UK Addiction Services Not Equipped to Handle High Risk Drinkers During the Pandemic

New report by a leading UK health body suggests that there has been a near doubling of heavy drinkers in United Kingdom during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report that was released by the Royal College of Psychiatrists says that addiction service in the country are struggling to cope with this additional burden and require more support from the government.

The warning comes with a plea by leading health experts to provide funding for addiction services, so that this issue can be controlled, and lives can be saved.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists collected and analyzed data from Public Health England for this report and found that the prevalence of people drinking at higher risk was at almost a fifth (19%) in June, up from 10.8% in February. High risk consumption is defined as drinking more alcohol than the recommended levels of no more than 14 units a week for men and women.

If these percentages are to be converted into number estimates, it means that over 8.4 million people are now drinking at higher risk in United Kingdom, up from just 4.8 million in February.

The increased number of addicts is not the only problem. This increase in heavy drinkers comes at a time when addiction services are already stretched thin because more people addicted to opiates are seeking help from addiction services. Data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) showed 3,459 new adult cases of opiate users in April 2020 (up 20% from 2,947 in the same month last year), the highest numbers in April since 2015.

The problem then becomes more complicated when you consider the deep cuts made to addiction services since the years 2013 and 2014. The last budget confirmed that the government would boost the NHS budget in England by £20bn by 2023-24. But this increase in budget comes from further cuts to parts of the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget which includes money given to local councils in England to pay for important public health programmes, including treatment of those with substance addiction.

All these interlinked factors mean the estimated 8.4 million higher risk drinkers and the hundreds of additional people with an opiate addiction needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment.

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says in the press release by the health body that the government must commit to substantial investment in public health to prevent more lives from being “needlessly lost” to addiction.

He added, “Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.”

According to World Health Organization, globally 3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol. Alcohol use is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions and overall, 5.1 % of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol, as measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

Short term health risks of alcohol use include, Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns, Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence, Alcohol poisoning, Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.

Long term health risks can include, High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems, Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon, Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick, Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance, Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.

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