In March 2007 Sir Ian Gilmore, President of Royal College of Physicians from 2006-2010, producing a very insightful report titled “Alcohol – can the NHS afford it”, and argued that the Government’s alcohol awareness campaigns focus too much on young binge drinkers. He stressed that older people drinking at home were also at risk of the severe health consequences linked to high alcohol consumption. More adults in the UK drink at home than in any other European country. Alcoholic liver disease has increased tenfold over the last three decades.
Today, we hear and see that drinking daily has been normalised, measured always in glasses, often in bottles of wine. We never measure units at home, just how many refills we have. Two or three glasses are considered acceptable. Taking into account that most who now drink out of 250ml glasses, three of them can easily represent a bottle. In a cohort study from the 1970s, drinking more than 9 units of alcohol a week was considered to be harmful. Nine units is not even 1 bottle of wine at 14% ABV. So now perceived as normal or at least condoned, is very often 70 units a week for women.
The cost to health is being measured, but as Sir Ian pointed out, ignored by Government. The over 55s are now the biggest burden in terms of cost to the NHS with alcohol related illnesses. This of course does not take into account the human and emotional cost that has been wrought before these people become seriously ill. Figures of 3 to 4 billion spent are bandied around, as if that also is acceptable. The average cost of drinking alcohol far exceeds that figure, along with the tax that supports our healthcare service, it is a pretty penny, no matter what you earn.
To reach 55 and over, and succumb to alcohol related illness, you have to have been caning it for some time. You have most probably been parenting and working. I have asked the question so many times and been pushed to one side, that is, where does the Government think the young binge drinkers have come from? There are far fewer these days, in fact drinking by many is rejected, and expressions such as ‘Sober is the new Drunk’ is where it is at, many see it as unattractive and a waste of time and money. They have felt embarrassed by their parents drinking and not tried to copy that. They also see the damage if 1 of the 60 medical conditions to choose from related to alcohol is diagnosed.
We all know that stats are under estimated, none more so than those collected on alcohol misuse, as a once practised member of the Denial Club, I cannot count the number of times I defended my position, with as much skill as a downhill racer.
Yet the Gold Standard of 12 steps is still adhered to, even though, clearly alcohol misuse and its consequences are on the rise. Surely it is time to look at other options? Crucially, I believe, age & gender specific care, a specialist service that exists outside of the mainstream. Or is this simplistic? Looking at my stats, that don’t lie, I think tailored care has to be the way forward, and alcohol awareness be focused on the pivotal role of parents, and grandparents in society.
Sadly the Sir Ian, nothing has changed.