Most of the publicity that surrounds alcohol misuse, had always been directed at the young, under-age drinkers. With images of reckless binge drinkers outside nightclubs and vomiting in the street, fighting and anti-social behaviour, that puts fear and dread into those of us who have the misfortune of having to either witness it or walk past it.
However, there is firm evidence that it is not the young who cost the most. Both financially and emotionally it is now the middle aged drinkers who are main lining on alcohol, particularly women, and particularly wine. Perhaps many of this demographic, are the ones who raise their glasses in horror, at the irresponsibility of these weekend revellers and are outraged by the burden put on the A & E departments and ambulances services up and down the UK.
This is what I call the Them and Us syndrome.
Us, rather than them, have nice jobs, nice clothes, a nice lifestyle, but hidden behind the interlined curtains, are drinking at least on a par with the reckless overtly boozy Brits, maintaining levels, and habitually drinking too much. Us would have giggly conversations the morning after the night before, on how amusing it was that they had got a bit tipsy, but nowhere near as sozzled as another in their party.
Because Us appeared to be in control, articulate and reasonably intelligent, they are never really questioned about their drinking habits. The old guffaw about not being an alcoholic if you still drank less than your doctor is rolled out across a well-polished walnut dining table. It’s all a bit of a laugh, isn’t it? Not when you see the health problems it’s causing: the number of alcohol-related admissions of women to NHS hospitals in England has continually risen over the past decade, from 200,000 in 2002 to 437,000 in 2010, evidence from the Institute of Alcohol Studies claim.
Yes that is them, and this is us. Drinking is cleverly disguised, consequences are few, and as they progress down their particular River of Denial, that is when the things start to fall apart, Us just manage, barely, to cover it up even more, terrified that someone would ever point a finger and accuse us of being alkies. In fact so bad is the bigotry that some self-harm to the point of almost killing themselves. Too frightened to confess that actually they are not just drinking three glasses of wine a night, increasing the risk of breast cancer by 50%, but pre-loading, and secretly drinking on the sly too. Hiding bottles in cupboards and Wellington boots. Re-organizing the re-cycling so that even the bin men would not suspect.
And yet Us judge others, because they are not like them. The fact is that they are just like Us, just less mature or not as good at hiding it.
The biggest cost to the NHS is not the young, it is the over 55s. The lowest cost is the under 35s. The Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) estimates the direct costs of alcohol-related harm in England to be £12.6 billion at 2008/09 prices, undoubtedly this figure will have risen since the dreadful recession hit the UK.
The indirect alcohol related deaths and harms are far more significant, two examples are that over half head and neck cancers can be attributed to alcohol misuse, costing the NHS 63.5m, Just over 13% of all malignant breast neoplasm admissions were attributable to alcohol, costing the NHS £27.1m, Alcohol Concern has told us, in fact there are over 60 medical conditions that can be related to heavy drinking. Liver disease is now the fifth biggest killer in the UK, and on the rise. One in five of the population, 20% have liver disease, and over half can be attributed to heavy drinking, according to the British Liver Trust. Dr Carsten Grimm, Clinical Lead for the Alcohol Service in Kirklees, Yorkshire, said: “It is vital that people understand the full consequences of drinking at unsafe levels can have on their health. With almost 10 million alcohol-related hospital admissions, we can see just how serious an impact unsafe levels of alcohol consumption is having on our health system.”
There is much more financial loss involved. In a report by The Institute of Alcohol Studies the economic cost is alarming. They estimate that in real terms the cost to the country as a whole could be in the region of 55 billion.
My evidence also shows that no one is exempt from this current trend. 27% of my clients over the last three months have come from the health sector, both clinical and mental health. The average age is 47 years. Not 16. These women are the Mothers of the drinkers who are often out there on the streets getting hammered. Do you think they have perhaps learned a habit? We hear of girls of 14 taking bottles of wine to parties, because if Mummy drinks it to help her relax, then it will help us do the same. After all she isn’t a ‘drunk’. There was a very candid interview in one Sunday paper recently that shows The percentage of women convicted of drink-driving has almost doubled in the past 15 years – from 9% in 1998 to 17% by 2012, according to a recent study by Social Research Associates (SRA) on women and alcohol. The research also notes that one in six female motorists thinks she has driven over the limit in the past year, and that with adjustments for miles driven, women are more likely to be over the legal limit than men from the age of 30 upwards. Those 50 years of anti-drink-drive campaigns featuring men in a pub downing “one for the road” suddenly seem old- fashioned in their assumptions.
If you were to also conclude from the above, that our children also are affected by parental drinking, they do take notice, and they do learn from it, as has been pointed out by Drinkwise’s latest campaign, Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix, then surely we need to address not only the problem, but the ineffective care and handling of this hidden epidemic.