You can tell from the surprised look on her face that the conversation really isn’t going the way that she had expected when she had first initiated it. Although it had started as a chat with friends about general stuff, it had somehow naturally progressed onto the subject of alcohol consumption.
It quickly becomes very apparent that the admission of a bottle of wine being consumed on most weekend nights had not received a positive response from her friends.
And so, overhearing this exchange of views led me to start questioning at what point is your alcohol intake deemed to be socially unacceptable? Is it if you drink before 6pm? Or if you drink at lunchtime? Or if you drink by yourself? Or if you drink more than a glass of wine with dinner every night? Or if you binge drink at the weekends?
People are generally very quick to point the finger and call some one else an alcoholic without necessarily first looking at their own drinking habits. I’ve known responsible mothers drink a glass of wine after they’ve come home from the school run and I’ve known professional adults drink a bottle of wine each with their evening meal. But how often does anyone question whether that crosses the line of acceptable behaviour or not?
As a society we generally forget that alcohol is a drug and can cause serious dependencies in a number of people. We see marketing campaigns all around us on a daily basis and we associate alcohol with holidays, unwinding after a stressful day, socialising with friends, and celebrations.
However, alcohol is addictive, both physically and psychologically. There are varying degrees of alcohol dependence and they don’t always involve excessive levels of drinking.
Drinkaware state that “The NHS estimates that around 9% of men in the UK and 4% of UK women show signs of alcohol dependence. This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life and they feel they’re unable to function without it.”
Yet it’s still considered socially acceptable to disapprove of, and make judgements, about whether or not the rough sleeper is begging for money to pay for his alcohol dependency. Without actually considering why they might have the dependency in the first place. And, it is also worth remembering that not every rough sleeper actually has a drug or alcohol dependency.
I recently read on twitter the following comment “dear loud drunks, don’t laugh at homeless drug addict, the only thing that separates you both is you still have money for your addiction”. Which neatly sums up the fact that it is also considered to be socially acceptable to go out drinking excessively with your friends and shout abuse at, or physically attack, the guy sleeping rough in the doorway. The only difference is that you can afford to go out and buy / drink your alcohol in a public building and the guy in the doorway is reduced to drinking cheap alcohol out of plastic bottles from the local convenience store.
One of our Doorway ‘guests’ recently spoke publicly about why he became dependent on alcohol whilst he was sleeping rough on the streets of Chippenham and explained that he would drink alcohol because he hadn’t slept, because he was cold, because he had hours and hours of time to kill, and because he wanted to numb the pain or the emotions. Not because it complimented his choice of food for his evening meal.
Now I was brought up with the bizarre ruling that you shouldn’t really drink alcohol before 6pm. Although, rather confusingly, the guidelines for weekend drinking were always somewhat rather more hazy… and 6pm was, and still is, always known gin and tonic time.
And rather embarrassingly, I will also admit that if I’m out with a group of people then I always feel that I am more self confident, more social and talkative, and more ‘entertaining’ if I’ve had a drink.
And I really enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal as a way to wind down and relax after a stressful day at work. So the question that I should be asking myself is “Do I have an alcohol dependency?”