Drink - Shane Watson likes a pick-me-up

Self-medicating with alcohol is a natural response to the human condition

More bad booze news. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one-tenth of the population self-medicates with alcohol. To be more specific, of the 1,000 people surveyed, 40 per cent said that alcohol made them feel less anxious, 26 per cent said it helped them feel less depressed, and 30 per cent were more able to forget their problems. The survey does not mention the ones who just like a drink to wind down at the end of a hard day. Then again, is that any different from drinking to alleviate anxiety or depression?

Of course, by assuming that drink is there to blur the sharp edges I am giving away my age. When you're in your twenties, drink is all about bravado and releasing inhibitions. You may be drinking to forget, but only how to get home. When you're in your thirties it's more of the same, with a bit of stress release thrown in. By the time you hit your forties, drink has become a swift and effective means of relaxing and the evidence is that, as time goes on, it becomes an increasingly essential part of our daily routine. The MHF report found that 15 per cent of over-55s admitted to drinking daily, compared to just 3 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds. The older we get, the more we need it, not just for parties and Friday nights but every evening at about 6.30, or as soon as we've got the children to bed. The MHF is particularly exercised about this daily ritual. It claims that using drink as a "pick-me-up" is dangerous, and that reaching for the bottle frequently masks deep-seated insecurities.

I don't want to sound defensive, but it seems to me that there would be no point at all in drinking (it makes you fat, dries up your skin, messes with your blood sugar levels) if it didn't give you a lift. And, while I appreciate that there are lots of people out there who are drinking to mask terrible problems, there are also, surely, loads who are drinking as a time-honoured, fairly harmless response to the human condition. Life can be tough; it can be frustrating and exhausting; even when it's good, it's hard to make the transition from work mode to home mode, and it gets harder as the demands of both become more extreme.

Drink does pick you up, temporarily. It marks the end of one day and the beginning of another, and a willingness to shrug off worldly cares and become human beings whose priority is each other. Curling up under a blanket with a bottle of Strongbow is one thing, but downing a couple of glasses of red in the kitchen is no more self-medicating than treating yourself to a Jo Malone bubble bath. Drink ruins endless lives, sometimes without anyone really noticing, but it also makes life bearable for millions who want that Cadbury Flake moment of escape from the pressures of everyday life that you can't actually get from a chocolate bar.

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