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Welcome to SHAAP’s (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) weekly media monitoring service.

26 November 2015
 

#MUPsaveslives

 

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This briefing aims to provide a ‘snap shot’ of latest news on alcohol and health policy. The inclusion of an article in the briefing should not imply that SHAAP approves or condones the content.

SHAAP provides a coordinated, coherent and authoritative medical and clinical voice on the need to reduce the impact of alcohol related harm on the health and wellbeing of the people in Scotland. SHAAP was set up by the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges, through their Scottish Intercollegiate Group (SIGA) and is governed by an Executive Committee made up of members of the Royal Colleges.

Minimum pricing the least we can do to tackle Scotland's drink problem

Policy overhaul vital to protect most vulnerable, writes Alison Douglas

As the First Minister told ­participants at the recent Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) in Edinburgh, Scotland certainly isn’t unique in having a problem with alcohol. Unfortunately we are unusual in the severity and extent of that problem.

We are awash with alcohol, drinking around a fifth more than our English and Welsh neighbours, and we all know someone whose health and family life has been damaged as a result.

At the conference, experts from around the world were impressed by Scotland’s robust response to this wave of alcohol harm. They commended our commitment to evidence-based policies that help reduce consumption, like pricing, rather than weak measures which try to change individual behaviour, like education.

Asking people to “drink responsibly” simply doesn’t work when we are faced with a flood of alcohol that is cheap, readily available and endlessly promoted.

Our international colleagues were particularly impressed by the Scottish Government’s commitment to minimum unit pricing. More than 70 per cent of alcohol in Scotland is now bought relatively cheaply from supermarkets and shops and drunk at home. The cheapest, strongest drinks like white ciders and own brand vodkas are most often consumed by people who are drinking harmfully. Once a 50p minimum unit price is introduced, these drinks will be more expensive and the benefits will be fewer people in hospital, more families staying together and less anti-social behaviour and crime.

Some good progress has been made in the six years since Scotland’s alcohol strategy was published.

Scotland has banned irresponsible off-sales promotions which encouraged people to bulk buy alcohol; lowered the drink-drive limit to make our roads safer; and health professionals have delivered more than 300,000 brief interventions to at-risk drinkers. These are all positive steps and they are having some impact, with a 9 per cent fall in consumption since 2009, and alcohol-related deaths decreasing by more than a third since they peaked in 2003.

Despite these encouraging signs, alcohol-related deaths have risen again in each of the past two years, with 1,152 Scots dying because of alcohol last year, and the downward trend in sales has now stalled. One of the reasons for this is that alcohol has become more affordable following the recession. This highlights the importance of price in influencing how much we drink.

It’s clear that addressing low-cost alcohol is essential, but what else should we be doing?

Steps must be taken to restrict alcohol marketing, particularly to protect children being targeted as the next generation of drinkers. Evidence has been growing about the effect of alcohol ads on children, making them more likely to start drinking earlier and greater quantities. We also know that children see more adverts than ever. Our children have the right to play, learn and socialise in places free from commercial pressure to drink alcohol but weak regulatory systems are failing to protect them. Broadcast advertising is reserved to the UK government, and we need to put pressure on Westminster to tackle this, but there are other steps we can take here in Scotland.

It should not be acceptable that if you take your 12-year-old to see a film, like Spectre (certificate 12A), they are likely to see alcohol adverts. One simple action would be to only allow cinema adverts before certificate 18 films where the entire audience should be over 18. Scotland could also phase out alcohol sponsorship in sport. It’s disappointing that the Scottish Football Association recently signed a deal with Tennent’s. Our national sports bodies should be inspiring people to lead healthy and positive lifestyles, not promoting a product with such high health and societal costs.

Similarly, we should be able to ensure the places we live in encourage good health rather than being saturated by alcohol. For example, decisions by our local licensing boards shape our high streets and communities yet few of us have a say in whether an alcohol licence should be granted for another supermarket or a pub allowed to stay open longer. The objectives of Scotland’s licensing law include protecting and improving public health, and preventing crime and disorder. To meet these objectives, licensing boards must become more accessible, accountable and responsive to the communities they serve. As the new head of Alcohol Focus Scotland I look forward to working with all who want to get the right policies in place to prevent alcohol damaging individuals, families, communities and our economy. I’m optimistic we can turn the tide towards a healthier, safer Scotland for everyone.

Source: The Scotsman, 25th November
 

Wine drinkers urged to drop a glass size

A new scheme to help wine drinkers cut down on their alcohol consumption is being introduced in East Dunbartonshire.

More than 100 licensed premises have volunteered to serve customers smaller glasses.

Previously, if you ordered a glass of wine you would most likely be offered it in a 175ml or a 250ml glass.

