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Knowing your limits

May 21 2009
The Department of Health launches a £6m public health campaign about alcohol The Department of Health is currently launching a £6m campaign about alcohol: 'Know your Limits'. The idea is that most people don't actually know how many units are in their drink, with the result that binge drinking is more common than widely believed by the public. If this public health campaign is to be successful then not only do people need to learn the amount of units per glass/bottle/can, but correlate this with risks to health and then successfully reduce the amount they drink. Dare I say "fat chance"? While mass media health campaigns do provoke responses, they rarely result in an actual change in behaviour; individuals tend not to change if nothing around them changes and society tends to move more slowly than the health campaigns demand. And since research shows that heavy drinkers not only underestimate the amount they drink, but also overestimate the amount that everyone else drinks, it is unlikely that a poster campaign is going to shake them out of their misconceptions. Moreover, for the homeless drinker a lack of daily structure can mean that counting the amount drunk over any particular period of time gets muddled as cans get shared, swapped and spilt. Never mind actually adding up the four units per can of Special. Rather than focusing on the weekly allowance of 21 units for men and 14 units for women as specific targets, some advisors have suggested that the government should try to raise awareness of how alcohol advertising manipulates us - that once we see how we are being conned, we are no longer susceptible to the glossy images portrayed by the marketing firms. There has definitely been a sea change, with a move towards recognising the social consequences of binge drinking: unprotected sex, fights and relationship difficulties, but, again, does knowing that heavy drinking can result in impotency and smaller genitals, or that over half of all violent crime is alcohol fuelled, actually make any of us personalise this information? It certainly should do, as should knowing that drinking over our limits increases our chances of having a stroke, developing diabetes or heart disease. For most of us though, altering our drinking behaviour is going to happen because we've recognised something that needs changing and that reason may be health, social or financially related - the message is matching our own desire to change. If any of these public health billboards catch your attention and make you think about cutting down, then good for you. A mass of support awaits those who are keen, and all you need to is visit your friendly doc. In the meantime, take five minutes for the quiz below, that I found on my desk. Even if you think that, because a three-litre bottle of cider isn't your tipple of choice, you'll be within the limits. 1 How often do you have an alcoholic drink? A. Never B. Monthly or less C. Two to four times a month D. Two to three times a week E. Four or more times a week 2 How many units of alcohol do you think it's healthy to drink in a typical day? A. None B. Up to three C. Up to four D. Eight or more E. As many as you like 3 How many units of alcohol do you drink in a typical evening? A. One or two B. Three or four C. Five or six D. Seven, eight or nine E. Ten or more 4 How often do you drink more than six units of alcohol in one evening? A. Never B. Less than monthly C. Monthly D. Weekly E. Daily or almost daily 5 Over the past six months, how many times have you been unable to stop drinking once you'd started? A. Never B. Less than monthly C. Monthly D. Weekly E. Daily or almost daily 6 How often during the last six months have not been able to do things you were supposed to do because of drinking (missing appointments)? A. Never B. Less than monthly C. Monthly D. Weekly E. Daily or almost daily 7 How often during the last six months have you felt embarrassed, guilty or had regrets about what you might have done after a drinking session? A. Never B. Less than monthly C. Monthly D. Weekly E. Daily or almost daily 8 How often during the last six months have you been aware of disturbing other people as a result of your drinking either through causing a mess (being sick, breaking things), waking people up or getting into fights and arguments? A. Never B. Less than monthly C. Monthly D. Weekly E. Daily or almost daily 9 Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking? A. No B. Yes, but not in the last six months C. Yes, during the last six months 10 Has a friend, relative or doctor been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down? A. No B. Yes, but not in the last six months C. Yes, during the last six months So, how did you score? Mostly As: You know your limits - to regularly drink no more than two or three units a day for women and three to four units for men - and you are sticking within them. Mostly Bs: You may know your limits, but occasionally you're drinking more than you should, and this could affect your long-term health. Think about why you drink and consider cutting down. Mostly Cs: You are drinking considerably more than is recommended and could be damaging your health and putting your safety at risk. Keep tabs on your drinking and consider visiting your GP. Ring Drinkline on 0800 917 82 82 for advice on how to cut down. Mostly Ds and Es: You are drinking well above what is recommended on a regular basis and are risking heart and liver disease and other problems as a result. Visit your GP for advice. Don't stop drinking totally before seeing your GP as this can cause serious side effects.