Alcohol plays a significant role in our social lives and in our economy. It provides enjoyment, employment, generates tax revenue and stimulates the night-time economy.
Although the majority of people who drink do so moderately, alcohol consumption has doubled over the past 40 years. As a result, alcohol is the leading risk factor for deaths among men and women aged 15–49 years in the UK, and there are more than one million alcohol-related hospital admissions every year.
The harm from alcohol goes far beyond individual health affecting families, friends and communities; it contributes to violent crime, domestic violence and absence from work.
Know your units
The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week for women and men. This is equivalent to drinking no more than 6 pints of average-strength beer (4% ABV) or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12% ABV) a week.
Alcohol and physical health
Alcohol consumption contributes to several different alcohol-specific physical health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. It can effect your vision, hearing and balance; causing difficulty walking and increasing the risk of slips, trips and falls, and it can even impair your judgment and delay your reaction time. Higher levels of alcohol consumption can also exacerbate other physical conditions such as diabetes and stomach problems.
Alcohol can have an effect on:
- Cancer: If you are an older person currently undergoing cancer treatment you should take extra care when drinking as your immune system may be weakened from treatment. Toxins, including alcohol, can cause further deterioration to your immune system.
- Aging: Alcohol can contribute to the effects of aging, most notably in the face; someone who drinks in excess regularly, may experience wrinkling in the face quicker than a non-drinker.
- Dehydration and inflammation: Chronic alcohol consumption has been linked to dehydration and inflammation, which can, in turn, cause or increase your risk of various other health issues and diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
- Skeletal and joint disorders: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the early onset of some joint and skeletal disorders, including arthritis and osteoporosis.
By making changes to our drinking behaviour we can become healthier and reduce our risk for many serious health conditions including cancer, heart problems, and liver disease.
For more facts on the physical health risks associated with drinking alcohol:
Alcohol and mental health
As well as contributing to various physical health conditions, alcohol can also affect your cognitive abilities and overall mental health. Excess drinking in particular can contribute to deteriorating mental health, including:
- Increased anger and stress
- Feelings of isolation
- Issues sleeping
- A lack of personal care (including neglecting diet and health)
- Social tensions with friends and family
- Confusion or depression
In the long-term, drinking problems can increase your risk of developing certain conditions of the brain, including alcohol-related dementia and peripheral neuropathy.
For more facts on the mental health risks associated with drinking alcohol:
Alcohol and medication
There are some risks with mixing alcohol with certain medications, and this is a particular issue as many health conditions faced by the older generation require management through various medications.
While it may be relatively safe to drink whilst taking some medications, others can cause dangerous, sometimes fatal, effects when mixed with alcohol.
It is important to check the labels on medications, as some, such as cold medicines, contain alcohol themselves. This applies to both prescription, over-the-counter and online-purchased medications of any description.
It is always a good idea to speak to your doctor or pharmacist, as well as consult the information leaflet with your medication before you consume alcohol.
Alcohol and coronavirus (COVID-19)
During the pandemic, a large number of people have increased the amount of alcohol they have consumed, many of which are older people and those with depression. In particular, the amount of alcohol consumed by men has increased the most.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a big impact and stress factors such as self-isolation, change in employment status, financial issues and even boredom may lead to an increase in drinking.
There are some myths around the alleged benefits of alcohol and its impact on the virus, and it's important to know the facts. You can view the full World Health Organisation (WHO) document: Alcohol and COVID-19, what you need to know, and below are some facts about alcohol and the virus:
- Consuming alcohol will not destroy the coronavirus (COVID-19) virus. Consumption may actually increase health risks should you become infected. Alcohol can be used as a disinfectant on the skin in the form of hand sanitizers to help protect you from coronavirus, but this effect is not the same for alcohol consumption.
- Consuming alcohol will not kill the virus in the air when inhaled, and it does not disinfect your throat, mouth or provide any protection against coronavirus.
