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Rona Dougall: Let’s raise a glass to the festive period. Or, then again, possibly not

© Graeme Hunter / STVRona Dougall
Rona Dougall

Are you ready to raise a glass and get in the festive spirit? Are you dusting down your glad rags for the party season, whatever that might look like?

For many of us this time of year is an excuse, if an excuse is ever needed, to have a few drinks and let our hair down. But this year I’m thinking hard about how much I’m going to indulge.

The older I get, the worse I feel after even a couple of glasses of wine and I am increasingly starting to wonder if the pounding head the morning after the night before is really worth it.

We Scots have a torturous relationship with booze. It dominates our culture. Having a bad day? Have a drink. Something to celebrate? Crack open a bottle. And if you don’t join in, you’re viewed with suspicion and seen as a killjoy.

It’s amazing how flippant we can be about a substance that in some cases completely ruins lives.

Former Top Gear star and farmer, Jeremy Clarkson, launched a new beer last week. The pitches were going to be, “This is a delicious breakfast beer” and “If you’re an alcoholic, don’t fight it, feed it”, until they were overruled by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Worryingly, retailers are increasingly targeting women with their marketing, selling drink as a glamorous, fun, lifestyle choice.

Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in 2018 in a bid to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths. And it seemed to be working – until the pandemic came, that is, and turned our lives upside down.

Deaths rose by 17% last year and that has been put down to changing drinking patterns during lockdown.

There are now calls to raise the price of alcohol to counteract this spike in fatalities.

A friend recently recommended a book called The Alcohol Experiment. It’s written by an American, Annie Grace, who describes why she quit drinking and how the decision changed her life.

She is evangelical about the joys of sobriety and urges readers to give up drink for 30 days so that you can reassess your relationship with booze. Such is the success of her message that a whole movement has sprung up extolling the virtues and health benefits of a drink-free existence.

I decided to try it, encouraged by my friend who was nearing the end of the 30 days and said she was feeling fantastic.

My goodness, it was hard. Our social lives revolve round drinking, so much so that without it you feel a bit lost.

I lasted about two weeks and then met my pal for a drink. And oh, that first sip was a delight. We both thoroughly enjoyed our couple of espresso martinis and agreed that actually, a night on the lash was very good fun.

The texts full of regret came hard and fast the next day. Had it really been worth it, we both asked?

It always seems like such a good idea at the time. The answer of course is moderation but I’m just not very good at that.

A former Sky colleague and now Eurosport presenter Orla Chennaoui gave up drinking completely a few years ago. She told me she feels so much better without it and has so much more energy and confidence. Her only regret is not giving it up sooner.

She’s in good company as there’s a whole list of rich and famous people who are teetotal: Blake Lively, Bill Gates and Jim Carrey to name just a few. I would raise a glass to them, but, well, you know…

Rona Dougall is a journalist, broadcaster and presenter of STV’s Scotland Tonight