Time to dry out?
Apologies to readers who expect me to discuss the recent epidemic of flooding. Goodbye 2015 and hello resolutions to try harder in 2016, although research suggests only one in 10 will successfully stick with their good intentions. Many people will aim to improve diet and lifestyle and we have plenty of evidence-based advice to assist you or your patients. Pictures in the media of New Year's Eve celebrations across the country (in addition to those that have cropped up throughout the year) might suggest a little more attention to our collective drinking habits is required.
A report from the Nuffield Trust found that in England in 2013, approximately 18% of men and 13% of women drank at a level considered to be putting them at increased risk of harm. Hospital visits for alcohol poisoning have doubled in six years, with the biggest increase among females aged 15 to 19. Emergency admissions due to the effects of alcohol, such as liver disease, have also risen to 250,000 a year in England.
In 2013/14, approximately one in 20 emergency admissions in England were related to alcohol. Rates are highest in deprived areas and in the north, and particularly among men aged 45-64. The Nuffield Trust feel its figures are likely to be an underestimate because they did not include alcohol-driven falls or fights. Nor do they count people who come to A&E drunk and are then sent home without being treated or admitted as a patient.
Low alcohol pricing has been blamed but the government has said it has now banned the lowest-priced drinks. In recent years, alcohol admissions have been going down in Scotland and stabilising in Wales. Office for National Statistics figures suggest binge drinking among young adults in Britain is continuing to fall, and more than a fifth of UK adults now say they do not drink alcohol at all.
New advice on how much we should be drinking is to be issued following the first review of official alcohol guidance in 20 years. Reports suggest the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, will recommend abstaining from alcohol for at least two days a week. (Scottish guidelines already advise this.) The daily maximum intake for men could also be cut to the same as for women.
Currently women are advised to drink no more than two to three units a day and men no more than three to four. The recommended daily maximum for women of two to three units equates to no more than a standard 175 ml glass of wine. For men the limit is not much more than one pint of strong lager, beer or cider.
The review will most likely stress there is no "safe" alcohol intake and even drinking small amounts could cause diseases such as cancer.
For more helpful advice on sensible drinking see our alcohol and sensible drinking patient information leaflet.