In November, we were joined in Parliament by MPs, Peers, Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) members and other key stakeholders to mark 15 years of the AHA’s efforts to reduce alcohol harm. Our wonderful panel of speakers looked back at recent developments in alcohol policy, current rates of alcohol harm, and why we are calling for an independent review of alcohol harm.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore (Chair of the AHA) opened the speeches, outlining the record high levels of alcohol harm we have seen over recent years, with deaths wholly caused by alcohol higher today than at any time in the last 20 years. Since 2012, successive governments have failed to put forward a comprehensive plan to reduce the harms of alcohol despite it being a class 1 carcinogen and a causal factor in more than 200 different diseases and injuries.
The last UK government alcohol strategy is now over a decade old and no longer relevant to the challenges we face such as spiralling health inequalities, the cost-of-living crisis, and cuts to public health funding. This is why we urgently need the government to intervene and commit to an independent review to help improve our nation’s health, take the pressure off the NHS and reduce the costs of alcohol-related crime.
Adrian Chiles, writer, broadcaster, and author of The Good Drinker, shared his own experience in support of the AHA’s call for an independent review of alcohol harm:
“It was only when I came to very publicly consider my own relationship with alcohol that I realised how many heavy drinkers are as oblivious as I was to the harm they are doing to themselves. If we didn’t conform to the image of the archetype ‘alcoholic’ – waking up in shop doorways, drinking sherry for breakfast etc – then we reasoned we couldn’t have a problem.
“This misconception of what harmful drinking looks like, coupled with the cultural normalisation of excessive alcohol intake, is a lethal cocktail with awful consequences for our nation’s health. We need government action to raise awareness, and develop intelligent, practical approaches to harm reduction which don’t add to the fear and shame many heavy drinkers experience.”
Dan Carden MP, who generously sponsored the event, said:
“Alcohol harm touches every part of our society. It is now the leading cause of death, ill-health, and disability among 15-49-year-olds. With thousands of families broken by alcohol, the highest alcohol-specific deaths on record and the enormous cost to the public purse, people are right to ask why there is no government plan to tackle alcohol harm. We must be united and bold in our efforts to tackle the soaring rates of alcohol harm across the UK, lives depend on it.”
Nikki, known online as @ASoberLady and a key voice in the online recovery community, shared her reflections:
“3 years ago, I was struggling with alcoholism, drinking more than ever before. Although my body was begging me to quit, I’d pretty much given up with life and just wanted to drink myself to death. Fast forward to now, I am sober, and over the moon to attend the AHA’s Parliamentary event marking their anniversary and calling for an independent review of alcohol harm.
At the event, I spoke to a number of MPs and key figures, all with varying degrees of knowledge and experience around alcohol harm. These conversations are crucial, be it on Twitter or in the Houses of Parliament. Alcohol harm is insidious and needs to be laid bare for all to reach out, seek help and not be berated.
My visit to Parliament will stay with me forever, and it should show people that however much you may be struggling with alcohol right now, there is a future for you, dreams can come true, and opportunities aren’t lost just because you’ve taken a wrong path.”
We would also like to extend our thanks to Maggie Throup MP, previously Public Health Minister, and Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead, for supporting our call-to-action in their fantastic speeches, and to all our members and supporters, both in the room and beyond, for their continued and committed passion to tackling alcohol harm.