Drink driving fatalities reach 12-year high
New figures from the Department for Transport show fatalities from drink-drive crashes on Britain’s roads have reached a 12-year high.
An estimated 260 people were killed in collisions involving a driver over the alcohol limit in 2021, up from 220 during the previous 12 months. This is the highest annual total since 2009, when there were 380 fatalities. A further 1,610 people were seriously injured in drink-drive crashes.
England and Wales currently have the highest legal limit in Europe at 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Dr Katherine Severi, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: ‘If the rest of the UK were aligned with Scotland with a limit of 50mg alcohol/100ml blood, evidence suggests it would lead to an 11% reduction in fatal alcohol-related crashes.
‘It should not be seen as acceptable to consume a drug and then operate the most dangerous piece of machinery that most of us have access to.’
Balance, the north-east alcohol programme, is also calling for a reduction in the drink driving limit. A poll in 2015 also found that more than eight in 10 north easterners (84%) support a reduction in the limit.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, director of Fresh and Balance, said: ‘Too many people are dying and being injured on our roads because of alcohol. Lowering the limit won’t prevent every accident but it will leave less room for people to wrongly believe they can have a couple of drinks and still be OK.’
Does mixing alcohol with energy drinks increase violence?
A recent systematic review has found that mixing alcohol with energy drinks is significantly associated with physically and sexually aggressive behaviours, resulting in higher rates of perpretration and victimisation of physical fights and bullying, compared with peers who only drink alcohol.
The paper synthesised 17 international studies between January 2002 and March 2023. Across the research, physical fighting was the most common behavoiur reported.
Study co-author Professor Amie Haas said: ‘Adding an energy drink covers up the sedating effects that happen at moderate-to-higher levels of intoxication …This is something called “wide-awake drunkenness”’.
Dr Katherine Severi commented: ‘We are particularly concerned about the marketing and appeal of these sorts of drinks. They predominantly target young people, who are already more likely to be victims of violence in the night-time economy.
‘Increasing the availability and marketing of these sorts of drinks simply adds fuel to the fire and should be of great concern to the government and authorities.’
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore added: ‘There is growing evidence about the specific risks associated with mixing alcohol, which is a depressant, and caffeine, which is a stimulant. Any indication that these products cause an increase in alcohol-related violence is a concern. We welcome policies that aim to reduce alcohol-related violence.’
The new alcohol duty system arrives this August
On 1 August, we saw the introduction of a new alcohol duty system and duty increase. With alcohol duty recommended by the World Health Organization as one of the most effective ways to reduce harm from alcohol, this is an encouraging step, that has the potential to both mitigate pressure on the NHS and improve the economy.
In a comment welcoming this move, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore called for the revenue raised from the duty increase to be used to fund NHS and alcohol treatment services, which are currently not equipped to treat the soaring numbers of people drinking at high-risk.
Maggie Throup MP, previous public health minister, said: ‘Not only is the new alcohol duty system good news for drinkers, who will see up to 11p off a pint, it should also be seen as a practical public health measure to reduce alcohol harm by better aligning duty paid to a drink’s ABV.’
You can find out more about the link between tax cuts, inflation and public health on the AHA blog in this alcohol duty explainer by Professor Colin Angus.
Medical experts call for new service to save lives of alcohol frequent hospital attenders
New research with people who are repeatedly hospitalised due to alcohol has highlighted the need for improved services.
Colleagues at the University of West Scotland and Royal Alexandra Hospital in Renfrewshire conducted interviews with 20 alcohol frequent attenders to gather information on their alcohol-related problems, reasons for attending hospital services and views on the services available.
Key findings included:
- women have very different experiences and needs to those of men
- a strong link between mental health, trauma and alcohol consumption
- a lack of integration between mental health and alcohol services
- the importance of family support and recovery communities
- a lack of signposting for patients.
Considering the findings, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and the report authors are calling for a dedicated service for the complex needs of alcohol frequent attenders and to support recovery, particularly with reference to gender, mental health and trauma needs.
Ken Barrie, senior lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland and author of the study, said: ‘The Scottish government must ensure that alcohol treatment services and mental health services work together effectively to guarantee that there truly is a “no wrong door” policy and individuals do not continue to fall between the cracks.’
Under the influence recovery podcast
This podcast from the Turning Point Leicester team aims to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and foster a greater understanding of the challenges faced by those in recovery.
In the first episode, hosts Dilesh Popat and Jaz Rai sit down with Shahid, a remarkable individual who courageously shares his addiction journey. Shahid provides a raw and honest account of his tumultuous past, from growing up in a Muslim family with an alcohol-dependent father to his own struggles with substance use.
Supporting LGBTQ+ people to navigate alcohol issues, avoid alcohol problems, and access alcohol support
Alcohol Change UK
21 September 2023, 10am–1pm
Reaching out: Helping services to engage with the most vulnerable drinkers
Alcohol Change UK
18 and 19 October 2023
President’s conference: Inequalities in healthcare – What do we know and what can we do?
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
16 November 2023
MCA annual symposium on alcohol and health
Medical Council on Alcohol
22 November 2023
Royal College of Physicians London, NW1 4LE
Meet the members
Every month, we speak to a member of the AHA to find out more about what they do and how their organisation is working to end alcohol harm.
Today we meet Andrew Misell, director of Wales for Alcohol Change UK (ACUK). Andrew has worked for ACUK for 14 years.
How does your organisation help to reduce alcohol harm?
Alcohol Change UK work across a wide range of issues and look at drinking across the whole population. Some of our work, such as our Dry January campaign, has a very broad appeal; other projects, such as the Blue Light Project work, with the most vulnerable drinkers.
Much of my own work is about ensuring that alcohol remains on the public policy agenda in Wales, and that services that don’t necessarily specialise in alcohol issues – such as housing associations and the emergency services – understand how to address them.
What inspires you most in your job?
The thing that makes me want to go to work in the morning is the work we do to highlight and start addressing the complex needs of vulnerable drinkers. I benefit most from speaking directly to people with alcohol problems. We can learn so much from just listening to people without judgement.
What change do you think would make the biggest difference in reducing alcohol harm?
I would like to see England and Northern Ireland emulate Scotland and Wales and introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP).
The biggest change I’ve seen in recent times is the introduction of MUP in Wales. 3-litre bottles of strong cider may well become a thing of the past in Wales, as MUP makes them too expensive for customers. In their place, we’ve seen 2-litre and 1-litre bottles and 500 ml cans. The experience of front-line alcohol support workers is that when heavy drinkers have to buy their alcohol in smaller containers like this, it tends to put the brakes on their drinking a bit. By slowing the drinking process in this way, MUP could create more opportunities for support workers to help heavy drinkers take control of their drinking, and start them on their road to recovery.