Why you shouldn’t let your children see you drinking this Christmas: It could turn them into problem drinkers like me, says PHIL ROBINSON
Phil doesn’t drink in front of his sons because of alcohol’s harmful effects
There’s been a ‘meteoric rise’ in the number of alcohol-related deaths
This is because of young people drinking heavily in their teens
A survey reveals that one in five 11 to 15-year-olds who had recently drunk had had alcohol bought for them by their parents
By PHIL ROBINSON
PUBLISHED: 22:46 GMT, 22 December 2013 | UPDATED: 22:47 GMT, 22 December 2013
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What did you drink at the weekend? A pre-Christmas glass of mulled wine? A warming mug of eggnog? Over the next couple of days, perhaps you’ll have a Buck’s Fizz at breakfast and a cheeky pre-lunch sherry.
Maybe there will even be a Baileys as you sink into the sofa after downing several glasses of wine with your turkey. After all, ’tis the season to be merry.
Sober celebration: Phil, with his three sons, refuses to drink in front of them
But have you ever stopped to think about the effect all this conspicuous consumption of alcohol – inextricably linked, as it is, to both celebration and relaxation – has upon the children in your family?
I was just ten when I stole my first drink at a family wedding in 1983, but even now I can remember how much I wanted to be a part of this grown-up, glamorous world – one that was accompanied by the clattering of ice and chinking of glasses.
In a pattern that would continue for the next 20 years – a period in which I became dangerously and excessively reliant on alcohol – I wasn’t able to stop at one drink. While the adults danced, I toured the room looking for more.
The tables were groaning with glasses of all shapes and sizes. I picked up a goblet of Liebfraumilch, the then-ubiquitous sweet German wine.
I took my first sip: it tasted like ice-cold apple juice. I glugged down the rest and wobbled around the table sipping rum and Cokes (more please), gin and tonics with a bitter tang (no thanks), and finished at least two glasses of sherry, which tasted like cough syrup.
Nobody seemed to notice, and I wanted to try them all, every drink that I’d seen adults with, both in real life and the glamorous world of TV.
It was only staring at the blurred landscape on the car ride home that I became aware of my altered reality and threw up. Mum blamed it on too much trifle.
Alcohol is everywhere: Phil believes his entire generation is bringing up its children to see drink as a part of everyday life
Had my parents known what I had been up to, I’d have been severely punished. Even though I felt ill, I didn’t associate this with alcohol – all I remembered was the buzz, the warm contentment.
We were all a little naive about health in the Eighties – still smoking, drinking, and eating red meat most nights of the week. But in the health-conscious 21st century, with all we now know, you might assume society is more savvy, sensible and strict about children and alcohol.
It seems not.
In November this year, two shocking pieces of research were published. One study revealed that one in five 11 to 15-year-olds who had drunk alcohol in the previous month said it had been bought for them by their parents.
Meanwhile, Britain’s top liver disease expert, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, reported a ‘meteoric rise’ in alcohol-related deaths as a result of young people drinking heavily in their teens.
‘Liver specialists are seeing people as young as in their 20s dying due to alcohol,’ he said. ‘If the increase carries on at the same rate, we could see up to a quarter of a million preventable deaths from liver disease in the next 20 years.’
Tanked up Brits: In 2004 it was estimated that ech adult consumed about 11.5 litres of alcohol that year
Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. My entire generation is bringing up its children to see drink as a part of everyday life – and at no time more so than at Christmas, when it’s estimated that the average adult will spend £75 on drink.
Alcohol is everywhere and TV advertising, filled with beautiful people happily quaffing drink, is the beating heart of our booze-worshipping culture.
As a child, my brain was full of slogans: lager that stays sharp to the bottom of the glass, the amber nectar. The Webster’s Yorkshire bitter whippet made me laugh, and I wanted to follow the Hoffmeister lager bear. The beer, wine and spirits industry and supermarkets spend £800 million a year on TV advertising, which generates a whopping £37.7 billion a year in revenue.
Companies promote alcohol as the magic key to affluence, togetherness and fun; the natural accompaniment for every imaginable family occasion.
