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alcohol health alliance uk

Alcohol, are we kidding ourselves?

Man drinking beer

Man drinking beer

Posted 25/03/19

Are we kidding ourselves when it comes to alcohol? That’s the question being raised as a new report released today highlights the North East’s drinking habits.

Around 550,000 North East adults are drinking above the recommended limit of no more than 14 units a week to stay “low risk”. And most drinkers who are drinking at these higher levels believe they are moderate or low risk drinkers.

The report by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, warns many thousands of people in our region are risking health problems and an early death from alcohol without being aware of the necessary information around units.

“Alcohol: Are we Kidding Ourselves?” is the second ever report from Balance into the “state of the region” when it comes to the North East’s relationship with alcohol.

The survey of 800 people found a worrying picture about lack of awareness:

• 89% of people in the North East drink alcohol compared to 78% across the UK.
• Over one in four NE adults (26%) are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines of 14 units a week compared to one in five (20%) across the UK – that’s around 550,000 people in our region exceeding the guidelines.
• Nearly 9/10 North East adults drinking above 14 units a week consider themselves to be either “light or moderate” drinkers – that’s around 467,000 people.
• Nearly one in 10 (8%) NE adults are drinking at over 28 units a week – more than twice the weekly low risk guidelines. That’s over 169,000 people putting themselves at greater danger of over 200 alcohol-linked diseases and injuries.
• Three out of four people drinking more than 28 units a week believe they are a light or moderate drinker – that’s an estimated 123,000 people in the North East.

Who is drinking the most?
The report also found that it is men who continue to drink the most with one-third (34%) of North East men drinking above 14 units a week compared to 19% of women.

And despite assumptions that it is young people who drink the most, it is middle aged people who are most likely to be exceeding the weekly units, with 35% of 45-54 year olds drinking 15 units or more a week:

• One in four people aged 45-54 are drinking between 15-28 units a week, compared to 1 in 5 people aged 18-24.
• And 11% of 45-54 year-olds are drinking more than 29 units a week, compared to just 4% of 18-24 year olds.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “The worrying conclusion is that thousands of people in our region are putting themselves at greater risk of premature death and disease from alcohol while considering themselves moderate drinkers and remaining oblivious to the risks they are taking.

“Evidence is now very clear that any level of regular drinking raises the risks of cancer, but drinking over 14 units a week increases even more the risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“Heavy drinking is often blamed on younger people but it is people in their 40s and 50s who are putting their health most at risk, although they might feel they are drinking responsibly.”
But he added: “Our survey shows people clearly believe they have a right to know what they are drinking and the risks associated.

“Most, if not all, major alcohol brands are refusing to feature health warnings or information about units on their products and so drinkers are deliberately being kept in the dark. This is at a time when alcohol is far too cheap and far too heavily promoted.”

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and alcohol lead for North East Directors of Public Health, said: “Alcohol is related to numerous chronic health conditions, but the worrying truth is that many people in our region are not aware their level of their drinking may be raising their risks.

“It is even more worrying that those who experience the greatest levels of alcohol related harm live in some of the region’s most deprived neighbourhoods

“We need to keep raising awareness about the chronic health conditions linked to alcohol and target actions on the groups where alcohol causes most harm, counteracting the influence of the alcohol industry which makes alcohol too cheap, too available and too glamourous through its advertising.

“Alcohol also creates a burden on our local services in terms of accidents, disorder, crime and loss of productivity. As the UK Government reviews its approach to alcohol harm and sets out its new national alcohol strategy, it is time we looked at measures such as minimum unit pricing and health warnings on labels which would have public support.”

The survey also found:
• 70% of people in the North East think the UK has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
• People in the North East are significantly more likely to associate alcohol with child abuse, sexual assault, ill health and violent crime than people in the rest of the country.
• People in the North East believe the Government (60%) and alcohol producers (59%) have a responsibility for communicating the harms associated with drinking alcohol.
• 53% of North East adults support Minimum Unit Price with only one in five (21%) opposing.
• There was strong support across the board for more information on alcohol, including alcohol units (84%) and weekly guidelines (52%); drink drive warnings (80%); warnings not to drink when pregnant (74%); cancer warnings (65%); information on under-age drinking (64%); and calorie information (56%).

The cost of alcohol to the North East
In 2015/16 alcohol was estimated to have cost the North East around £1.01billion, including:
• £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and treatment for alcohol dependency.
• £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.
• £353 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths
• £121 million in costs to children and adults’ social services and substance misuse services.