But now, East Dunbartonshire customers will be offered wine in a 125ml glass in a bid to promote sensible drinking.

The scheme was set up by the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership which brings together politicians and the alcohol industry.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt described it as a simple, effective way to promote responsible drinking.

Research conducted by YouGov suggested that 70% of adults do not know how much wine is in a small, medium or large glass - with nearly half of customers surveyed opting for a large glass which can contain more than three units of alcohol.

Source: BBC News, 25th November
 

Scots 'can exceed weekly alcohol limit for less than £5'

SCOTS drinkers can exceed the maximum weekly recommended alcohol intake for less than £5, a leading health professional has warned.

NHS Highland’s director of public health Dr Hugo van Woerden claims the problem of alcohol abuse in the region was “extremely worrying” particularly with easy access to cheap booze.

And he adds that alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable that it was 35 years ago.

He will next week produce his annual report to the authority’s board outlining his fears.

However, he claims to be taking a “balanced approach” to the subject of alcohol in the report.

Dr van Woerden says he recognises that alcohol consumption is a “normal part of a healthy society” and that there are positive associations between controlled alcohol intake and some conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

But he highlighted the “significant burden of harm” associated with excessive alcohol intake.

In advance of presenting his report to the board, Dr van Woerden said that, while there were still some positive trends, the problem of alcohol abuse in Highland remained “extremely worrying”.

He points out that alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980, and that it’s possible in Scotland for people to exceed the maximum weekly recommended alcohol intake for less than £5.

Among other facts contained in the report are:

• Across the Highlands, 9.4 per cent of men and 7.2 per cent of women are classed as problem drinkers.

• There has been a rise in alcohol intake by women aged 16-24.

• Children as young as three can recognise the smell associated with alcoholic drinks.

In Scotland in 2010, 321 of the 409 alcohol-related deaths were women.

Dr van Woerden said: “We still have a major problem across NHS Highland in that 40 per cent of the population regularly drink more than the recommended limit.”

And his report will reveal: “Over the five-year period 2009 to 2013, there were on average 80 deaths per year from alcohol related conditions amongst the population of NHS Highland.”

In 2013/14, his report will also show, there were around six hospital stays per day among the population of NHS Highland’s area due to the affects of alcohol.

Dr van Woerden’s report will graphically make a number of recommendations and aspirations, such as several relating to prevention and recovery.

It will also cover alcohol as it relates to children and young people, and the role of the NHS and the public, private, voluntary and third sectors.

Dr van Woerden will also consider the role of industry and the business sector in a section which touches on the issue of minimum pricing.

The director also uses his report to “strongly recommend” the use of mobile phone apps that support peo-ple to develop and maintain healthy drinking habits.

It is recommended that men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, no more than four units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Women, meanwhile, are recommended that they should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than three units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Some superstrength ciders in two litre bottles can be bought for less than £5.

Source: the Scotsman, 24th November

 

Children as young as 10 are being referred to specialists for alcohol misuse in Scotland

TEN-YEAR-OLDS are among hundred of young Scots who have been referred to specialists for underage drinking problems in the past year.

Trained staff at schools, youth centres, hospitals and GP surgeries are referring young people to an intervention scheme if they have concerns over alcohol.

And figures show twice as many girls have received help than boys.

They were referred to experts under the Alcohol Brief Interventions Scheme (ABI) which saw 423 under-18s given advice linked to booze in the last 12 months.

Only three health boards provided age breakdowns for the Freedom of Information figures, though NHS Lothian reported a 10-year-old being advised, as well as children aged 11, 14 and 15.

In Lanarkshire, 83 girls were spoken to by medics, compared to 36 boys.

Over the last five years, Forth Valley medical staff saw 179 girls and 87 boys. Nine girls and five boys under 13 were advised.

Jennifer Curran of Alcohol Focus Scotland told the Daily Mail: “Young drinkers risk ending up in hospital, having an accident and being a victim of crime, as well as affecting their education, relationships and future prospects.”

Source: Daily Record, 23rd November
 

Fall in Scots drink-drive offences outstrips UK rate since lower limit switch

Drink-driving offences in Scotland fell at almost twice the rate of the rest of the UK since a lower drink-drive limit was introduced north of the border, new figures show.

Between December 2014 and August 2015, drink-driving offences fell in Scotland by 12.5% compared with the same period the previous year. Offences fell by 6.6% in the rest of the UK.

A lower drink-drive limit came into force in Scotland last December, meaning just one drink could mean a driver is breaking the law.

The limit was reduced from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood.

Breathalyser firm AlcoSense collated data from Police Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Welsh police and most English police forces to create an up-to-date picture of drink-drive offences across the UK.

Of those English forces who provided data, drink driving offences fell by 7.3%.

