Hidden cost of alcohol

5 July 2023

The hidden costs of alcohol use are being highlighted for residents in North Yorkshire as part of Alcohol Awareness Week.

The national campaign of awareness starts today with a message that as well as the health risks for the individual, regularly drinking above the UK Chief Medical Officer’s maximum guideline of 14 units per week can cause financial worries, relationship breakdowns and family difficulties.

Drinking patterns changed during the Covid pandemic, when there was an increase in the number of people drinking at harmful levels and the heaviest drinkers further increased their consumption. These changes then continued once the lockdowns were lifted.

In North Yorkshire, a fifth of adults drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week and it is estimated that 5,507 people are alcohol dependent and could benefit from specialist support.

North Yorkshire Council commissions the North Yorkshire Horizons specialist drug and alcohol service to provide support to adults across the county, and North Yorkshire RISE to provide support to young people.

North Yorkshire Horizons has hubs in Scarborough, Selby, Northallerton and Harrogate, as well as outreach support and groups in a wide range of community venues, and online.

The service aims to reduce the harm caused to individuals, families and communities from alcohol dependency and illicit drugs use.

The hidden costs of alcohol use has gotten worse due to the cost of living crisis. A recent study by moneytransfer.com found that people who have two pints of beer a day spend close to £60 per week on alcohol.

The impact of a lifetime of alcohol use is clear for Simon* from Harrogate. He started drinking when he was just 12 years old due to issues at home and for almost 40 years did not stop.

Simon said:

Drinking was the only thing that made me feel better. Even when I grew up met my wife, got married and had children I was still drinking every day.

My wife thought I was drinking about eight cans of strong lager a day. What she did not know was that I was also having up to two litres of vodka or gin each day.

He admits that most of his life is a blur, despite having a job and a family he remembers almost none of it.

Simon added:

I had no social life and we lived hand to pocket as my money was going on alcohol.

I could function, and work and people just accepted that was who I was, that I ‘liked a drink’ but they did not know the truth, to my children I was always that way, same to my wife, so it was just normal.

Eighteen months ago, Simon collapsed and turned yellow. His wife rang the doctors and was told he urgently needed to be admitted to hospital but even that could not stop him.

Simon said:

I was on the phone to the doctor who was telling me my liver was shutting down and I was drinking a can of lager and telling him I wanted to take the weekend to think about it before I went to hospital.

I started attending reconnect recovery meetings with people like myself where we talked about how we were coping and what we were doing to stay off alcohol, this was the best thing I have ever done.

I describe my life now as being like that of a baby.

I am learning how to feel things for the first time, I’m learning how to be happy, how to be sad, it is all new to me. One of the strangest things is being able to remember what has happened to me. If someone tells me something, then the next day I remember it. That had not happened for nearly 40 years.

I can now use my experiences to give back to others who are going through what I did, showing them what impact drinking can have not just on them but the people around them too.

While in hospital, he underwent a 10-day detox and was supported by North Yorkshire Horizons. Simon started attending appointments and with support began working on how he could turn his life around.

He has not had a drink since and after coming out of the service he now helps there as a volunteer, sharing his experiences with those who are also trying to curb their addiction.

While Simon was able to get help and start to rebuild his life, many others are not so fortunate.

As part of Alcohol Awareness Week, North Yorkshire Horizons is running free one-hour online sessions for anyone who wants to find out more about their own drinking, or to attend if they are concerned about a loved one via its Drink Drug Hub.

Information on the sessions can be found at https://drinkdrughub.co.uk/book-training/

North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for health and adult services, Cllr Michael Harrison, said:

We are committed to supporting North Yorkshire businesses and residents to consider drinking habits and enjoy alcohol as safely as possible. Every life lost to drink is a terrible loss for the individual and those left behind.

That is why the work done across our county by partners such as North Yorkshire Horizons, including via its Drink Drug Hub, is vitally important as it can provide people with clear information from experts.

Early loss of life can be prevented if businesses and residents play their part, and if we can support people like Simon to use help to turn their life around.

I would urge anyone who is concerned about a family member or a friend to join one of the Drink Drug Hub sessions if they are able to do so.

Most people drink sensibly but sometimes it can go too far. If it does, then help is there.

Residents can visit the Wake Up North Yorkshire website to help them think about drinking habits and how to enjoy alcohol as safely as possible. Support is also available for people who are ready to take the first step to break free from harmful patterns of alcohol use. Details are available at www.wakeupnorthyorks.co.uk

To contact North Yorkshire Horizons or North Yorkshire RISE, visit www.nyhorizons.org.uk or call 08000 14 14 80.

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