week to raise awareness of the ways in which alcohol can affect us and our relationships with those around us.

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said:

“Our relationships with other humans are wonderful but complex, and at times they can be really tough. With many of us drinking much more during the pandemic, for many different reasons, our relationships at home, with friends and at work can become even tougher. And if our partner, friend or loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge tensions and disagreements, and even lead to us drinking more too, in an attempt to cope or escape.

“By talking to each other about alcohol and our relationships (while we’re sober!) we can help each other to better understand how alcohol might be affecting us and those around us. It’s always important to remind ourselves, and each other, that alcohol is optional, not essential, to life. If it’s become ‘essential’ to us, we probably have a problem.

“By taking control of our drinking, rather than letting it control us, we can develop better, happier relationships, as well as improved health and wellbeing. A great way to start is by recording what you drink for a few weeks to help you understand your drinking pattern, then setting yourself some achievable goals to get it back under control. Use the free app Try Dry to help you keep track and set goals to help you cut down.”

Aidan Jones OBE, CEO of relationships charity Relate, said:

“Drinking is an issue which comes up regularly in our counselling work with couples, families and individuals and this has certainly been the case during the pandemic.

“While it may seem like a short-term escape from pain, suffering, and sometimes even boredom, drinking heavily can be incredibly damaging to relationships, increasing conflict, creating distance and reducing trust. Where there are children involved, this can have a profound impact on their ability to form healthy relationships.

“If you or a relative is drinking too much start by talking about it openly and honestly. You may want to consider counselling if communication is tricky so you can address the drinking and begin to rebuild trust in your relationships.”

Emma Campbell (aged 50) and Dave Wilson (aged 57) from London found their marriage was almost derailed by Dave’s drinking. With frank and beautiful honesty, they share how it felt back then and how Dave’s decision to go sober has revitalised their lives and marriage.

Tips for healthier drinking and happier relationships

  • Talk it over: If you’re having problems or something is playing on your mind, it’s good advice to talk things through when both of you are sober – don’t wait until one or both of you has started drinking.
  • Commit to cutting down: The UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend not drinking more than 14 units a week; that means about six pints of lager or a bottle and a half of wine.
  • Keep track of your drinking: Recording what you drink for a few weeks will help you understand your drinking pattern so that you can decide if you want to make a change. Use a free app like Try Dry to keep track of your drinking and set goals to help you cut down.
  • Go alcohol-free for a month: Take time off from drinking by having a Dry January or other alcohol-free break. It’s a great way to reassess your relationship with alcohol, and have some sober fun with your loved ones.
  • Ask for help: Ask for help if you feel you need it, or if you’re worried about someone else’s drinking. Lots of us struggle with alcohol at some point in our lives and need support to turn things around. Talk to your GP or your local alcohol service, or visit the Alcohol Change UK website to find out more about getting support.
  • Get relationship support: If your drinking is negatively affecting you or your relationships, get support from Relate. You can access counselling on your own or as a couple.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Contact

For interviews with Dr Richard Piper, Dave and Emma (our case studies), or other members of the Alcohol Change UK team, contact: Julie Symes - julie.symes@alcoholchange.org.uk

Alcohol withdrawal warning

Stopping drinking suddenly can be very dangerous, and can even kill you, if you are dependent on alcohol. If, after a period of drinking, you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be dependent on alcohol and you should NOT suddenly stop drinking completely:

  • seizures (fits)
  • hand tremors (‘the shakes’)
  • sweating
  • seeing things that are not real (visual hallucinations)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia).

But you can still take control of your drinking. Speak to a GP who will be able to get help for you to reduce your drinking safely.

Note on domestic abuse

This information does not cover domestic abuse. If you are affected in any way by domestic abuse, please seek help. If you are in immediate danger, dial 999. Refuge also provides the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. There are many other specialist organisations that can help you. Read our factsheet on Alcohol and domestic abuse to find out more.

Survey

The Survey was carried out online by Opinium between 15 to 19 October 2021. Total sample size was 2,000 UK adults, of whom 1,544 said they were drinkers. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Alcohol Awareness Week

Alcohol Awareness Week is a chance for the UK to get thinking about drinking. It’s a week of awareness raising, campaigning for change, and more. This year the week takes place from 15-21 November on the theme of Alcohol and relationships.

Join this year’s #AlcoholAwarenessWeek campaign and help drive the conversation about alcohol and relationships. Anyone can sign up for free resources to run Alcohol Awareness Week in their communities.

For information on what’s happening in your community search the hashtag #AlcoholAwarenessWeek.

Find out more: https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/alcohol-awareness-week-1

Alcohol Change UK

Alcohol Change UK works for a society that is free from the harm caused by alcohol, without being anti-alcohol. It creates evidence-driven change by working towards five key changes: improved knowledge, better policies and regulation, shifted cultural norms, improved drinking behaviours, and more and better support and treatment.

Read our new leaflet to find out more about how alcohol can affect us and those around us.

Find out more