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Suffolk: Are you one of the thousands of people in Suffolk drinking too much?

09:55 07 June 2014

One in seven people in Suffolk drinks at either

One in seven people in Suffolk drinks at either 'increasing' or 'higher' risk levels

More than 20,000 people in Suffolk are dependent on alcohol, while one in seven put themselves at risk by drinking up to 50 units a week, claims a new report.

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It is estimated that the social and economic cost of excessive drinking in Suffolk is now £143 million - a combination of lost working days, the cost to the NHS, and crime.

The Suffolk Alcohol Strategy also reveals two increasing trends - that of people “pre-loading” on alcohol before a night out, and a rise in alcohol-related illnesses affecting older people.

Now the Suffolk Alcohol Strategy 2014-2022 is looking at ways of tackling the issue, aiming for an “enlightened” approach to it.

It has been compiled by the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board, and chairman Joanna Spicer said the group was calling for a fresh look at the county’s relationship with alcohol.

She said: “This heralds a new, and what I believe to be a more enlightened approach to our collective relationship with alcohol as a county.

“This strategy recognises the value of alcohol to our culture, society and also local economy, which is why we’re working hand-in-hand with the alcohol industry to encourage sensible drinking and to promote a vibrant and safe night time environment, as well as highlighting the often hidden harm of excessive and habitual alcohol misuse on families and wider communities.”

It is estimated alcohol-related issues cost the NHS in Suffolk, excluding Waveney, £48m, alcohol-related crime costs £15m while £80m was as a result of lost productivity.

It points to 182,000 working days of the year lost annually through absences caused by drinking, while more than 3,000 people turn up at work with a hangover every day.

An estimated 15.1% of the county’s over 18 population drink at increasing - between 22-50 units for men and 15-35 for women - or higher risk - more than 50 units for men and more than 35 for women.

However, the strategy does acknowledge the huge value and importance to Suffolk’s economy of the brewing and pub industry.

The figures are part of the first integrated alcohol strategy for Suffolk, bringing together local councils, health, the voluntary sector, police and the alcohol industry to promote sensible drinking and tackle the negative impacts of excessive alcohol use.

Several new alcohol cultures have also emerged, such as “pre-loading” or drinking at home before a night out, where people are four times more likely to drink more than 20 units of alcohol during the evening.

Accidental alcohol poisoning deaths have increased by more than 200% in the last 10 years and are likely to increase further due to recent social media drinking games such as “NekNominate”.

But it is not just young people who are affected by alcohol.

Excessive drinking in those aged 75 and over is rising with alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2012 up 18% for men and 12% for women.

The problems could stem from bereavement, social isolation, physical ill-health and difficulty getting around which can lead to boredom and depression with alcohol making the difficulties more bearable.

Nancy Merfeld, admissions manager at Focus 12, which is based in Bury St Edmunds, and provides alcohol rehabilitation, said the strategy shows people are more aware of alcohol problems.

“With regards to the aging population, they have got concerns and worries and it’s hard to combat loneliness which is why some people turn to drink

“In the past there has been an attitude of ‘oh well, let them drink’ when there has been a trauma or bereavement and it’s turning that attitude around.”

The strategy addresses hidden consequences of alcohol misuse such as domestic abuse, financial hardship, family breakdown, hospital admissions, mental health and crime and disorder.

A number of steps have already been taken to support the economic development for Suffolk, while cutting the cost to the health service and emergency services as a result of alcohol consumption.

Among them is Reducing the Strength, which has secured plaudits for Suffolk on the national stage, launched in Ipswich in 2012 and subsequently extended to Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft with the aim to remove high strength alcohol products from retailers’ shelves.

The NHS has also won recognition for its enhanced GP screening service for harmful alcohol use.

One charity that provides support for those affected by alcohol and drugs across Suffolk and Essex is Open Road.

A spokesman said: “Open Road agrees that alcohol dependency is a big problem in Suffolk and that more needs to be done.
“Open Road is ideally placed to support this and already carries out services in the Waveney area of Suffolk.

“For those people who are alcohol dependent or in a higher risk group, there are a range of treatments available that Open Road can provide.”

Martyn Green, chief executive of Age UK Suffolk, said: “One issue that needs highlighting is the very significant health risks associated with taking medication with even a very small amount of alcohol. Often alcohol use in older people is symptomatic of other underlying issues such as loneliness, which can result in increased alcohol consumption.

“These issues really go hand in hand to contribute towards the rate of alcohol consumption that is reported on today. We would urge any older people experiencing loneliness or challenges they are struggling to face, to contact us to see if we can help.”

The Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board will meet on Thursday where partners will discuss the terms of the strategy and agree the next steps.

The key themes of the strategy are:

n Establishing safe and sensible drinking as the norm

n Preventing further increases in levels of ill health caused by alcohol

n Improving the health of problem drinkers of all ages and their families

n Reducing the incidence of alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour

n Developing a Suffolk public health responsibility to work with local producers and suppliers of alcohol

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Graham White, Suffolk NUT

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