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A new study shows one in three adults in the South West drink too much alcohol – but few realise it or understand the health risks

A new study shows one in three adults in the South West drink too much alcohol – but few realise it or understand the health risks

A new study released today (Monday November 16) reveals that one in three adults in the South West[2] are drinking too much alcohol[3], consuming it at levels that pose an increasing or higher risk of damaging their health[4]. But 83% of those drinking above the Government’s recommended guidelines underestimate their drinking, seeing themselves as ‘moderate’ or ‘light’ drinkers and 69% are not concerned about how much they drink. They also do not understand the full impact that drinking too much could have on their health. Whilst the vast majority of those at risk understand the connection between alcohol and liver disease (86%) or weight gain (84%), just one in five (21%) realise it is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, onein four (23%) associate it with dementia and half (53%) with a stroke. The study was commissioned to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Week by Public Health Action, a new organisation tasked with reducing alcohol and tobacco harm in the South West. The study involved a survey of 500 adults together with six focus groups run in locations across the region, where issues relating to drinking alcohol were discussed. The aim was to find out more about the drinking habits and attitudes to alcohol of people in the South West, in order to understand the scale and nature of the issues and decide how to tackle them. In Wiltshire, Wiltshire Council consulted with a wide range of partner organisations over a number of months to help tackle the issue and recently launched its Alcohol Strategy. The key objectives of the strategy are to: -Raise awareness of sensible and responsible drinking levels and reduce the levels of high risk drinking -Reduce the level of alcohol-related harm -Support individual treatment need to reduce levels of alcohol caused chronic and acute ill health -Maintain Wiltshire’s safe communities and manage the night time economy environments Maggie Rae, Wiltshire Council corporate director, said: “We aim to promote a sensible approach to alcohol in Wiltshire’s communities and an awareness of both the damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause and what people can do to reduce the risk. “Alcohol can have many knock-on effects to people’s health and our alcohol strategy helps us work closely with our partners to make a positive difference.” Keith Humphries, cabinet member with responsibility for public health, said: “People who drink a few glasses of wine a night after a hard day’s work may not feel they have a problem but their health is likely to be affected. Of course many people enjoy alcohol but we want people to enjoy it sensibly and not put their health at risk. “We will continue to work with our partners and communities to tackle alcohol-related harm and the anti-social behaviour associated with it.” Wiltshire Council’s Alcohol Strategy can be found at The strategy can be found at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/alcohol-strategy.pdf Despite a commonly held belief that risky[6] drinking is primarily a problem associated with younger people, the study revealed that in the South West, this type of alcohol consumption is evenly spread across all ages. Over half (54%) of ‘at risk’ drinkers tend to consume alcohol on most days of the week, with over a quarter drinking almost every day (27%). Practically all (97%) typically consume at least 3-4 units of alcohol when they drink, meaning they are at or beyond the daily recommended level but despite this, only 14% believe they regularly drink too much. Looking at the overall findings for people across the South West[7], the study shows that managers and professionals are more likely than routine or manual workers to drink seven or more units on a typical day they are drinking – with 17% of managers and professionals but just 8% of routine or manual workers doing so. Managers and professionals are also more likely to drink six or more times a week compared to routine or manual workers, with 15% of managers and professionals and 7% of routine or manual workers falling into this category. Meanwhile, people in professional and managerial occupations are less likely to be teetotal, with just 5% claiming they don’t drink at all, compared to 16% of routine and manual workers. The figures also showed that parents are more likely than those without children to drink 10 or more units on a typical day when drinking – 16% of parents agreed with this statement compared to 8% of those without children. According to the findings, men in the South West binge[8] drink more frequently than women, with 19% bingeing at least weekly and 4% practically every day, whereas 10% of women binge at least once a week. Women are more likely than men to drink alcohol to give them confidence, with 23% of women compared to 14% of men giving this reason, while men are more likely than women to drink to relieve boredom, with 19% of men but just 5% of women doing so. Home is by far the most common place for drinking, with 60% of all drinkers claiming this is where they most often consume alcohol, compared to only 23% in bars, pubs or clubs and 8% at parties or social events. Most people who drink do so because they like the taste (72%), to relax (66%) or to socialise (62%) with far fewer drinking for negative reasons such as to forget worries (20%), boost confidence (19%) or to get drunk, which only 16% claim to do. Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “This study is further evidence that large numbers of people drinking at a risky level don’t realise how much they’re drinking, and don’t know about the risks associated with alcohol. “Alcohol is directly linked to over 60 medical conditions and continues to be the leading risk factor for deaths among men and women aged between 15 and 49 years in the UK. “Alcohol is heavily advertised, widely accessible and available at cheap prices, and because of this it can be really easy for the amount people are drinking to creep up, without them realising that their alcohol intake is at a dangerous level which is harming their health. This is why we run the Dry January campaign, giving people the perfect opportunity to have a break from alcohol so they can reassess how much they’re drinking, and feel the benefits of being booze-free for a month.” Alcohol control experts from across the region will be meeting to hear about the results of the study and discuss the best ways to reduce consumption at an event in Taunton on Wednesday 18th November. Case study: Mary Devers, 52 from Chippenham said: “I thought I drank alcohol like everyone else, slightly more than some but less than others. I didn’t think I had a problem until it got to a point that knew I had to do something about it. It was very much part of my routine – going home after a busy day at work and having some wine or a gin and tonic to help me relax and unwind or as a reward. If I am being honest I ended up more often than not getting through a bottle of wine without even thinking about it. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I noticed the impact it was having on my health and wellbeing. I felt tired a lot of the time, found it hard to concentrate, felt low and depressed and generally started to lose my confidence and ability to cope. “It was at this point when I decided to seek advice about how I could either cut down or stop drinking altogether. My GP referred me to the Wiltshire Substance Misuse Service (Turning Point), commissioned by Wiltshire Council that offers support and advice to people wanting to make changes to their lifestyle choices. I decided to cut alcohol completely out of my life as I had tried controlled drinking in the past and it always seemed to creep up again. Now I feel like a different person. I have so much more energy, have lost weight and have a much better self-esteem. I feel less anxious and more able to manage the normal ups and downs in life and work. I hadn’t realised that drinking alcohol every day could have such a negative impact on my physical as well as mental health. I am so glad I have done something about it and enjoy life more not less as a result which at one point I never thought I’d be able to say”


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