Facing the dangers of drinking
While we in Addiction NI welcome Minister Nelson McCausland's proposed changes to the laws regulating the sale of alcohol, we are disappointed that the opportunity to address the cultural and societal evils of alcohol through education was ignored.
Addiction NI is concerned the legislation is directed at enforcement, ignoring significant changes in the pattern of drinking, with 'pre-loading' before going out becoming the norm.
Through its Workplace programme, we have identified the widespread misunderstanding of the safe amounts of alcohol we can consume and the measures used. Alcohol is a dangerous, but legal, drug and it has become normalised without the realisation of the impact that it has on individuals and the wider community.
It is an integral part of life and for many central in marking key events such as births, weddings and funerals. The cost to society in the province of alcohol abuse is around £900m annually.
Addiction NI acknowledges the importance of alcohol to the economy and the significant numbers employed in the industry. But this should not restrict society from having conversations about the risks associated with its abuse.
We appeal to our politicians to make addressing the damage caused by alcohol abuse a priority for the Assembly, and to ensure the task is properly funded.
We fully accept the need for and the importance of having robust legislation in place, but it needs to be accompanied by an alcohol education programme to assist the general public in making informed decisions about their relationship with alcohol.
Addiction NI would support inter-departmental and inter-agency working through our education system to equip future generations with the knowledge and information to make informed choices about alcohol.
We can learn lessons from other turnarounds in our social habits, for example the highly successful campaigns aimed at smoking, seatbelt wearing and speeding could provide a template for us to address the challenges of alcohol abuse. Addiction NI hopes new legislation will generate discussion around these key issues.
Dr George O'Neill is chair of Addiction NI