Northern Ireland saw a 9.4% fall in the nine-month period immediately following December 2014 while Wales registered an increase of 6%.

All but one area in Scotland reported a reduction in drink-driving offences.

Dumfries and Galloway recorded the greatest reduction, at 56%, while Renfrewshire and Inverclyde saw an increase of 4.7%.

Figures released in May this year showed an 17% drop in drink-drive offences in the first three months of 2015, compared with the same period in 2014.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the figures were an indication of a change in behaviour, with Scottish drivers avoiding alcohol when they are driving.

Hunter Abbott, managing director of AlcoSense, said: "The legislative change has clearly had an impact in Scotland, with a significantly greater reduction in offences than elsewhere in the UK.

"People have become increasingly aware of the dangers associated with drink driving."

Source: The Courier, 24th November
 

Byrne urges help for families damaged by alcohol abuse

Ex-minister Liam Byrne has called for more to be done to help children whose parents are "hazardous drinkers" after speaking publicly about his father's fight with alcohol addiction.

The Labour MP is urging people to "break the silence" about the issue, a taboo subject he says must be tackled.

He told the BBC it "hurts like hell" to talk about his father, who died in the run-up to May's general election.

Children at risk must be identified and adults given the right help, he said.

Mr Byrne, who served in the cabinet under Gordon Brown, said he was going public about the subject for the first time to draw attention to the plight of families whose lives had been damaged by alcohol abuse, a problem which he said was "cascading down the generations".

The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill has used a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall to draw attention to the issue, saying he had lived with the effects of his father's drinking on his family since he was seven years old but many families had had it "much worse".

'Sense of shame'

Earlier, he told BBC Radio 4's Today. "My Dad was an amazing guy, a very charismatic guy, a great public servant who inspired me to go into politics."

"He struggled with alcohol addiction for 30 years. That struggle, that addiction hurt us as a family and before the election it killed him."

While alcohol addiction affected different families in different ways, he said he was conscious of the "sense of shame" that he felt about it and the fact that the illness often transcended generations of the same family.

"Children of alcoholics are three times more likely to become alcoholics themselves and that was the same for my Dad. He was the child of an alcoholic.

"So if we are to break the cycle, I think we have to break the silence about the damage that it is doing to children and to our country."

Referring to the public reaction to Charles Kennedy's death earlier this year, he said the subject of alcohol addiction - from which the former Lib Dem leader suffered and which contributed to his death - was too often swept under the carpet or talked about in coded language.

'Giving a voice'

Like discussions about mental health, he said the subject must be brought out into the open.

"When Charles died a lot of people started talking about demons and I just thought 'it was not demons, he was addicted to alcohol'. Unless we normalise the conversation about this we are not going to make progress."

With only one in 20 "dependent drinkers" receiving help and alcohol-related admissions to Accident and Emergency departments increasing in two thirds of the country, Mr Byrne said urgent action was now required in three areas.

He wants a major public health information campaign to make parents aware of the damage they are doing to their children while dependents must be put in touch with professionals who can help them, such as GPs, nurses or social workers.

Finally, he said "we have to make sure that the right treatment is in place so when parents ask for help, it's there".

Speaking in Parliament, childrens' minister Edward Timpson praised Mr Byrne's "courage" for speaking out and his "determination to give a voice to the many thousands of children who find themselves in the same predicament".

Mr Timpson said social workers and teachers must be equipped to respond to alcohol-related distress, while the public sector as a whole must be more consistent in its approach to ensure "families who feel unsupported and children who feel lonely no longer have that as a feature of their lives."

He added: "I will undertake to talk with ministerial colleagues around how we raise public awareness of this issue in a similar ilk to the way we have on smoking."

Source: BBC News, 24th November
 

Research midwife at the Rosie gives evidence to MPs about foetal alcohol syndrome

A research midwife at the Rosie has given evidence to a group of MPs who are investigating the current state of foetal alcohol syndrome in the UK.

According to the British Medical Association (BMA), at least 7,000 children are born with lifelong physical, behavioural or cognitive disabilities as a result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy - called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Since FAS was first described in the 1970's, it has become clear that there is a spectrum of abnormalities resulting from fetal alcohol exposure, not only FAS.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the umbrella term used to describe this spectrum of abnormalities, with FAS lying at the most severely affected end of it.

Anne-Marie Winstone recently told the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders' about the research she carried out in 2011.

Her study focussed on midwives' knowledge, practices and opinions regarding advice about FAS, FASD and alcohol intake in pregnancy.

Only about 10 per cent of the participating midwives surveyed defining FAS correctly which is in line with an Australian study.

