Alcohol is inflicting long-lasting harm across all areas of society and family life, according to a group of cross-party Parliamentarians. The group of MPs, peers and health experts are calling on the Government to develop an alcohol strategy to get to the heart of the nation’s drink problem.
Alcohol is the leading risk-factor for ill health, death and disability among those aged 15 to 49 in England yet not enough is being done to tackle the problem, the group warns.
The independent Commission on Alcohol Harm was set up by alcohol health experts and Parliamentarians to examine the full extent of alcohol harm across the UK. In its final report, published on Monday (14 September 2020) the Commission outlines recommendations for reducing harm and calls for a national strategy for alcohol.
Harm to the individual
Alcohol health harm is already well-documented, and we know that alcohol is a major cause of death and disease. Many submissions to the Commission highlighted that alcohol is the leading risk factor for ill health, early mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49 in England. The Commission received evidence on the array of conditions which are caused or exacerbated by alcohol including cancer. In particular, we heard that alcohol and mental ill health often go hand-in-hand and yet most services are poorly equipped to support people who are experiencing both alcohol use disorders and mental-ill health.
Evidence submitted to the Commission highlights the serious impact alcohol harm has on family life with children living with an alcohol dependent parent five times more likely to develop eating disorders, twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence or addiction, and three times as likely to consider suicide.
Harm to families and friends
The Commission received overwhelming evidence about the harm caused to children and family life; an estimated 308,000 children currently live with at least one adult who drinks at a high risk level in England. Harmful parental drinking can be linked with neglect and abuse. 39% of children who live with a parent or carer using alcohol problematically had also had domestic violence in their household in the last five years. The impact of parental alcohol use on children can be profoundly damaging: children living with an alcohol dependent parent are five times more likely to develop eating disorders, twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence or addiction and three times as likely to consider suicide.
Harm to society
The Commission received evidence on the wide-ranging impact alcohol has on wider society through the burden it places on public services and the economy. In England, hospital admissions related to
alcohol reached a record level of 1.26 million in 2018/197 and the total cost of alcohol to the NHS is estimated at £3.5bn. The costs of alcohol are not limited to health: Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has noted that “alcohol-related crime in England and Wales is estimated to cost society around £11.4 billion per year
The Commission concluded that a new UK Government alcohol strategy is required urgently.
Recommendations from the final report include:
- The new alcohol strategy must include targeted measures to support families and protect children from harm, including alcohol-fuelled violence.
- The new alcohol strategy must be science-led and adopt the World Health Organization’s evidence-based recommendations for reducing the harmful use of alcohol. This includes measures on affordability – such as the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England – and restrictions on alcohol advertising and marketing – such as ending sports sponsorship, better information for consumers, advice and treatment for people drinking at hazardous and harmful levels, and action to reduce drink driving.
- Reducing the £3.5bn cost of alcohol to the NHS would help to relieve pressure on the service and free up capacity to respond to the consequences of COVID-19.
- Changing the conversation and challenging alcohol’s position in our culture. This means addressing the stigma around alcohol use disorders, encouraging conversations about drinking to take place more easily and creating space for people to be open about the effects of alcohol on their health and those around them.