- Alcohol will not stimulate immunity or virus resistance, it can actually have a negative effect on your immune system.
Children, young people and alcohol
Alcohol is the leading risk factor for deaths of those aged 15-49 in the UK and research indicates that the average age a person first tires alcohol is 13. Drinking is seen as a ‘rite of passage’ and a bit of fun amongst teenagers; however, alcohol can have severe impacts on developing bodies and brains. Even if their first experience with alcohol is unpleasant, young people may still persist.
Young people may drink for a number of reasons:
- Puberty- adolescents experience stronger emotions and impulsive behaviours during puberty, which can increase the chance that they will take risks, even if they ‘know better’. The part of our brains which accesses risk, plans ahead and governs self-control is still developing in our teenage years.
- Acceptance- young people want to fit in and be accepted by their friends and those they look up to, such as older siblings. They tend to follow the crowd, which can lead to engaging in risky behaviours from peer-pressure.
In young people alcohol can lead to:
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Increased chance of accident or injury.
- Appearance and side effects- such as weight loss, disturbed sleep and headache.
- Poorer mental health outcomes/ impact on brain development- such as negative impacts on memory, reactions, learning and attention span.
- Liver damage- which can be fatal, with a significant number dying in their twenties.
- Poorer sexual health outcomes- alcohol increases confidence and reduces our ability to make safe decisions. If a young person engages in sexual activity whilst drunk, they may choose not to use contraception, increasing their risk of contracting STIs or becoming pregnant.
- Use of other substances- use of alcohol increases the likelihood that a young person may begin smoking tobacco or cannabis, or even using ‘hard’ drugs.
In the UK, the age for drinking is 18, and young people are advised not to drink before this, if they do, it should be no younger than 15 due to the associated health risks, such as development and function of vital organs. 15–17 year olds should not drink more than once a week, should be supervised by a parent/carer, and should not exceed the 14 unit guidance for adult alcohol consumption.
If someone under the age of 18 is found drinking in public, they will be fined or arrested, and it is illegal for anyone under 18, to buy/ try to buy alcohol, or for someone else to do so on their behalf. It is also illegal for under 18s to drink alcohol in a licenced premise, such as a pub or restaurant, however, a 16–17-year-old may drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider alongside a meal, if they are accompanied by an adult.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
It is not recommended to consume alcohol whilst pregnancy, as this increases the risk of harm to the unborn child and can lead to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a term for various physical, emotional, behavioural and neurological problems that can develop if mum drinks during pregnancy. FASD is the most common, non-genetic cause of learning difficulties in the UK. The risk of these issues developing is reduced by not consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
It is estimated that 1317 Barnsley children live with an alcohol-dependent adult, but only 16% of these are engaging with treatment services. Children exposed to alcohol dependency are at increased risk of physical and psychological consequences as well as negative impacts on their social development and educational outcome. Evidence suggests that children of parents/carers who misuse alcohol and other substances are more likely to use substances themselves from a younger age, which can also lead to involvement in anti-social or criminal activity.
Supporting Young People who drink
Studies show that parents and carers significantly influence our attitudes and relationships with alcohol from childhood. It can help to be a responsible role model to a child or teenager, someone they trust and feel comfortable talking to. You can have open and honest conversations about alcohol with a young person when they ask about it, or even make conversation about alcohol more day-to-day rather than having ‘the talk’. It may also help you to keep informed about the law and health risks associated with alcohol.
There are factors which reduce the likelihood of alcohol use in children and young people:
- Where they consume their first drink- if this is at home around parents/carers, they can learn about the side effects of alcohol and experience alcohol without their peers influence, and are less likely to experiment outside the home.
- Delaying the age a young person first tries alcohol.
- Forming good relationships with adults who can support them.
- Religious affirmation.
- Providing informed and supportive guidance.