Surprisingly, 34 per cent of the 624 East Anglian midwives who participated in Anne-Marie's survey stated that they had seen an infant with the diagnosis of FAS.

Almost all of the midwives, (93 per cent) stated the advice: "consider not drinking at all", best represented what they would prefer to say to pregnant women.

But only 20 per cent of midwives informed women with known risk factors about alcohol use,suggesting a reluctance to discuss alcohol.

Meanwhile, figures in Australia were 30 per cent and a Danish study conclusions mirrored the same reluctance.

Anne-Marie told the APPG, chaired by MP Bill Esterson, that UK midwives may find it difficult to discuss these sensitive issues without clear consensus between advisory bodies such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and the National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The BMA guideline is that women completely avoid alcohol in pregnancy whereas the NICE guidelines present a number of different options.

Anne-Marie said: "Children with FAS have a range of developmental, cognitive and communication problems that can benefit from early intervention strategies so it is important that healthcare professionals recognise the features.

"Outcomes would be improved by routinely asking about alcohol consumption and providing alcohol advice to pregnant women as well as identifying and supporting mothers 'at risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy' as early as possible.

"Midwives clearly stated that they would benefit from readily available information and resources about FAS to help them and pregnant women.

"Previous research has already established that women do not hold it against midwives if no accurate answer exists but women do appreciate frank discussions."

Anne-Marie, who has published a pocket guide for midwives and health professionals, added: "An epidemiological study of FASDs across the UK would greatly help to raise awareness and would provide essential data for future UK health service planning."

The APPG will publish a report in December.

Source: Cambridge News, 24th November
 

Capital police blame booze for increase in violence

The city’s police boss has warned the balance between the number of pubs and public safety is on a “knife-edge” – after an increase in serious assaults.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said there are links between alcohol and violent crime in the city.

New statistics for April to October reveal violent crimes have gone up from 404 in the same period last year, to 420 this year.

Ch Supt Williams said: “There’s no doubt that [alcohol’s] availability and its over-provision links to a whole host of concerns. That includes violent crime, road safety, sexual offences and antisocial behaviour.

“It’s really important that, as a city, we have to have a conversation about what we think is acceptable and how we best maintain a balance between economic vitality and the safety and wellbeing of the public and visitors.

“My concern is that balance is on a knife edge. We need to see those who are responsible for managing the provision of alcohol in the city taking some responsibility.”

The majority of the listed crimes relate to serious assaults and robberies; but while robberies in Edinburgh dropped from 147 to 131, serious assaults hiked from 139 to 206.

And there had been a “general uplift” in serious assaults across the city, both in homes and in public spaces.

“Much of it is linked to alcohol and drugs and we are working really hard to try and first of all prevent it from happening, and detect those responsible for individual crimes,” Ch Supt Williams said.

The senior officer said despite hard work between city licensees and police, including the dedicated violence reduction unit, concerns remained.

Edinburgh City Council’s licensing board convener, Councillor Eric Milligan, has come under fire in recent years for approving applications despite objections from police and NHS chiefs. He previously told the News: “It’s about how much alcohol you are putting through your system, not about how many bars there are.”

The new figures published by Police Scotland reveal officers solved more than three-quarters of the serious assaults – 158, between April and October – while in the same period last year they concluded 102 cases, or 73.4 per cent.

Ch Supt Williams said: “No violent crime is acceptable, but we’re still seeing too many taking place in the first place. We’ve got to think about all the things that contribute to that.”

A licensing board spokesman said: “Factors such as current provision are taken into account when considering licensing applications.”

Tory councillor and former police officer Cameron Rose said: “I have concerns about the domination of alcohol in some parts of the night-time economy, but I’m cautious about taking the focus of the responsibility for these assaults.

“The responsibility lies with the people who commit the assaults, and although policies need to be looked at, the focus must always be principally detecting and dealing with these offenders. It’s the responsiblity of the person who assaults.”

Green councillor and licensing committee member Chas Booth said: “This increase in serious assaults is concerning, and there’s no doubt a link between violent crime and over-consumption of alcohol. We don’t currently have the right balance when it comes to alcohol policy – cheap booze and over-supply seems to be making the problem worse.”

Jennifer Curran, acting chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Alcohol-related assaults are related to alcohol being more easily available.”

Source: Edinburgh Evening News, 25th November
 

Aberdeen alcohol ban to be lifted throughout Christmas period

Source: The Press and Journal, 25th November
 

Liver deaths 'likely to increase' after relaxation of alcohol tax policies

Deaths from liver disease are likely to increase as a result of the government’s relaxation of alcohol taxation policies, say liver experts, who voice concern about a shortage of specialists to treat patients across the UK.

