Raising awareness of alcohol health risks

A staff member at one of the Addaction centres
A staff member at one of the Addaction centres

IT’S time to talk about drinking. That’s the theme of this year’s National Alcohol Awareness Week, which aims to get people talking about the health risks, social problems and stigmas around drinking.

But local health experts want to go a stage further – and turn that talking into action.

For leading consultants believe St Helens could be sitting on an alcohol time bomb – with the excesses of today becoming the epidemic of tomorrow.

In this health special, we show how easy it is to get help now.

Dr John McLindon, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Whiston Hospital has seen some alarming changes over the last few years.

Over the past ten years the average age of death from liver disease had plummeted to just 59. The condition is now the fifth commonest cause of death in the UK – and the only major disease that’s still on the increase. The biggest contributor to the condition – around 60 per cent - is alcohol consumption.

“At Whiston we’re seeing increasing numbers of people with alcohol-related harm,” said Dr McLindon. “As well as liver disease, alcohol is linked to high blood pressure, nerve and brain damage and a range of other serious problems.

“But the real tragedy is that so much of this harm is preventable. People either don’t realise that drinking above the recommended limits increases the risk of harm to their health - or they’re unwilling to seek help or advice, potentially because of the stigma associated with alcohol problems.”

So who’s at risk?

Absolutely anyone - there’s no such thing as a stereotypical drinker. While males aged between 35 and 55 are one of the biggest causes of concern, alcohol-related illness affects men and women of all ages from every social group and income bracket.

St Helens Council’s Director of Public Health Liz Gaulton said: “Our local services support parents, clubbers, professionals, older people, indeed anyone who needs support. They can come to us with their own problems or their concerns for their partner, or other family member.”

A growing concern is the number of young women who are drinking heavily. While the side effects now may not be obvious, by their time many of them reach their 40s and 50s they could be looking at some serious health issues.

But even older people are increasingly falling into the ‘at risk’ category.

The availability of cheap drink in supermarkets can turn the occasional tipple into a nightly ritual – with potentially dangerous consequences.

Help is at hand

In St Helens we have services that are modern, discreet, confidential and free and offer a whole range of support from advice about how to build a healthier lifestyle through to support for people with very intense needs.  The message is simple - don’t wait until things get out of hand before seeking help.  

St Helens GP Dr Steve Cox, who’s also Chief Operating Officer of the local Clinical Commissioning Group in St Helens worked with John McLindon and other key stakeholders to set up an Alcohol Nursing scheme at Whiston Hospital.

It’s the unit’s job to make sure people treated at the hospital for an alcohol-related condition are linked into support and longer-term care in the community.

Dr Cox said:  “There have been several positive developments in St Helens in relation to alcohol misuse.  We now have alcohol nurses at the hospital and a new alcohol treatment service in the community run by Addaction.”

If you feel you would benefit from advice - but are reluctant to seek support directly, discuss it with your GP. They will advise you on the options available. 

“And whatever you do, don’t worry about being judged!  This is a common issue which affects us all, especially when times are hard and there’s a temptation to use alcohol to relieve stress. The reality is that it could make things a lot worse.   

Addaction – friendly, confidential advice and support

There are three Addaction Centres in St Helens. All are staffed by experienced, qualified and understanding professionals who are not there to judge – but to help.

Addaction are a leading UK specialist drug and alcohol treatment charity. People are at the heart of everything that they do, along with a belief that effective treatment needs to be tailored to each individual. Help and support is available to adults aged 19 and over in St Helens who need advice about their drinking. The support you receive is based on your needs - with you making decisions about your goals and priorities.  

Help options include:

Talking therapies and problem solving – what do you need to have in place for things to improve?

n Group work or one to one sessions

n Help to overcome the unpleasant effects that people sometimes experience when they try to control their drinking or drug use.

n Help for parents who want to be in good health for their children

n Help to access other support and treatment services in the community

n Support from people who have been in your shoes and who have either met or are working to meet their own personal challenges

n All you have to do is take the first step – by calling: 01744 610555