There is a stigma around alcohol which can prevent young people opening up about it and leading to social isolation, delayed problem recognition and avoidance of treatment. Often, this will prevent them seeking support from a parent/carer or treatment service, and instead confide in their peers which can expose them to unhelpful advice. Reducing this stigma increases the likelihood a young person will seek advice from their family or services.
Support available in Barnsley for children and young people
Help is available for young people who may be experiencing problems with alcohol from our Young People’s Substances Misuse Service. Call 01226 705 980 or email YPSMS@barnsley.gov.uk
0800 055 6442.
Support is also available through the 0-19 Public Health Nursing Service.
Help is available for adults who may be experiencing problems with alcohol from Barnsley Recovery Steps.
We have also developed an children and young people alcohol toolkit which is a handy guide for practitioners or anyone working with children and young people and who are concerned about someone's drinking behaviours. The tool kit can also be used by young people themselves, and their parents or carers if they wish to understand their, or their child’s alcohol use and possible related harm.
Young people and alcohol: a guide for parents and carers
Many parents know drinking increases the risks of accidents, injuries, smoking and drug taking. But many are less aware of the damage alcohol can do to children’s developing brains, liver, bones and hormones, affecting their mood, their mental health and risking them falling behind at school.
Parents are encouraged to visit ‘whatstheharm’ campaign to find out about the facts and the myths about children and alcohol, and how best to have a conversation about alcohol with their child.
Older people and alcohol
Alcohol can be an enjoyable activity for adults of all ages. The maximum recommended weekly alcohol units for adults is 14, but it is advised that older people consume less as it takes our bodies longer to process alcohol as we age. Although there are some suggested benefits of alcohol consumption, they are only reaped when drinking at a low level.
In the UK, people aged 55 and over are more likely to exceed the recommended weekly alcohol consumption than those in any other age group. In general, there is both low awareness of drinking recommendations, and an overall increase in consumption levels in the over 50's.
The key; especially for older people; is to find a balance between enjoyment, drinking safely and the harm excess alcohol consumption may cause. This will be unique to each individual; although there is generic advice for older people to drink less than the maximum recommended 14 units.
You should always consider your own circumstances, such as your current physical and mental health and any medication you may be taking. Even if you were once able to tolerate high levels of alcohol, your tolerance will reduce as you age, and the effect alcohol has on your body is more intense and will last longer than it did when you were younger.
Support available in Barnsley
You may want to consider speaking to your GP if you feel you require support to help you work out a healthy level of drinking.
If you would like to talk with someone in confidence about your drinking, help is available from Barnsley Recovery Steps or by calling them on 01226 779066.
Alternatively, if you want to understand your drinking behaviours, take the DrinkCoach Alcohol Test test to see if you qualify for free sessions with an alcohol specialist.
We have also developed an older people and alcohol tool kit which is a handy guide for practitioners or anyone working with older people and who are concerned about someone's drinking behaviours. The tool kit can also be used by older people themselves if they wish to understand their alcohol use and possible related harm.
What are we doing?
We're committed to reducing alcohol-related harms and supporting a sensible drinking culture throughout the borough.
We're working together with a number of different organisations and have formed a Barnsley Alcohol Alliance. We have an Alcohol Plan in place, with seven priorities and a number of outcomes we want to achieve, including the following:
- reducing the amount of people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease;
- reducing the amount of alcohol related hospital admissions,
- reducing the amount of alcohol related crime and disorder;
- reducing the amount of dependent drinkers;
- increasing awareness and understanding of alcohol related harm across the Barnsley population.
Minimum unit pricing
We're joining civic leaders across England in the call for an urgent introduction of a minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol. Evidence has shown that this could save almost 8000 lives across the north of the country over the next 20 years.
MUP is designed to reduce the availability of very cheap, strong alcohol by setting a price below which a unit of alcohol can't be sold - 50p. The scheme has now been introduced in Wales, almost two years since it started in Scotland and weeks after England saw hospital admissions caused by alcohol reach a record level.
Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that a 50p MUP in England would see alcohol consumption in some areas in the north falling by almost twice the national average, leading to greater reductions in alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and crimes.
Where to get help for alcohol problems
Your GP is a good place to start if you're concerned about the amount of alcohol you're drinking.
Support is also available from our Alcohol and Drug service which can be accessed via self or professional referral.
You can also get more information at Alcohol Change UK.
Night time economy
Barnsley’s night time economy keeps people flocking to the town and is a huge source of social and cultural capital, providing a number of licensed venues, and a space where you can socialise, unwind and relax. However, it is not simply the venues, the music and the infrastructure that keeps our night time environment vibrant, varied and an exciting place to be: it is the people that go out and enjoy it. Your health, wellbeing and safety remains a top priority for us.
We aim to support your health, wellbeing and safety whilst out in the town centre at night and our work in this area was recognised in 2019 when we were awarded Purple Flag status. Purple Flag is an accreditation process similar to the Green Flag award for parks and the Blue Flag for beaches and is given to town and city centres that meet or surpass the standards of excellence in managing the evening and night time economy.
Best Bar None (BBN) scheme
One successful scheme we’ve adopted in Barnsley which helped us to achieve the Purple Flag status, is the National Best Bar None (BBN) scheme.
The BBN scheme is designed to promote good practice, leading to a better customer experience. BBN maintains and raises standards and rewards good management of those venues that attain the award. This scheme is delivered at a local level by active partnerships between the night time economy industry, Barnsley Council and South Yorkshire Police.
The BBN awards are based on core national standards with flexibility to ensure they address local needs and assessments of licensed premises are carried out by trained assessors to ensure consistency of approach.
The 2018 local scheme created a ‘buzz’ among town centre venues following the awards ceremony and the launch of the 2019 scheme saw 32 town centre venues express an interest in applying and engaging in the assessment process. In 2019, 23 venues went through the assessment process and gained accreditation; a 69% participation and accreditation increase on 2018. The 2020 scheme was launched in January with a target of increasing participation in the scheme further, with an aim of 70% of town centre licenced premises becoming accredited.
What is DrinkCoach?
DrinkCoach is an online alcohol intervention tool offered by Humankind, a charity that helps people to build healthier lives. DrinkCoach is designed to help people who want to cut down their alcohol intake by allowing them to identify how risky their drinking is, access personalised advice online and find local support in Barnsley. For more information you can visit drinkcoach.org.uk
What does DrinkCoach offer?
DrinkCoach offers you multiple options, allowing you to access support in a way that you choose:
App: The DrinkCoach app is free and allows you to track your drinking and identify where you could make changes. Download the DrinkCoach app.
Alcohol Test: This quick and confidential online test offers you advice about your drinking and information on local support. The DrinkCoach Alcohol Test is now available in Barnsley.
Coaching Service: After completing the alcohol test see if you qualify for free online coaching, If eligible, you could be offered up to 6 free sessions of virtual face-to-face support from a coach via Skype. Sessions are confidential and will work around you, with daytime, evening and weekend appointments available. Find out more about online coaching.
Who is DrinkCoach for?
DrinkCoach is for any adult over the age of 18 living in Barnsley, who is concerned that their alcohol consumption is increasing, and who are not currently engaging with other forms of alcohol.
treatment.* DrinkCoach provides early interventions for adults to help prevent alcohol-related harm and possible future dependency on alcohol.
*(DrinkCoach is not available to those who are under 18 years old, those with a dependence on alcohol/ at risk of withdrawal, those identified as in need of alcohol detoxification or those with significant physical health issues, such as a history of alcohol-related liver disease or seizures).
Why choose DrinkCoach?
There is, unfortunately, a lot of stigma around alcohol and drinking, which often prevents those who want help from accessing face-to-face support. DrinkCoach eliminates this as the confidential services offered are virtual, meaning you can access the full service from the comfort, safety and privacy of your own home.
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