Only a third of district general hospitals have a liver specialist on the staff, according to a new report. It warns that obesity and alcohol are fuelling a rise in liver disease, which can cause cirrhosis, cancer and death if not caught early enough to be treatable.

Deaths from liver disease in the UK quadrupled between 1980 and 2013 as alcohol became more and more affordable, “as a result of government policy encouraged by effective lobbying from the drinks industry”, says the report from a Lancet medical journal commission on liver disease in the UK. Increasing numbers of off-licences and longer pub opening hours have also contributed, it says.

There has more recently been a drop in deaths, following the introduction of the 2% above inflation duty escalator in 2008. The liver experts say: “We predict that the recent decreases in liver mortality in England will not persist after removal of the duty escalator and the reduction in alcohol duty in the most recent budget. This, in the commission’s view, is unacceptable.”

According to the British Liver Trust more than 16,000 people in the UK died from liver disease in 2008. Of these, 4,580 died from alcohol-related liver disease.

The experts are concerned that their recommendations from the original Lancet commission published a year ago have not been met and point out that other investigations published this year have shown that some liver patients get very poor care.

“Many can recover if they are properly treated,” said Prof Sir Roger Williams, the commission’s lead author and director of the Foundation for Liver Research in London. “The UK’s specialist liver centres provide an excellent standard of care for their patients, but they aren’t evenly distributed throughout the country,” he said. “This results in a postcode lottery for patients with liver disease, who may not be able to access specialist care when they need it.

“We’ve seen very little progress on this problem since we first reported it last year, and the rising numbers of patients with liver problems in the UK means that we can’t afford to ignore these shortcomings any longer.”

Prof Nick Sheron, head of clinical hepatology at Southampton University, said that liver disease had soared since the 1960s when France had 50 patients per 100,000 population and the UK had two. He said: “There has been this colossal increase in liver disease as we have adopted the continental drinking habits. Liver services haven’t adapted to look after those patients.”

Politicians and the public tend to believe people with liver disease have only themselves to blame, even though many other diseases are due to lifestyle. Heart disease, for instance, is often caused by smoking. Sheron said: “It is something to do with our relationship with alcohol in our general psyche. We all love a drink and we celebrate drunkenness.”

Liver disease is very treatable and those who are caught early recover well. But nearly two-thirds (60%) of liver cancer cases in the UK are not diagnosed until the cancer has reached an advanced stage, when it is incurable.

Obesity and alcohol present some of the biggest challenges to the NHS today, say the report authors, who believe fiscal measures offer the best hope of bringing down consumption. They say: “There is convincing evidence to suggest that measures such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol and curbing advertisement and promotional offers for high sugar products work to reduce consumption, but the current government appears to be ideologically opposed to measures like this, which will make tackling these problems difficult.”

Source: the Guardian, 19th November
 

Three-year-olds 'recognise smell of alcoholic drinks'

Children as young as three can recognise the smell associated with alcohol, NHS Highland's director of public health has said in a new report.

Dr Hugo van Woerden said he recognised that responsible drinking was "a normal part of a healthy society".

But he has raised concerns about levels of alcohol abuse and children's exposure to it.

He said in the health board's area 9.4% of men and 7.2% of women were classed as problem drinkers.

His report mentions "children as young as three can recognise the smell associated with alcoholic drinks".

Dr van Woerden also said there had been a rise in alcohol intake by women aged 16-24.

'Major problem'

His full report will be presented to the health board next month.

Ahead of the meeting, he said: "We still have a major problem across NHS Highland in that 40% of the population regularly drink more than the recommended limit."

He added: "Over the five-year period 2009 to 2013, there were on average 80 deaths per year from alcohol-related conditions amongst the population of NHS Highland."

Alcohol abuse has been a long running concern for bosses at NHS Highland, which covers the Highlands and parts of Argyll.

A previous director of public health who moved from England to take up the post told of her shock at the scale of the region's alcohol problems.

At the time in 2011, the health board estimated that it was costing it £15m a year to treat illness caused by drink, smoking and obesity.

Source: BBC News, 24th November
 

Drug and alcohol consumption costs Belgium 4.63 billion annually

The social cost of legal and illegal drug consumption in Belgium every year is 4.63 billion euros, corresponding to about 419 euros per citizen or 1.19% of GDP, according to research by UGent (University of Ghent) for the Science Policy Office and published by Politeia.
 
The study reveals that 500,000 life years in good health were lost in 2012 because of legal and illegal substance abuse. Alcohol and tobacco products alone account for 77% of the social cost (3.54 billion euros) and illegal drugs make up 726 million euros or 16% of GDP.

Social costs include direct costs (healthcare, drugs-related crime, traffic accidents), indirect costs (lower productivity for example), and “intangible costs” in number of life years in good health.

