What we can all learn from the city that is encouraging people to ditch alcohol

words Alexa Wang

‘Doing drinking differently’ is one official aim and outcome of a detailed consultation project into the impact of alcohol on one of the UK’s biggest cities – and perhaps there’s a message in there for us all.

Manchester has some of the worst issues with drug and alcohol harm in England and a health and social care chief medical has openly said that even lifting it to average levels of harm would be an achievement.

The ‘Greater Manchester Big Alcohol Conversation’ consultation wrapped up last year (2019) and led to the development of five priorities. One of the set priorities was to incentivise responsible buying and selling of alcohol and showcase opportunities to socialise with moderate and no alcohol use or ‘Doing drinking differently’ as it was headlined.

It and the other four priorities may have been set specifically for Manchester, but with alcohol being a leading cause of death, ill health and disability across the country, they’re arguably just as relevant elsewhere as well. And perhaps we’d all benefit if we took note.

manchester alcohol

The real harms of alcohol

We all tell ourselves that our drinking isn’t a problem, Moderate drinking is still seen as OK by medical advisors. But the reality is that many, many people drink beyond that level and they’re not all obviously alcoholics or down-and-outs.

Public Health England states that alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.

Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, and depression.

In England 46.5 people per 100,000 died of alcohol related causes at the last annual count (in 2018), according to Public Health England statistics.

ditch alcohol

Manchester’s five aims in regard to alcohol

Many of the priorities outlined for Manchester could just as easily be rolled out across the UK and beyond. If they were, perhaps it would help us all to build good drinking habits, prevent our alcohol consumption tipping into harmful levels or if that did happen, make us feel more able and less ashamed to seek help.

The five priorities set out following Greater Manchester’s Big Alcohol Conversation were:

  1. Legislative reform – seeking ways to regulate where people can drink and access alcohol
  1. Doing drinking differently – showcasing opportunities to socialise with moderate and no alcohol use
  1. Protecting children – work to prevent the harms of drinking during pregnancy and in relation to drinking around children
  1. Increased support – pushing for joined up services that encourage prevention, early help and support for all, including the most vulnerable
  1. Continuing the conversation – ongoing efforts to increase awareness of what constitutes harmful drinking especially amongst those who are harmful drinkers but don’t recognise it.
ditch alcohol

How Manchester’s alcohol aims could be applied wherever you live

  1. Local authorities across the country have long held powers to impose ‘Designated Public Place Orders’ to give police powers to require people to stop drinking or confiscate alcohol from them if they’re being antisocial with it in a specific area. There are many of these areas in towns and cities across the country. Town centres and parks are often designated under these ‘controlled drinking zone’ powers.

If you’re worried about anti-social drinking in an area close to you, you can report it to your local council and they can consider taking action.

  1. In relation to changing attitudes to drinking, there’s already evidence that UK alcohol consumption is falling, but a massive number of people still drink at harmful levels.

There’s also evidence that people are more likely to choose a non-alcoholic drink when there are more of those on offer than alcoholic choices.

Making non alcoholic choices yourself and really thinking about ways to socialise without alcohol could greatly benefit you, your networks and any children who may base their future lifestyle choices on your habits.

  1. Official medical advice was updated a couple of years ago to read that if you are pregnant or think you could be, the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all. Advice that children should not drink alcohol at all was issued in 2009.

Manchester has led the way with awareness raising in regard to Foetal Alcohol; Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which can cause low birth weight and lifelong difficulties for babies and is caused by drinking during pregnancy.

  1. A recent report highlighted gaping holes in the level of support available across the country for people with drug issues. The findings could equally be applied to alcohol support. Four out of five people with a drink problem aren’t getting the help they need.

We can all do our bit to reduce stigma around alcohol issues and to open conversations with friends, colleagues and loved ones about drinking. Seeking help ourselves if we need it is the best way to show someone else that it’s ok to do that.

  1. A voluntary role that began in Manchester to raise community awareness around alcohol harms and lobby for things like ‘controlled drinking zones’ in communities is now offered in other parts of the country.

Communities in Charge of Alcohol is run by the Royal Society for Public Health and includes official skills training for those who take it up.

What level of drinking is harmful?

Men and women are advised not to regularly exceed 14 units a week of alcohol.

One unit is roughly:

  • half a pint of lower to normal-strength cider, lager or beer (ABV 3.6%)
  • a single small shot (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%).

A small glass of wine (125ml, ABV 12%) contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

Drinkaware has a free online tool that allows you to work out if you’re currently drinking too much.

Maybe we all need to remember that nobody sets out to get a drink problem and nobody thinks it will happen to them or a loved one.

Sadly, the figures show that harmful drinking is actually very likely to affect us or someone we love.

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