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Former Taunton MP Jackie Ballard: Education vital to end misery and harm of alcohol

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 25, 2014

Former Taunton MP Jackie Ballard: Education vital to end misery and harm of alcohol

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Jackie Ballard, chief executive at Alcohol Concern and former MP for Taunton, says that the facts about alcohol are still not well-enough known

In the UK, one person dies every hour as a result of conditions caused by alcohol. There are 1.2 million hospital admissions every year due to alcohol misuse, and 54,980 of these admissions are in the South West.

Alcohol-related harm is the largest single risk factor for deaths in working age. Clearly, a problem of this scale will take more than words or gestures.

Somerset County Council's health and wellbeing strategy says: "Alcohol misuse undermines family and community life. It contributes significantly to antisocial behaviour, crime, domestic violence and family breakdown. The proportion of people drinking high levels of alcohol is increasing in Somerset. There were 9,276 alcohol-related hospital admissions in Somerset in 2010".

Earlier this week, the All Parliamentary Party Group on Alcohol Misuse asked political parties to commit to 10 actions to help tackle harm caused by alcohol in the UK. One of those is to put health warnings and nutritional information on bottles and cans of booze.

Most people know that drinking too much can cause liver disease. But how many know that alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions? We need to increase education and understanding of what alcohol can do to our health.

Many people are unaware of the sugar and calories in their favourite tipple. There are 130 calories in a standard glass of wine, 182 in a pint of beer, and 250 calories in a large can of lager (the same as a Mars bar). In 2010, an Alcohol Concern survey in Wales found that 48 per cent agreed that calorie details on packaging would help them regulate their drinking.

But warnings alone won't change habits or make a dent in the £21 billion bill Britain pays each year for alcohol misuse.

Other recommendations include the tightening of alcohol advertising regulations and a phased ban on alcohol sponsorship, more funding for treatment and access to help for hazardous and dependent drinkers, as well as minimum unit pricing.

Incidentally, a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would not affect moderate drinkers or those who buy a bottle of good wine now and again. A study by Southampton University found that people with alcohol-related cirrhoses were buying the cheapest booze they could find, paying around 33p per unit, while low-risk moderate drinkers paid £1.10 per unit.

Alcohol Concern is not a temperance society or a charity full of sanctimonious teetotallers.

Our goal is to improve people's lives through reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

One person in five in the South West is drinking at a level which increases the risk of damaging their health. Perhaps you are a bit worried about your drinking and wondering what you could do to make a difference?

First, know the recommended safe limits. A few beers after work or a few glasses of wine too often can take you over safe limits and store up health problems for the future. Men shouldn't have more than 3-4 units a day (that's a couple of pints of normal-strength beer) and for women it's 2-3 units a day (an average sized glass of wine). Everyone should have at least two or three days off alcohol a week.

Adrian Prior Sankey of Taunton Street Pastors told me that they have had encounters with people with a wide spectrum of need, varying from homelessness to mental health – but mostly intoxication.

He described a typical incident which took place last Saturday night in Taunton town centre.

"We helped a young lady who was barely conscious and being sick on the pavement. She had drunk cider and a bottle of wine before coming out."

Was that really the way she wanted to end her evening? A pleasant night out was ruined by 'pre-loading' – drinking cheap booze beforehand. If the wine and cider hadn't been so cheap, would she have ended up putting herself in such potential danger?

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