Today is the last day of Alcohol Awareness Week 2011. If you weren’t aware of it then maybe the awareness week needs more publicity – perhaps even its own awareness week.
They’re a curious thing, awareness weeks, and Alcohol Awareness Week is one of the most curious, if only for its name. The thing is, we’re all aware of alcohol. In fact, I can just hear the odd joker saying “Oh, I’m aware of it alright!” I wish he’d shut up – I’m trying to write. He’s drunk again, too.
When I first went alcohol-free I would get annoyed by a particular question: “Are you sure it’s just coincidence you gave up drinking when it was your round?” No, wait, I mean “Why don’t you drink?” I hated this question, primarily because of its central presumption of drinking alcohol as normality.
Nowadays it doesn’t bother me because, as long as it’s not framed in a critical ‘get with the programme’ kind of way, I see it as a fair question. After all, we all have a relationship with alcohol, even those of us who don’t drink it. For a lot of drinkers, the idea of not drinking alcohol is a confusing one (why wouldn’t you if you can?). Mind you, after a few drinks, so is a toilet door that says ‘push’, but has a handle.
Anyway to return to the point, that’s not awareness means in this context: it means awareness of the negative effects. Funnily enough, I think most people are aware that alcohol is largely unhealthy. You can’t dispute the message that health organisations give us: that alcohol causes damage to [insert long list of organs here], with the liver being the star turn (and the one people reference jokingly).
There are other medical issues, of course: it’s not for no reason, for example, that the mnemonic for determining the cause of acute pancreatitis is I GET SMASHED (Ideopathic, Gallstones, Ethanol etc…). And that’s without going into the social – or should I say antisocial – effects.
Even when a night out does end badly, it’s usual for it to be framed as a joke. What you did is not shameful – it’s a funny anecdote.
The awareness week is led by Alcohol Concern who have a long list of alcohol-related facts on their website. But when you go out drinking it’s a very different world to the one of statistics. I don’t recall ever standing at the bar, back when I was a drinker, thinking “Maybe I won’t drink – what about cirrhosis of the liver?” My thoughts tended to be more on the subject of crisp-flavour dilemmas or pint-carriage strategies.
They seemed like two separate worlds: the theoretical world of dangers, many of which would take years to develop and even then I assumed probably wouldn’t; and the real world of those crazy nights out you have when you’re drinking, when everyone’s having a great laugh. And even when a night out does end badly, it’s usual for it to be framed as a joke. What you did is not shameful – it’s a funny anecdote.
Then there’s the other gap in awareness – between how you think you behave on a night out, and how you actually do. Current TV is exploring this idea with What Did I Do Last Night in which they film participants on a night out and then show them the film. Although if I’m being honest, it does look kind of fun at times.
Perhaps it’s only when such gaps are closed that we have a true awareness. I’m told the Accident and Emergency department of any UK hospital on a Friday or Saturday night can have this effect. Although personally I’ve found just waiting in a taxi queue in a city centre in the early hours whilst stone-cold sober is as good an insight as any. In fact there have been many such times when I’ve wished I could have dulled my awareness.