In 1973 researchers showed that even physically dependent drinkers could learn to drink in moderation. But controversy was fierce, with abstinence returning to prominence as an essential component of contemporary visions of ‘recovery’.
Though close to the heart of the UK government’s abstinence-based ambitions for recovery, their own research has cast doubt on whether residential rehabilitation is a good deal for the public purse. We look at the evidence for residential rehabilitation, and whether despite the rhetoric, these services are under threat.
Government led action to address the harms to "children of alcoholics" has been promised following efforts by a number of MP's to raise the profile of the issue. Nicola Blackwood, the public health minister, promised a new strategy after hearing a deeply personal account by MP John Ashworth of his experience of having an alcoholic father.
MP Liam Byrne has been leading an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which last week released a manifesto [pdf] during national Children of Alcoholics week. MP Caroline Flint also spoke out on her experience of “secrecy, shame and fear” due to having a parent with an alcohol problem.
Two recent studies have explored the extent to which 'warning' or 'responsible drinking' messages on drinks labels or in bars or pubs are noticed. Both studies firstly question the level of attention given to such messages in the first case, but also whether attention to such messages may have any effect on drinking behaviour.
The research may be considered relevant in the context of policy debates about how to support 'informed decision making' for alcohol consumers. Currently there is no legal requirement for drinks to contain health warning messages in England, but the former responsibility deal claimed it had succeeded in its pledge to meet a voluntary code on 80% of on shelf products by 2013 - a claim questioned in this BMJ piece. Whilst some public health advocates have argued that labelling requirements should be made mandatory, including calorie content, others have may see the need for action on pricing and availability as more pressing policy issues.
The latest release details national level data and recent trends, albeit using a different methodology for alcohol-related mortality than the recent ONS release. Most LAPE measures remain relatively stable over recent years, though alcohol-related road traffic accidents have declined whilst mortality from chronic liver disease for men and women has risen.
Understanding alcohol consumption trends, especially among heavy drinking groups, is undoubtedly central to alcohol policy debates across the UK, but unveiling the complexity and nature of alcohol use across society is no mean feat. Recent research, however, provides new insights into what and who lies behind recent consumption shifts and how to interpret these in the context of 'drinking types' and 'cultures'.
A new analysis of ‘heavier drinkers’ in Great Britain from 1978-2010, funded by ESRC and published earlier this year, urges against relying on headline consumption data when considering alcohol problems and policy. Rather, we need to recognise the 'rich tapestry' of alcohol consumption: the patterns of use and culture that are spread not only across the whole population but within a range of drinking 'sub-groups'. The research explored 'typologies and dynamics' of heavier drinkers, identifying four 'stable clusters' during the period, with each group showing characteristics that were distinct from both the other heavy drinking groups and the general population.
The NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said binge-drinkers are "selfish to get so blotto" they end up in an ambulance or A&E. “More than a third of A&E attendances at peak times are caused by drunkenness - casualty nurses and doctors are understandably frustrated about the NHS being used as a national hangover service,” he added. Telegraph
Meanwhile England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has admitted her advice on recommended alcohol guidelines could have been better, saying she chose her words poorly when she told women to think about the risk of breast cancer every time they reached for a glass of wine. Times
Public health bodies are calling on the Chancellor to use taxation as a lever to address the cheapest alcohol products including 'white ciders' ahead of the spring budget next month, though are competing with opposing calls from alcohol industry bodies. Both taxation and a minimum unit pricing (MUP) featured in a commons debate on alcohol harms on Thursday 2nd February.
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) have released a call [pdf] making four recommendations for the government including the reinstatement of the alcohol duty escalator, MUP and to seek a more health adequate duty system based on strength for all products in future trade agreements. Balance, the regional alcohol group for the North East, are also calling on the Chancellor to raise duty on high strength white ciders, such as Frosty Jack’s and White Ace, which have a lower duty per unit than any other alcohol product. They say a targeted rise in duty would leave 80 percent of cider sales unaffected and that 66% of the public would support a duty increase, also highlighting a recent Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) report stating white cider products - sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol - are predominantly drunk by dependent and underage drinkers.
The Home Office has announced thirty-three new 'Local Alcohol Action Areas' (LAAA) which aim to 'tackle alcohol-related crime and health harms and create a more diverse night-time economy'.
The second phase of LAAAs was opened last year, inviting local authorities to bid based on plans to develop activities such as improving data sharing, developing partnerships, or designing out crime. The selected LAAAs will not receive any funding, but will be allocated a central government support manager and 'will receive support and expertise in crime prevention, licensing and public health from the Home Office, Public Health England, the Welsh government and Nightworks, a company that specialises in diversifying the night-time economy'.