In the UK alcohol is considered one of the publics’ biggest social pastimes. In 2003 alone we spent more than ï¿½39 million on alcohol (NHS Scotland 2005), and it is estimated that over 800,000 people drink more then the recommended amount (Brooker ; Nicol 2003). This is especially a problem for those in Scotland where it is reported that 2 out of 5 men drink more than the suggested daily allowance (NHS Scotland 2005). What is worse, is that men in Scotland are more likely to drink double the daily amount than men in England, and that 1 in 5 males in Scotland have been drunk at least once a week for the previous three months (NHS Scotland 2005). Furthermore, 1 in 8 men and 1 in 20 women in Scotland have drinking problems; and 1 in 8 men and 1 in 24 women suffer from alcohol dependency (NHS Scotland 2005).
To help people understand what safe drinking is, the department of health has issued guidelines on alcohol consumption. They recommend that the daily allowance of alcohol is 3-4 units for men and 1-2 units for women. One unit is equivalent to 10ml of 100% alcohol, and equates to roughly 1/2 pint of beer or one small glass of wine (Department of Health 2006). The government has also warned that binge drinking is detrimental to health so therefore should be avoided, and that one or two alcohol free days a week are also advised (Alexander, Fawcett ; Runciman 2006). However, alcohol is an important part of most social gatherings in Scotland and many people still ignore these guidelines.
The campaign to cut down on excessive drinking
In a bid to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, the Scottish Executive (2006) has launched a campaign to help curb excessive drinking. The campaigns’ major feature is a TV advert showing a man who is persuaded by friends to have another drink. He ends up drunk, upsets a lady at a bus stop, gets beaten up by an onlooker because of this; and has to go to work the following day covered in bruises. The advert asks “excessive drinking, who’s responsible?” Billboards featuring a girl leaning over a toilet, with the caption “She thought turning down a drink would make her look bad” have also been posted throughout Scotland. Plus, in addition to the adverts a booklet has been published providing information on alcohol units, healthy consumption, and related illnesses. The aim of this campaign is to alert the public to the consequences of excessive drinking, and to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.
The importance of the campaign
In 2005, a report issued by NHS Scotland stated that 1 in 6 deaths on Scotland’s roads were caused by drink drivers which resulted in approximately 50 deaths per year. In 2003, 84 people died in Scotland as a result of fire, and in over 50% of these deaths the fire service recorded alcohol as the main contributing factor (NHS Scotland 2005). It is also well known that alcohol can be contributed to many cases of violence, and relationship deteriorations (Rees, Lipsedge & Ball 1997). In 1999, 62% of respondents interviewed in a Scottish crime survey on domestic abuse said their attacker was under the influence of alcohol (NHS Scotland 2005). These factors resulted in over 26’000 people in Scotland being admitted to hospital with an alcohol related condition in the year 2003.
1 in 4 of these admissions was due to intoxication (NHS Scotland 2005). The figures help to show that alcohol not only affects the person drinking it but that it affects others as well. Many families are devastated by the loss of a loved one killed in accidents caused by those who are drunk. People and families are torn apart by domestic abuse and violence from a drunken perpetrator. Furthermore, the effects of alcohol cause an indirect but massive strain on government funding. It is estimated that the NHS spends ï¿½3 billion per year on alcohol related injuries and illnesses (Alexander, Fawcett & Runciman 2006). Not to mention the additional police required to attend alcohol fueled crimes or road accidents; and the firemen who attend blazes caused by those who are drunk.
The short term health implications of excessive drinking
In addition to the social factors, excessive alcohol consumption also has considerable effects on a persons’ health. It affects ‘alcoholics’, ‘binge drinkers’ and regular drinkers who consume more than the recommended amount (Brooker & Nicol 2003). There are both long and short term health implications, and some of the short term implications include: impaired co-ordination, nausea, vomiting, and decreased neurological ability (Chandler 1997). Additionally alcohol produces a sense of warmth because it dilates blood capillaries; and reduces the body’s ability to generate heat through shivering (Brooker & Nicol 2003). Therefore it increases the risk of hypothermia in those who drink excessively and have impaired judgment. For those with a dependency on alcohol, withdrawal can cause Delirium tremens (DT’s) where disorientation, loss of recent memory, sleeplessness, and fever occur. This develops within 24 hours of withdrawal, and can last for 3 to 4 days (Rees, Lipsedge & Ball 1997).
The long term health implications of excessive drinking
In addition to the short term implications regarding excessive drinking, there are many long term health implications too. Those who consistently drink more than the recommended amount increase the risk of cancer in areas such as the mouth, the oesophagus and the liver. This is mainly due to the unhealthy diet associated with heavy drinkers (Brooker & Nicol 2003). People with pre-existing heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy can increase the risk of heart failure as alcohol depresses the heart muscle reducing cardiac output even further (Brooker & Nicol 2003). People with diabetes are also as risk as excess alcohol increases the chance of hypoglycaemia, a low blood glucose level (Brooker & Nicol 2003).
However one of the main long term implications is that of liver disease. Individuals who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from hepatitis – inflammation of the liver, or cirrhosis – a disease which causes structural changes to the liver resulting in dysfunction (Brooker 2005). Additionally, those with cirrhosis are also 50% more likely to develop oesophageal varices – where veins in the oesophagus dilate and rupture due to excessive pressure from the liver’s portal vein (Brooker & Nicol 2003). These are just some of the implications, however there and many more including: osteoporosis, pancreatitis, and low birth weights in mothers-to-be who drink (Brooker & Nicol 2003).
The issues of changing attitudes towards excessive drinking
Even though people are aware of the implications of drinking heavily, people still continue to consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol. This is due to a combination of peer pressure and readily available products. People participate in ‘Round’ drinking (Rees, Lipsedge & Ball 1997), where a round of drinks is bought for the entire group. This compels individuals to keep up and drink like for like with others, even though their tolerance for alcohol may vary
dramatically from the person next to them. Additionally, people see drinking as a social activity and use it to decrease inhibitions and increase interaction, helping them to meet people and socialise. Because of this, scare tactics issued by the government have had little affect with most people suffering from ill health before recognising the harmful effects of excessive drinking (Brooker & Nicol 2003).
This report has hopefully uncovered some of the statistics involved with excessive drinking including the number of people with alcohol dependency, the number of hospital admissions and the recommended consumption for both men and women. In spite of the information already available there still appears to be a problem with the number of excessive drinkers in Scotland so to help combat the problem the Scottish Executive have launched an advertising campaign to try and solve the issue. Some of the direct and indirect effects of excessive alcohol intake have been explained, for example road traffic accidents, domestic abuse, liver disease, and delirium tremens (DT’s). However, despite the efforts of the government it is still recognized that people are drinking excessively and may continue to do so because of attitudes that regard alcohol as ‘social lubrication’.