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NHS Highland and Highland Alcohol and Drugs Partnership team up to encourage conversation on how alcohol is impacting on our health and relationships

By Alasdair Fraser

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A solitary drinker
A solitary drinker

Raising awareness of how alcohol can wreck lives and harm loved ones will be given extra focus by NHS Highland and Highland Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (HADP) from today.

The health authority and harm reduction group are joining over 4000 UK community groups in seeking to highlight the impact excessive drinking can have on health, well-being and relationships.

The move is part of Alcohol Awareness Week, which runs from 15-21 November.

The two local organisations’ message acknowledges how many of us drink alcohol for a variety of reasons: to relax, socialise, de-stress and to have fun, relieve boredom and deal with feelings of loneliness.

It can also be a way to try and cope with, or avoid, personal problems.

The thrust from NHS Highland and HADP, though, is that drinking too much and too often can cause or exacerbate many problems related to physical and mental health, including damaging relationships with our loved ones.

Among the warnings are that alcohol can become a central aspect of relationships with friends, family or partners.

When this happens, it can actually stop people taking action to improve drinking habits, even when those habits aren’t working for them.

Alcohol can also negatively affect relationships by heightening family tensions, getting in the way of clear communication, leaving individuals less present for each other, including children.

If a loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge worry and a real risk of conflict, with alcohol proven to be a factor in many cases of child neglect and domestic abuse.

It is also strongly associated with mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

Over the course of the pandemic, these problems have undoubtedly become worse for many people.

As people return to a more normal life, there can be new pressures to drink and sober-shaming where individuals are made to feel that not drinking is wrong.

In support of this year’s campaign, NHS Highland and HADP want to encourage people to talk and listen about how their own, or someone else’s, drinking is affecting those around them.

The end goal is to encourage people to make choices that lead to happier and more stable lives and relationships.

HADP chairwoman Melanie Newdick said: "Alcohol Awareness Week is a great opportunity for us to think about our relationship with alcohol and how that affects our relationships with others.

“It's also a great opportunity to have some honest conversations, with ourselves and with others, about what our relationship with alcohol is really like.

“If those conversations reveal the need for help there is plenty available in whatever way suits you best."

Eve MacLeod, a health improvement specialist with NHS Highland, said: “The theme of alcohol and relationships is one that resonates with many people, as we know that one in two people in Scotland are affected by another person’s drinking. Cutting down on how much we all drink can have lots of benefits to ourselves and those around us.”

For tips on how to cut down on alcohol, NHS Highland recommends that people visit the www.count14.scot website.

Dr Richard Piper, the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “Our relationships with other humans are wonderful but complex, and at times they can be really tough.

“With many of us drinking much more during the pandemic, for many different reasons, our relationships at home, with friends and at work can become even tougher.

“And if our partner, friend or loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge tensions and disagreements, and even lead to us drinking more too, in an attempt to cope or escape.

“By talking to each other about alcohol and our relationships (while we’re sober!) we can help each other to better understand how alcohol might be affecting us and those around us.

“And by taking control of our drinking, rather than letting it control us, we can develop better, happier relationships, as well as improved health and wellbeing.

“A great way to start is by recording what you drink for a few weeks to help you understand your drinking pattern, then setting yourself some small achievable goals to get it back under control.

“Use the free app Try Dry to help you keep track and set goals to help you cut down.”

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