“Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.”
This is the stark message from Public Health England, an executive agency sponsored by the UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care.
Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, and depression.
Deaths occur as a result of all those issues as well as through accidents and incidents related to alcohol.
The figures demonstrate how alcohol causes extensive misery and ill health in so many societies.
The coronavirus pandemic has probably only served to make matters worse. People who were already struggling with their relationship with alcohol may have been pushed to rely upon it more as they try to deal with the pressures of lockdown and economic impacts of the crisis.
Mental health charity says a third of people have turned to alcohol or drugs during pandemic!
The mental health charity Mind has carried out research that indicates a third of people are using alcohol or drugs to help cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has said: “The impact on mental health of unemployment, financial difficulties and housing issues will grow as government-led emergency support measures come to an end and recession bites.”
Its report calls on the UK government to invest in services to support all those people who are now in more need of emotional and physical support than ever.
637 years of life lost per 100,000 people due to alcohol!
At the most recent annual count (in 2018), 637 years of life were lost per 100,000 people due to alcohol-related conditions in England, Local Alcohol Profiles for England.
In Blackpool, which had the worst figures for the measure, 1,617 years of life were lost per 100,000 population.
There were the equivalent of 46.5 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 population in England. Blackpool, again, had the worst figures. The worst ten places for alcohol deaths were:
- Blackpool (86.1 per 100,000)
- Stoke-on-Trent (76.6)
- South Tyneside (69)
- Middlesbrough (68.1)
- Wigan (67.7)
- Liverpool (67)
- Newcastle Upon Tyne (65.3)
- Tameside (64.8)
- Derby (63.5)
- Blackburn with Darwen (62.7)
What is being done to alleviate alcohol problems?
Greater Manchester is one example of an area that has done much to identify its significant issues with alcohol and drugs issues and put in place plans and action to address them.
Areas in Greater Manchester account for three of Public Health England’s worst ten areas for dependent drinkers (Salford, Manchester and Tameside).
As outlined in a recent ‘Manchester Addiction Report,’ there is an agenda in the region to:
- Look at regulation and legislation that manages where and how people drink
- Promote socialising without alcohol
- Protect children from exposure to alcohol
- Improve collaboration between support services
- Inform the public around the harms of alcohol
In Scotland, a move to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol – to reduce the potential lure of cheap booze – has been said by the World Health Organisation to reduce health inequalities.
Wales also has minimum unit pricing and the Republic of Ireland has passed legislation to do so.
The UK Government is said to be intending to carry out an ‘alcohol review’ after Brexit, to consider all public health considerations.
What else can be done?
Alcohol issues are by no means limited to the UK.
Last year, the World Health Organisation reported that each year 3 million lives are lost due to harmful use of alcohol.
It outlined 10 key areas of policy options and interventions to implement at national levels to address the issue.
1. Leadership, awareness and commitment
Nations need to accept the issues alcohol brings and to take strong and effective action to ensure education and strategies to challenge it.
2. Health services’ response
Investment and resourcing is needed to enable health services to deliver prevention and treatment activities.
3. Community action
National government can offer resource and support to community groups that understand what is needed to support their own people to prevent and reduce harmful use of alcohol.
4. Drink-driving policies and countermeasures
These can be very effective in reducing and challenging the number of alcohol induced driving incidents.
5. Availability of alcohol
Proper monitoring of alcohol production and distribution are said to be especially helpful in reducing easy access to alcohol to high risk and vulnerable groups.
6. Marketing of alcoholic beverages
It’s felt to be especially important to reduce the impact of marketing to young people and adolescents.
7. Pricing policies
It is said that pricing policies can reduce underage drinking and stall progression towards drinking of high volumes of alcohol and binge drinking.
8. Reducing the negative consequences of drinking and alcohol intoxication
Measures such as serving alcohol in plastic rather than glass containers and enforcing licensing laws can help reduce the harm of alcohol where drinking remains prevalent.
9. Reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol
As illicit alcohol may be stronger, potentially contaminated and lead to worse health outcomes, effective measures are needed to try to prevent its production and distribution.
10. Monitoring and surveillance
It’s vital for governments to keep a check on how much alcohol harm there is within their nations, trends and outcomes to continue to shape and implement effective policies.