These days, we see so many conflicting article and news items about alcohol that it gets really confusing – “red wine can be good for you”; “white wine can damage your teeth”; “Guinness may help prevent blood clots”.
What should our attitude towards alcohol be – that’s the big question.
We all know that you cannot have alcohol when working offshore on an installation or vessel, nor can you travel there in a state of intoxication.
Despite these restrictions, research has shown that offshore workers are more likely overall to consume more alcohol than workers onshore.
The figures for binge drinking among offshore workers who live alone are even higher.
This could be associated with problems caused by the lifestyle of being denied a drink while working and then coming back onshore and wanting to relax and have a good time with friends and colleagues.
Some people find it hard to readjust between the total ban on alcohol when working and the freedom to drink when they’re onshore. It has been suggested that some people who work nights offshore consider using alcohol as a way to kick start their bodies back into normal sleeping patterns while they’re back at home.
Most of us are aware of the health damage that too much alcohol can lead to, including problems such as heart disease, liver failure or impotence.
Remember, too, that some alcoholic drinks are laden with calories – a pint of lager has the same calorific value as a burger. Too much can add to weight gain which could cause you to be classed as unfit for offshore work. Long drinks made with low-calorie mixers can help limit the calories, along with ideas such as alternating a beer with a low-calorie non-alcoholic drink.
So having established that too much alcohol can adversely affect our health, there may well be a collective groan from those who enjoy moderate social drinking and who consider the alcohol-related articles they read as nothing but harbingers of doom.
If you enjoy a drink in social settings then knowing what is and what is not moderate can be an enormous help.
The NHS recommends:
Men should not exceed three to four units of alcohol per day on a regular basis.
Women should not exceed two to three units of alcohol per day on a regular basis.
For example, a half-pint of normal beer is one unit; a large bottle or can of strong beer is three units; a large glass of wine is three units, and a single shot of spirits is one unit – those units certainly mount up pretty quickly.
You may well not want to give up drinking altogether but might consider cutting down a bit, so here are some useful tips:
If you’re drinking beer and shots, try cutting down the shots you have between pints and replace them with water or a non-alcoholic drink.
Again, if you’re drinking pints of beer, try alternating between pints and half-pints.
Tell your friends and family that you are cutting down and, hopefully, they’ll support you.
Decide before you go out how much you intend to drink and don’t go over that amount.
Try drinking “smaller” drinks such as a bottle of beer instead of a pint.
Slow down. If you’re drinking with a group of friends, don’t try to keep up with the fastest drinker. Instead, drink at the same rate as the slowest person with you.
At present in Scotland, Holyrood’s health committee is urging the Government to specify a minimum price to be set for alcohol. MSPs are divided over whether this would be an effective measure to cut down the misuse of alcohol in Scotland. Some consider that a minimum price would encourage the general population to cut down on drinking, but such regulations would be less likely to affect those on higher incomes.
It might be a good idea to keep an alcohol diary while you are onshore and try to write down how much you drink each day. After keeping track of your drinking, you could then work out just how many units you are consuming and, if there are just too many of those units, now is the time to try reducing your alcohol input.
Kathleen Morrison is a senior nurse UKOH at occupational-health specialist Abermed