Scientists will offer a list of recommendations at a meeting in Ghent on Tuesday. They will include implementing comprehensive and integrated alcohol policies, strengthening tobacco policies, help programmes for drug users, etc.

In Belgium, 5% of the population are cannabis users and 0.8% use other illegal drugs. 23% of the population smoke, 16% use psychoactive medication and 14% consume alcohol on a daily basis.

Source: The Brussels Times, 17th November
 

How good can one booze-free month really be?

If a tablet was developed that reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of several life-threatening diseases, while at the same time helping people to lose weight, sleep and concentrate, it would be hailed as a new wonder drug.

While no such drug has yet been developed, it seems exactly the same effects can be achieved by stopping drinking alcohol for a month.

Tests on men and women who took part in the Dry January month-long alcohol abstinence campaign found their liver function, blood pressure and cholesterol levels were better, and they were at lower risk of developing diabetes and liver disease.

The research, from University College London (UCL), also found some participants lost as much as 6lbs, and reported improvements in concentration and sleeping.

"If you took a drug that reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol and insulin resistance, it would be a blockbuster drug that would be worth billions," says Professor Kevin Moore, the study's principal investigator. "It would be an amazing drug and they'd be campaigning for it to be put in the drinking water."

DOES IT LAST?

The big question now, says Professor Moore, is what the long-term effects of alcohol abstinence are. More research needs to be done to find out.

"Dry January makes you healthier, so it tells you that alcohol's bad for you - but if you do stop drinking, are there any long-term benefits? We don't know," adds Moore, "although you can probably infer that it does have an impact. If this occurs after one month, what happens after three months? Are these effects sustained?"

Before their alcohol-free month, the female participants in the research, which was presented to the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease this month, had been drinking an average of 29 units a week, or four units a day, and the men typically drank 31 units - both above government guidelines, which suggest men shouldn't regularly exceed four units a day (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4 per cent beer), and women shouldn't drink more than three units a day (equivalent to a 175ml glass of wine).

After four weeks, their liver stiffness (an indication of damage and scarring) had been reduced by 12.5 per cent, and their insulin resistance (a measurement of diabetes risk) had come down by 28 per cent. "When you give up drinking for a month, a number of measurements improve, which suggest your cardiovascular risk of having a stroke is reduced," says Professor Moore. "Insulin resistance improves substantially, which can also have an impact on cardiovascular risk."

The abstinence also reduced the development of fatty liver disease, which affects 20% of the adult population. Being obese can cause fat deposits in the liver, sparking inflammation which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

GOBSMACKED

Professor Moore, who also undertook a much smaller, informal, alcohol abstinence study a year ago on a group of journalists, says he's been "gobsmacked" by the results.

"This is an illustration of just how bad alcohol can be. It's not saying that if you take a month off you can binge for the rest of the year, it's saying this is how much healthier you are if you stop drinking.

"Some people who stop drinking haven't even gone a week without drinking for years, and they're quite scared about it.

"But when you do stop, the world doesn't fall out from underneath you - you can get through the day without going into rampant alcohol withdrawal. People suddenly realise they can do it, and when they feel better - and many of them do - they then ask themselves whether a month off alcohol leads to a healthier 12 months."

Another important question is whether people revert to their previous drinking behaviour after abstaining for a month. "If they don't, and it reduces their overall alcohol consumption, then that has to be a good thing," says Professor Moore.

IS MODERATION KEY?

While excessive alcohol intake is associated with a myriad of health problems, including increased risk of liver disease, heart problems, some cancers and mental health issues, and is a leading cause of preventable death in industrialised nations, many studies have suggested that alcohol - in particular red wine - can actually have health benefits, if drunk in moderation, of course.

A Harvard University study, for example, found moderate amounts raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, giving greater protection against heart disease. Separate Harvard research also reported that red wine has anti-ageing properties, thanks to its resveratrol content (a compound found in the skins of red grapes).

Some studies also suggest that wine, especially red, may help protect against certain cancers, improve mental health, decrease the risk of developing dementia, and boost heart health.

Professor Moore is sceptical about there being any health benefits to drinking alcohol, however, although he admits he's not familiar with all the data. "There is no way alcohol is good for you. No drug is not going to cause harm at the level alcohol is taken," he states.

Another crucial piece of the jigsaw is that interpretations of what amounts to 'moderation' can differ widely, which throws some of the positive health findings into grey areas.

CONS OUTWEIGH THE PROS

The alcohol education charity Drinkaware points out that beyond the lower risk guidelines, any potential benefits from drinking alcohol are outweighed by the harm it can cause.

