Drink - Shane Watson thinks alcohol makes social occasions flow

Most of us rely on booze in some situations. But is this really dependency? Asks Shane Watson

Of course it's true. We knew it in our hearts already, but now it has been spelled out in bald, no-nonsense terms. A study by the Priory Group has found that nearly 12 million British adults are psychologically dependent on alcohol. Mysteriously, half of all upper-middle-class and upper-class adults are frequent drinkers, compared to 30 per cent of the rest of the population, but that statistic aside, the findings make perfect sense. As a nation, "we take alcohol misuse lightly" (absolutely: where else would you find respect for hangovers that cripple you the following day?). In many quarters, "it is important to be a good drunk to fit in socially" (make that across the board if you are male). And 25 per cent of us admit to having stayed in bed all day because of a hangover (a figure that would be nearer 75 if it included all those who managed to get to work and ended up having to lie on the floor of the loos/in the stationery cupboard for a significant part of the day).

While the Priory Group's findings are indisputable, I do have a problem with the medical profession's definition of alcohol dependency as "needing a drink to get through certain situations or feelings". Given that drink is a mind-altering substance and recognised social lubricant, surely it is inevitable that people use it to relax, release their inhibitions, steady the nerves and so on. If you have to get smashed every time you see your family, this doesn't reflect well on your relationship with relatives, but you could say that without booze you'd avoid seeing them altogether. Sitting next to the granny who repeats herself throughout Christmas lunch is a lot easier with a bottle of Burgundy at your fingertips, and both of you will benefit from your artificially indulgent mood.

Awareness is surely what counts here; that and keeping your threshold low. If you're my mum, one glass of wine will be enough to get you through stressful social situations, conquer feelings of shyness and forget your irritation at not being able to find the correct address. This is booze doing the job that it was designed to do: masking the tedium of daily life, helping us through the unusually testing patches.

To my mind, the pressing issue is whether you are dependent on alcohol to a degree that seriously affects your life. Is drinking to get through a particularly intimidating party, slightly overdoing it, and feeling a bit scratchy the following morning the sign of a lush or circumstantial human error? My GP has a foolproof way of identifying someone who is potentially in trouble with booze, one that has nothing to do with numbers of units consumed or even the circumstances in which they are drunk. She asks them whether they have a tendency to get into arguments after drinking. Now that makes perfect sense.

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