Editor's Viewpoint: Dangers of drink must be spelt out
There are no half measures when it comes to drinking in Northern Ireland. It is well known that we have one of the highest levels of total abstinence in the world, but when we drink we tend to imbibe to excess.
Around 300 people died from alcohol abuse last year, but that is only part of the picture. Up to 60,000 people in the province are putting themselves at risk through excessive drinking, showing that we are storing up a huge problem for ourselves in the longer term.
What is most worrying is that we are not really aware of the dangers of our drinking habits. Most of us believe that alcoholics are those people we see lying comatose on the pavement completely oblivious to their surroundings. But that is not the case. There are many people who are drinking to the same dangerous levels but in more acceptable surroundings. Just because one is drinking large amounts in one's own home or in the pub doesn't lessen the health hazard.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, and the statistics in Northern Ireland do not lie. There are alcohol addicts aged 16 and 17 who are having to seek specialised help. There are also people in their 20s and 30s who are dying from cirrhosis of the liver caused by prolonged excessive drinking. That points to a culture which is not merely unhealthy, but fatal. People are drinking themselves to death at an earlier and earlier age.
But it is easy to state the facts. What is much harder is to find a solution to this culture of hard-drinking. Public health bodies produce statistics on unsafe drinking levels, but often they don't relay them in terms that ordinary people can easily understand. We need to say exactly how many pints or shorts are acceptable on a weekly basis and we should have stark anti-drink advertising just as we had very shocking anti-dangerous driving advertising. Let us make the distinction between enjoying a drink and drinking to the level where it can kill us.