For example, according to the Department of Health, men who regularly consume more than eight units a day are four times more likely to develop high blood pressure, while women who regularly consume more than six units a day double their risk of high blood pressure.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, Drinkaware's medical advisor, stresses: "In the long-term, the best evidence for avoiding alcohol-related harm comes from sticking within the recommended lower risk guidelines."

She says light alcohol intake - up to one drink per day for women and one or two for men - may have an effect on reducing heart disease and stroke in middle-aged and older people. But there's no evidence that drinking above government guidelines provides any benefit to the heart - men who drink heavily are over 60 per cent more likely to die from heart disease, and the risk to women is more than doubled.

She thinks Professor Moore's study is promising because of the health benefits it identifies, and adds: "I support the idea of people having a month off from drinking alcohol, but only if it doesn't mean that for the rest of the year they're less concerned about cutting back."

Source: Herald Scotland, 20th November
 

Did 24-hour drinking actually change anything?

It has been 10 years since the government changed drinking laws in England and Wales to allow pubs - theoretically at least - to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. But did anything actually change?

When the Licensing Act came fully into force at midnight on 24 November 2005 it was called a new era. The idea that last orders at 11pm were to become a thing of the past had dominated headlines for months.

It was reported that the act would lead to round-the-clock drinking and there were warnings that extended hours would cause chaos. The Royal College of Physicians said it would increase alcohol consumption. Police chiefs complained that their forces would be stretched. One judge said that easy access to alcohol was breeding "urban savages".

Supporters said the new law would give drinkers greater flexibility and help reduce alcohol-related crime. There would no longer be a rush to drink before 11pm and it would spell an end to crowds fighting after closing time.

It would also help encourage a "continental cafe culture".

"Bologna in Birmingham, Madrid in Manchester, why not?" said a parliamentary committee report in 2003.

Others were less convinced. "I think the English - maybe the British - have been binge-drinkers since time immemorial," said Labour's former Health Secretary Frank Dobson at the time. "I don't think we're going to turn into Tuscany just because the hours have changed."

The impact of flexible opening hours was not immediately obvious. "It's quite dead tonight," reported a BBC journalist in Carlisle on the evening the act was introduced. But what has happened since?

It was thought the Licensing Act could have an effect on crime levels. The figures show that violent crime has been declining for decades in the UK. "To claim that that's related to the licensing act would be a bit misleading," says David Humphreys, an expert in social policy and intervention at Oxford University.

In essence, violent crime was going down before the act came in. It has carried on going down over the past decade.

As violent crime overall has been falling, so the subgroup of alcohol-related violent crime has also fallen.

The proportions have remained steady. The latest figures show that in 53% of violent incidents, the victim thought their attacker had been drinking.

The lack of a dramatic rise in alcohol-related crime has come as a surprise, says Humphreys. Countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Iceland, all saw increases in crime after introducing similar legislation.

Humphreys conducted a study in Manchester after the new act was introduced. "We didn't find any notable effects on levels of violent crime," he says. "The conclusion we came to at the time was that the licensing act hasn't had as big an effect as people anticipated it would."

Alcohol consumption has been falling since before the act was introduced. Figures from the British Beer and Pubs Association (BBPA) are based on alcohol sales and they suggest that consumption last year was 19% lower than at the recent peak in 2004.

Binge drinking among adults has also been decreasing overall. More people in the UK are teetotal, with 21% of adults not drinking at all. It was 19% in 2005. Young people have been the drivers behind this, with a 40% rise in teetotal young adults from 2005 to 2013. But linking any of this to the Licensing Act is difficult.

"You've got so many things that push levels of alcohol use around that I don't think you'd be able to separate out the effect of this policy change," says Simon Moore, a professor at Cardiff's University's violence and society research group.

Some argue that the numbers show that some of the most dramatic predictions were wrong. "We were promised more crime and disorder," says Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute of Economic Affairs. "We were promised more drunkenness, we were promised more alcohol being consumed. None of these things happened."

The government's own review of the policy in 2008 concluded that the act had not led to the widespread problems some people were worried about. But it added that there was no clear evidence of any positive benefits.

The impact of the Licensing Act also seems to vary across England and Wales. Crime levels have worsened in some areas but got better in others.

But while crime levels haven't really changed, the timing of crime has.

Extended drinking hours does seem to have shifted violent crime to the early hours of the morning. "Things just went backwards," says Jon Foster, senior research and policy officer for the Institute of Alcohol Studies. "The amount of crime has been spread out over a longer period of time and that causes problems for the police," he adds.

Several studies have looked at the effect on Accident and Emergency departments in hospitals. Some have reported a rise in alcohol-related admissions but in other areas the opposite has been seen. In 2014, there were an estimated 1,059,210 hospital admissions attributed to an alcohol-related problem - a rise from 493,760 in 2003-04.

