Opinion: Sophie Atherton 'rages against the puritans'

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Pure rage: "If Dry January isn’t about ‘alcohol dependency problems’ then what it amounts to is puritan finger pointing at people who enjoy a drink"
Pure rage: "If Dry January isn’t about ‘alcohol dependency problems’ then what it amounts to is puritan finger pointing at people who enjoy a drink"
Let’s stand up against the blinkered finger waggers who seem to think that any alcohol consumption is harmful.

The way so-called Dry January​ makes me feel is too expletive-filled for this column. But because it fills me with such rage I thought I’d better write about it, as I suspect the licensed trade likely rages along with me, just as when we’re all implored to, ‘Go Sober for October.’

Let’s begin by considering drink problems. I know a bit about this because a close relative of mine was an alcoholic. She’s no longer living, but let’s call her ‘Auntie Alice’ to spare the rest of the family. She was a respectable middle-class housewife who didn’t drink much when her kids were small, but when they were nearly grown up her father died and she took comfort in whiskey. She didn’t like to talk about it, but even though her dad was old it devastated her. I think drinking numbed all those feelings of loss, guilt, hurt and heartache that come like an avalanche when someone you love dies.

A large whiskey after the weekly shop turned into taking a small flask out shopping and eventually developed into getting through so many bottles she was sneaking the empties out of the house to hide them. Her husband, Uncle James, didn’t know how to help her and as no one realised how much she was drinking, it took a case of liver failure and barely being able to walk anymore for anyone to do anything and for her to stop drinking.

Dry January​, so we’re told by its official website, is not for people like Alice. “Please note that this is not a medical detox programme and should not be attempted by people with an alcohol dependency problem,” it says. Rather it, ‘enables you to take control of your relationship with alcohol.’ This is where I’ve got to keep my rage in check.

If someone needs to be enabled to take control of their relationship with alcohol, or they drink so much that they need a whole month off from drinking, I’d call that a drink dependency problem. By its own definitions Dry January​ isn’t fit to solve that.

If Dry January​ isn’t about ‘alcohol dependency problems’ then what it amounts to is puritan finger pointing at people who enjoy a drink. Those behind the movement seem to want us to believe that anyone and everyone who drinks is at risk of becoming alcoholic, taking no account of the many reasons why some succumb to the disease.

Waters muddied by ‘advice’

Uncle James and I used to sometimes go to the pub after we’d been to visit Alice in hospital. It made him feel terribly guilty and I remember saying something like this to him, “We control alcohol, it doesn’t control us. That’s the difference between us and Alice.” Of course we supported her in not drinking and helping her keep away from alcohol, but we were still allowed to go out for a beer.

As you can tell, I’m not pretending that nobody abuses, or is harmed by, alcohol. But there is an enormous difference between having a drink and being drunk, or enjoying a few drinks and having a drink problem. The waters have been muddied by official medical advice claiming that any alcohol is harmful. But we must not forget that it flies in the face of every-thing from Harvard Medical School findings to numerous studies proving the benefits of Mediterranean style diets that include the moderate consumption of red wine.

Initiatives like Tryanuary​, which encourages people to support the beer industry throughout January, are a fantastic start to combating the misleading nonsense peddled at this time of year but we need to do more. Heineken’s poorly executed Moderate Drinkers Wanted​ advertising campaign, while cringeworthy, was the germ of a good idea. Perhaps the new campaign for enjoying moderate drinking, Drinkers’ Voice, will make enough noise to drown out the anti-alcohol extremists. Whether a part of this organisation or not, all drinkers can help by aiming to be living proof that alcohol doesn’t mean being unhealthy or anti-social.

Whether it’s earning your beer by taking a long walk to the pub, or taking part in a fundraising event like Street Child’s ‘Craft Half’ marathon in Wimbledon – which offers runners half pints of beer as refreshment en route – the more we can demonstrate that drinking is something done by healthy people, the better.

Until then my pledge for the new year is not to be cowed by anti-booze finger waggers and to carry on writing about the pleasures of drinking. 

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