The Alcohol Problem

Alcohol, or more to the extent at which is it consumed, has been a huge problem all over the world with thousands needing medical care and attention for their habits. Many people who have alcohol-related health problems would not be classed as alcoholics. Instead, they are simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended amount of alcohol for several years. Others have found a night out end in a trip to the Emergency room, either from drinking unbearable amounts or dangerous drunken antics – excessive alcohol consumption is an example of market failure economics.

Many clinicians believe that the new phase of ‘pre-drinking’ or ‘prinking’ before going out is another serious risk. Thousands of young people have now taken to drinking cheap alcohol at home before proceeding to clubs and bars. Just one more drink whilst out could cause the antisocial behaviour that is so common nowadays, or even the need for immediate medical attention.

A new pill, known as Nalmefene, has been designed to reduce alcohol consumption among problem drinkers. If it receives final approval, it will be made available to NHS patients in England and Wales who regularly drink high amounts of alcohol. Costing just over £3 a tablet, it is already prescribed in Scotland. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) believes that around 600,000 people would be eligible for the drug. This drug would be for use along with psychosocial support. Those prescribed for Nalmefene would have already visited a doctor concerning their drinking habits, engaging with support services and taking part in therapy programmes.

However, other experts are concerned about what the introduction of Nalmefene would mean in practice. Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, Lecturer in Alcohol Studies at the University of Stirling, highlighted that the widespread nature of alcohol problems is an important principle for effective policy options such as minimum unit pricing and restrictions on the marketing of alcohol. There is also a worry that the availability of Nalmefene would lead to the idea that the most appropriate response to such problems would be to medicate large numbers of people, instead of using other more effective and less costly approaches to reduce the consumption of alcohol.

The effectiveness of Nalmefene was also called into question as the clinical trial data was from those who were motivated to reduce their drinking. It has not been tested on those who are not interested in reducing their alcohol consumption. Many clinicians also believe that no treatment can be effective unless people are motivated to change. Policies such as minimum pricing of alcohol and increasing the age of drinking do have their own drawbacks, and so perhaps, a more effective policy would be education from a very young age of the risks associated with excessive drinking, that should lead to a shift in attitudes towards drinking and contribute to a cultural change in drinking.

By Katherine Robertson L6th

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