Doctors Have A Brand New Approach To Tackle England's Drinking Habit

Time to come clean about how many units you really have each week.
GPs are being encouraged to speak to patients about their relationship with alcohol
Anastasiâ Svydkih / EyeEm via Getty Images
GPs are being encouraged to speak to patients about their relationship with alcohol

GPs are now being urged to look a little more closely into patients’ relationship with alcohol, in an effort to relieve NHS pressure further down the line.

According to The Times, National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) wants GPs to identify the alcohol-dependent drinkers in England who currently need specialist assistance.

So, first things first, what is alcohol dependence?

This is a medical condition when an individual displays withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking alcohol, such as anxiety cravings, sweating and shaking.

Alcohol abuse is when people drink excessively, to the point where they get into physical or social problems – but they don’t necessarily experience withdrawal.

Both conditions fall under the term alcohol use disorder.

But, understanding people and their relationship with alcohol is no easy feat.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) noted there were an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers back in 2018 – 82% of whom were not accessing treatment.

Although this series has since been discontinued, new data from the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities released only in January shows that eight million people in England are drinking so much booze it is harming their health.

So it’s not surprising that NICE also hopes to detect those who could need help in the near future by looking at how alcohol consumption impacts the rest of someone’s life and those around them.

NICE has called on GPs are being called to make “brief interventions” to help change people’s relationship with booze.

One in eight who speak to either their GP or practice nurse then end up changing or cutting back on alcohol in the long-term, GP Dr Mark Porter claimed in The Times.

This should help reduce NHS costs – ONS data suggested in 2020 that a huge 25% of all A&E attendance and ambulance costs may be alcohol-related in England.

And alcohol issues can cause long-term health issues – such as nerve damage and cancer – as well as difficulties with employment and social problems.

But, people are known to be reluctant to speak about their alcohol consumption, not least because it’s hard to translate different drinks into the number of units you might have in a week.

There’s also a self-assessment screening tool from the World Health Organisation (WHO) meant to identify nine of every 10 people who are at risk from their drinking.

It’s a questionnaire called Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) with 10 questions meant to help someone understand if their own relationship with booze is dangerous and when to speak to a professional.

You can find the test online here.