Belfast Telegraph

Alcohol misuse one of the main health challenges we face despite drug misuse hitting headlines

By Dr Michael McBride

Alcohol misuse is one of the main health challenges we face despite drug misuse often getting the headlines. In Northern Ireland, it costs us up to £900m a year - almost £250m of this is a cost to the Health Service.

This would build the new regional children's hospital or 15 new primary care centres or pay for over 30,000 hip operations, employ another 6,000 nurses, or deliver over 17m hours of domiciliary care. A total of 73% of adults drink, with 65% drinking above the daily guidelines at least once a week, and 31% binge drinking.

Alcohol misuse increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular conditions and liver disease, as well as dependence, poor mental health, and self-harm, being involved in or causing accidents, and being involved in, or a victim of, violence or assaults.

Provisional reports indicated that 236 people died directly as a result of alcohol misuse in 2013 – up 15% since 2001. There may be many more deaths where alcohol may have played a role, but it is not recorded on the death certificate.

On March 1, 2012, 3,111 individuals were in treatment for alcohol misuse. Many more who suffer in silence and do not, or will not, seek help.

Each year there are 12,000 admissions to hospital with an alcohol-related diagnosis. The impact on emergency departments is starker, with 1 in 6 people having alcohol-related injuries or issues. At the weekend this rises to 8 in 10.

Alcohol does not impact equally on our society. As income increases, so does the prevalence of alcohol use. However, how people drink changes – a greater percentage of people in low income groups exceed the daily guidelines and binge drink. The outcome is the death rate due to alcohol-related causes in the most deprived areas is more than double the overall rate and more than five times the rate in the least deprived areas.

We need to look at availability of alcohol at opening hours, wider licensing requirements, pricing, responsible serving, and at advertising and sponsorship.

Sober thinking and informed commentary is needed.

  • Dr Michael McBride is the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland

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