Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Drinking culture the elephant in our room

Editor's Viewpoint

It is alarming that the number of alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland continues to rise each year - and the 303 total in 2017 was 70% higher than in 2001 when records began.

Each of those deaths - there have been 3,939 since 2001 - was a tragedy for the families involved, especially since many of them could have been avoided.

While alcohol-related deaths represent less than 2% of the total deaths in any one year, the bare statistics mask a deeply worrying underlying problem which affects many times greater numbers of people.

There is an undeniable drinking culture in the province. There is hardly a significant event in life that is not celebrated with large quantities of drink, including births, christenings, birthdays, marriages and even deaths.

While there has been significant investment in public health campaigns warning of the dangers of drinking too much, there are also mixed messages about drinking.

Working mums, for example, talk about wine o'clock, that time of the evening when meals are over, children are in bed and they can relax with a glass, or more, of their favourite tipple.

How often do we hear men boasting about how many pints they drank on a night out, or how many they intend to sink at some celebration or other?

Drinking can be seen as glamorous, yet we shun those who become alcoholics. No one sets out to be an alcoholic, and the grip of that addiction is as vice-like as any other drug.

Often, those who feel that they cannot live without a drink are the last to admit that they have a problem.

Society does not make it easy for them to admit their problem or seek help for it. Like so many other areas of healthcare, the services available to help drink addicts are woefully inadequate. Support for the families of alcoholics is even more sparse.

Our attitude to drink and the damage it causes - for example, fatalities caused by drunk drivers are not included in alcohol-related deaths - needs to be the subject of a serious public debate.

But like so many other areas of everyday life, the absence of a functioning administration at Stormont hinders progress in tackling the problem.

Scotland has introduced minimum pricing for alcohol, yet we have not yet begun to properly discuss such a move.

How many more people will die before we take action to change our drinking culture?

Belfast Telegraph

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