Dying For A Drink

The big news in the UK at the moment is that the leader (actually ex-leader as he resigned earlier today) of the Liberal Democrats has been suffering from an alcohol addiction.

Less well reported is that this very week it was reported that:

Mortality from the commonly drink-related disease soared during the 1980s and 1990s with rates for men doubling in Scotland and rising by two-thirds in England and Wales. Those for women went up by about half in the same period.

The report was the result of a pan-European comparison of death from liver cirrhosis. It further highlighted that as many as 22,000 death a year were linked to excessive drinking; with most being the result of chronic liver diseases.

You can read the full report on the Lancet website; but it does required (free) registration.

Even without reading the full report and reading the brief extracts that have made it into some of the mainstream press it makes for sobering reading. Apparently drinking costs the NHS several billions of pounds a year and the economy much more in lost working days and alcohol fuelled crime.

I recall some statistics from a few years ago that more beds in hospitals were taken by those suffering from alcohol related illnesses than even those related to smoking. Though I am unable to locate those statistics at the moment this briefing from Alcohol Concern in Sept. 2005 provides some futher details:

Alcohol misuse costs the UK £18 billion a year, with £1.7 billion spent by the NHS and £7.3 billion spent on crime and disorder. Currently 1 in every 26 NHS bed days can be attributed to an alcohol-related disease … Almost three times more people die as a direct result of alcohol than drugs yet alcohol services receive just a fifth of the funding.

Furthermore 15% of road deaths are alcohol related and I’d hate to think of the nusance factor, those unreported incidents of drunks urinating in people’s gardens, throwing up outside peoples houses and generally harassing other people.

The above are just some figures for the UK, the effects are similar in the US:

Today, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are major public health problems in North America, costing the region’s inhabitants an estimated US$170 billion annually … Of the one half of the North American population who consume alcohol, it has been estimated by some that 10% are alcohol abusers and alcohol dependents, and 6% consume more than half of all alcohol.

I was further reminded of this on New Years Day when I walked to my brother house; I lost count of the number of puddles of vomit I walked past en route. It was nauseating. But well new year wouldn’t be new year if it didnt involve the consumption of vast quantities of booze and a ritual throwing up session. It’s a special occassion so it’s acceptable, right? Just like it is on any other day.

By all accounts alcohol consumption is rising among all age groups and sex’s and it is a serious problem. So why isn’t it treated more seriously. Leaving aside the Sikh angle; which is pretty clear in favour of abstaining (despite what some people may say - the taking of intoxicants is forbidden) many “Sikhs” (I’ll stick to Sikhs and not say Punjabi’s) drink and in fact they have a reputation as hard drinkers; whose claim to fame is to be able to drink others under the table.

I know this from my own school and university days; where I was under constant pressure to drink and normally from my Sikh mates. Well thank you very much but I am perfectly capable of enjoying myself without being out of my head on drink. But the peer pressures are enormous and no doubt many do succumb. I know that drinking is a big problem in our community, my understanding is that there is a serious alcohol problem in the Panjab; but I don’t think this fact is widely appreciated and even if there were services available I suspect very few would attend. Also have you ever noticed the number of “Sikhs” who own pubs or Off-Licences?

Pondered on the statistic I previously mentioned: almost three times more people die as a direct result of alcohol than drugs yet alcohol services receive just a fifth of the funding; why isn’t the effect of alcohol taken more seriously? Is it because it’s the drug that is legally permitted and acceptable?

My own position is pretty clear; as far as I am concerned it is a drug and a pretty dangerous one at that; however I’m not even going to suggest prohibition as I can’t ever see it working and well the Government makes a tidy packet from taxing the stuff; so they ain’t going to be rushing to do this.

But what is the difference between the amount raised and the cost to society; not just in terms of The NHS, but everything including petty crimes, violence, nusances and all the rest? And is it worth it?

There are steps that can be taken, including treating alcohol the way smoking is treated; make the statistics available to the public in an effect manner, have major education campaigns. In much the same way that schools show pupils the effect of smoking make them do the same for drinking. Ban all advertising, and not just on television and provide comprehensive resources to those trying to tackle these issues. Also talk about the effects of alcohol on families, it’s often a cause in domestic violence, break ups or general wasting of a family wage packet.

This has to be taken more seriously than it currently is; perhaps even more seriously than hard drugs are treated. But wait - it’s cool to drink and uncool to not drink; ah that explains a lot and well even politicans do it!

Alcohol - the acceptable face of drug abuse. Thats the real problem.



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