But some effects, such as liver disease or heart disease, can take years to develop, making it difficult to work out what factors are to blame. "We don't really have a good sense of the impact of the licensing act on health in general," says Humphreys.

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that - contrary to the headlines - actual 24-hour licences were extremely rare. Closing times have been extended by an average of less than 30 minutes, says Brigid Simmonds from the BBPA. Most pubs do not stay open until midnight even if they are allowed to.

The impacts might have been clearer if it had been taken up by more venues. As it is, extended hours have contributed to the "normalisation" of alcohol, says Moore. But "overall not much has changed".

Levels of alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour are still at unacceptable levels, according to the government. The cost of alcohol misuse is estimated to be around £21bn each year. Police officers have complained that 53% of their time is spent dealing with drink-related crime. And 50% of ambulance staff have said they have been injured when trying to deal with drink-related violence.

The Local Government Association said as early as 2008 that the new act had "failed miserably" in changing the UK's drinking culture. Others argue it was never the main aim of the act. "It was just a side issue," says Snowdon. "It always was".

There has been a change in the way people in the UK use certain venues. "We now serve a billion meals a year in pubs. It has much more of a family appeal," adds Simmonds.

But the holy grail of the "continental cafe culture" is still proving elusive. "We're never going to have it," says Snowdon.

Source: BBC News, 24th November
 

Drinklink calls businesses to tackle alcohol in the workplace

It’s customary at Christmas, for businesses to celebrate the holiday season with an office party or social gathering. But how much is it costing your business?

Figures released by Norwich Union Healthcare, suggests that British businesses could be losing nearly £65 million per year, with nearly one million workers taking sick leave due to over indulgence.

With the UK Home Office estimating the total annual costs to the economy of £7.3bn, this problem is not limited to the festive period and by way of response, DRiNKLiNK aims to create an information portal that aims to limit the affect of alcohol in the workplace.

The costs to the Scottish economy are estimated at over £3 billion per annum and are inclusive of economic (workplace), health, social care, justice and wider. The economic cost alone for Scotland per annum is estimated at £865 million. “The Cost of Alcohol Misuse in Scotland” Scottish Government (2010)

Michail Tzouvelekis, Head of Corporate Relations, said:

“DRiNKLiNK believes that no one should be negatively affected by someone else’s drinking and with the International Labour Organisation estimating alcohol related accidents at work reaching a staggering 40%, the corporate environment is a key market we aim to serve. Unsupported by a robust alcohol policy and implementation strategy, businesses are at significant risk.”

Scottish charity, DRiNKLiNK, was set up in 2012, to link those affected by someone else’s drinking to information services and others in similar situations. Alcohol Focus Scotland estimate that 50% of the population are indeed affected by other’s drinking in some way.

Michail continued to speak about the strategy to support the corporate arena: “The main channel for us to do this is through a website that will provide information to those looking to educate themselves about alcohol misuse and give them the tool kit needed to tackle the issue within their workplace. It’s also a great way for us to signpost those in need of assistance to the relevant support services, which are in abundance in Aberdeen.

“Alcohol misuse poses significant risk in the workplace and we are looking for organisations to support us to create a safe working environment for staff by giving us feedback on our website content.”

The charity is looking for 3 companies to hold a one-hour workshop on site between the 23rd and 30th of November. At the workshop the participating teams will be asked to feedback on the content and visual design of the site, feeding back on what information they want to be included.

Speaking of the motivation, Michail said: “The issues created in business by alcohol misuse are varied. Through the workshops we want to identify exactly what is important to businesses in Aberdeen.”

DRiNKLiNK is calling on interested businesses to sign up for the workshops at www.drinklink.org.

The workshops will be delivered in conjunction with the Aberdeen ADP.

Discussing their involvement, Fraser Hoggan said: “The Alcohol & Drug Partnership are keen to support key initiatives that tackle alcohol across the whole population. Alcohol remains a significant public health challenge and DRiNKLiNK is providing innovative and exciting ways to help address this by increasing understanding and awareness of the complex issues involved.”

Source: Aberdeen Business News, 22nd November
 

15 die in Russia from drinking illicit alcohol

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian investigators say 15 people have died in the past two weeks from drinking illegally produced alcoholic beverages, including five in a Siberian town who drank fake American whiskey.

The spokesman for Russia's main investigative agency says the deaths in several locations around the country show the need for alcohol production to be put back under a state monopoly and for tightening control over imports.

Vladimir Markin was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Monday: "In our country the introduction of such a measure like a monopoly on the production of ethyl alcohol and perhaps on all alcoholic production, would significantly safeguard our citizens and increase revenues for the state budget."

Russia is struggling to balance its budget because of the falling price of oil, its main export.

Source: the Daily Mail, 23rd November
 

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