The truth is that alcohol all too easily becomes the enemy of easy socialising. It exacerbates depression and having too much causes you to become withdrawn to the point where you can only socialise comfortably by being drunk.
But children bombarded by advertising images get only one side of the story. The problem took off in my parents’ generation. Raised in the Fifties, where the only alcohol in the house was a bottle of Advocaat that lived in a cupboard until Christmas, they regarded drinking as a treat. Wine was too expensive and the cheap stuff was unpalatable.
During the Eighties boom, however, much of the country – my parents included – experienced a boost in household income. They could now afford to drink regularly, and with this new affluence came what seemed like a more glamorous lifestyle.
Indoctrinating: Alcohol is promoted as a reward that will make grumpy people happy and sad people laugh
My favourite childhood memories were watching Mum, a teacher, and Dad, a director at an engineering firm, spending Friday night with our neighbours, mostly professionals and small business owners. I remember them laughing as they drank to wind down at the end of the week. To a child, the message that alcohol was a reward was clear: it made grumpy people happy, sad people laugh. It was a powerful, wordless form of indoctrination.
I kept drinking sneakily at every family occasion. And by the age of 14, I was adept at helping myself at parties while the adults weren’t looking. I can’t remember a time that my school friends or I couldn’t get our hands on alcohol. There was so much booze sloshing around our parents’ homes that no one needed to set foot in an off-licence.
Our parents knew nothing. While we were allowed a small beer or shandy on a special occasion, they would never have expected we would take such liberties with their trust. And no one warned us about the perils of alcohol.
We were lectured on the deadly threat of heroin, but never about the nation’s fix of choice: a drug that kills 10,000 people a year and is responsible for one-third of all hospital admissions. By the time I went to college I had no boundaries around alcohol.
A group of us who drank with equal ferocity would head out for a fry-up on a Saturday morning to mop up our hangovers and then wait for the pubs to open again at 11 am. It seemed normal.
Of my close-knit circle of five friends, three of us went on to develop alcohol and substance abuse issues in our 20s.
After college, I continued to drink heavily through the first half of my 20s until I found myself in a doctor’s surgery in 1998 in the grip of a nervous breakdown.
Booze-worshipping culture: The beer, wine and spirits industry and supermarkets spend £800 million a year on TV advertising
My doctor asked how many drinks are too many and I replied: ‘Eight?’ He said: ‘One is too many – if you are an alcoholic.’ Of course, I was not a full-blown alcoholic, but did I have a problem with alcohol? You bet!
So I quit drinking for the next ten years, determined to clean my life up. I believe quitting alcohol remains the most important move anyone can make to resurrect their mental and physical well-being.
The process of recovery means rejecting old habits, staying away from pubs and nightclubs. You feel lost and lonely, often. The upside is that you see your old self with some clarity. I also watched the drinking of my friends sky-rocket.
Drink is everywhere. I remember attending the Christmas play at my three-year-old son’s nursery and being offered mulled wine.
Dangerous: There has been a ‘meteoric rise’ in alcohol-related deaths as a result of young people drinking heavily in their teens
Take your children to a toddler’s party and there’s a good chance adults will be offered a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. This makes me despair. Today’s children rarely see adults socialising without a drink. We are teaching our children that booze belongs everywhere.
My wife never saw her parents drink when she was growing up, as they were both teetotal. As a result, she has no impulse to do so herself. Dinner is complete without a bottle of red. No birthday party requires champagne.
After a decade without alcohol, I started drinking again a year ago because I felt healthy enough to do so. These days I drink (and even get drunk) occasionally with friends, but rarely at home in front of my three sons, aged seven, nine and 11.
If I want a drink, I have to make a conscious effort to go to the pub. Buying wine and beer at the supermarket and putting it in the fridge next to the orange juice normalises an addictive drug. It is the surest route to developing a family habit. Instead, I am a happy, occasional drinker. I don’t preach abstinence to my sons, but I do think they need to know the dangers.
If they ask me about alcohol, I share some of the details that the supermarkets and brewing giants don’t care to mention. That alcohol is habit forming; that it makes you look ropey and old; and causes physical diseases and mental illnesses in otherwise healthy people. The message is this: do as I do – not as I did.
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