Mixed messages on Alcohol Consumption
Here is question to consider; what happens to alcohol (and drug) use in a time of recession?
When I used to work for the community drug team in Leicester the focus was very much on illicit drugs, and alcohol problems appeared to have a more low key profile. A recent article in the Guardian newspaper (“How Britain fell out of love with drugs”, G2 Thursday 24.2.11, by Leo Benedictus) points to a decline in the use of illicit drugs. At the same time a lot more attention is being placed on alcohol consumption in Britain. There was another article which was also widely reported in the press and BBC. A study published in the Lancet (21 February 2011) suggests that up to 250,000 more people than expected may die in England and Wales over the next 20 years due to harms done by alcohol. They point to a doubling of deaths from Liver disease since 1986. Also 1 in 4 people are drinking above what is considered safe levels.
Hence while there is some evidence that, overall, there may have been a slight decline in alcohol consumption, there are many who are drinking more than ever. One statistic above others caught my eye: There are 171 Countries around the world where alcohol consumption is lower than in Britain. How many people know the number of units of alcohol they consume in a week? It may be that fewer people are going to bars to drink, but what about the cheap availability of alcohol in shops that leads to drinking at home? Similarly, harms from problematic drug use are very much with us.
While the politicians and academics discuss the availability and minimum costs of alcohol, much can be done by workers in a variety of settings to help people who may be drinking in a hazardous or harmful way. Anyone working in the addictions field will know that just telling people how something is not good for them does not seem particularly effective. Effective training for staff can highlight how there is far more to alcohol problems than dependant drinking or alcoholism. Good information and an effective way of putting across that information can make a real difference. Ideas borrowed from the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness and Motivational Interviewing can provide practical skills. There is also good evidence that brief interventions can help people. I am providing training on Alcohol Awareness in Nottingham for those who may be interested in finding out more.