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Guest editorial: Hello Friday Afternoon?

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Finding ways to address problem drinking one day after another takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Hello Sunday Morning founder Chris Raine brings these qualities in spades. He shares his thoughts on what day is next.

In 2009, I committed to taking a break from drinking for a year to experience life without a hangover for 365 days. As part of that process, I wrote a blog called Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) to share what I learned with the world. I wrote about everything – from dating to parties to dancing – it was a year of experiments. Each Sunday, I would spend a few hours in a café in the morning writing about what I learned and the challenges I faced. At the end of the year, that blog then became a platform for others to also take a break from drinking and share their stories online. We had five people do their three-month HSM in 2010, and today, our community has grown to more than 36,000 people worldwide.

To date, more than 100,000 blogs have been written around the experience of change that we can mine to gain a deeper understanding of the psychology of why we drink and also how we change the culture we have. While Hello Sunday Morning does work – showing an average reduction in World Health Organization AUDIT scores of over 40 percent, I’m not naive enough to think that HSM is for everyone. So, if I could do one thing to change the drinking culture beyond getting everyone to take three months off drinking, what would it be?

I would change the way we do Friday afternoon.

People who blog on Hello Sunday Morning often do so when they have had a challenging experience or a ‘slip up’. While we each are challenged in different ways and different times, the one time that is quite consistent with participants is the transition period between work and home – especially Friday afternoon.

This is because alcohol is the perfect drug to help us get three specific things – reward, relief and reconnection. At the end of a hard week of working, we like to give ourselves a reward for the hard day or week we put in, and alcohol is a relatively inexpensive luxury that we can purchase and consume quickly to give us that sense of accomplishment. Secondly, it is a depressant, so it helps us relieve our overactive working brain and think about less stressful things. Thirdly, after staring at a screen all day or being in ‘work mode’, meeting new people, or even people we know, can be slightly discombobulating – this is where alcohol’s ability to disinhibit our mind is extraordinarily valuable.

The problem is that often our choice on Friday afternoon is the lynchpin for the rest of the weekend and that then bleeds into the next week. Your decision to go straight from work to the pub often means you are using alcohol for this combination of psychosocial reasons and are likely to drink more, which means you might wake up with a hangover on Saturday and then feel the need to drink to feel better on Saturday night. This then leads to feeling even worse on Sunday morning.

If we want to create a healthier drinking culture, solving this problem of the 30 minutes between the desk and the fridge is crucial. Here is what I believe society should be doing to change it.

Employers, government and individuals should co-invest in a concept I am going to call ‘decompression’ time. Take all the money we spend on campaigns trying to scare people away from alcohol, combine that with all the funds from the drinks tray that comes round the cubicles at 4.30pm plus all those Friday afternoon bar tabs and put all that capital into free massages, yoga classes, crossfit classes, spa baths or massive Friday afternoon group sports competitions. In this way, we incentivise people to take 30 minutes at the end of the week to blow off some steam, to relax and to reconnect with people WITHOUT alcohol. Following this, people can go to the pub or home or wherever and, in my thinking, would ultimately be drinking for very different reasons to those they would have normally when they finish work.

The point of all this is that, as health promoters, we only have so much time and so many resources that we need to make hard calls on the right time and place to invest them. If we want to influence the culture, then is it not wiser to go all out on the points in which people would be most influenced rather than spread our campaigns over the whole week? Why not target the 30 minutes that matter? Friday afternoon.

Chris Raine founded Hello Sunday Morning in 2010.

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