Alcohol: know the risks is the theme of this year’s UK Alcohol Awareness Week.
But it appears the risks are still not hitting home hard enough in Forth Valley.
The most recent data from the Scottish Health Survey 2012 – 2015, published in September, shows that men are still more likely to drink harmful levels of alcohol than females, both in NHS Forth Valley and across Scotland.
Due to greater availability and the low cost of alcohol, people also now consume greater volumes of alcohol in their own homes.
So getting the message out about the new maximum weekly limits – 14 units for both men and women announced by the Chief Medical Officers’ earlier this year – is key for the NHS.
A spokesman said: “A lot of people are drinking to harmful levels at home in the evening or over dinner.
“They are causing huge damage to their bodies.
“Scotland’s relationship with alcohol led to us having one of the fastest growing rates of liver disease in the world.
“We advise people not to exceed recommended government guidelines – the maximum weekly intake of alcohol is 14 units for both men and women.
“It would be beneficial for everyone who consumes alcohol at home to use an alcohol unit measure to keep an eye on their intake.”
It certainly might help the statistics in Forth Valley. For the Scottish Health Survey discovered that while 15 per cent of locals were non-drinkers, 56 per cent drank moderately each week – up to and including the maximum 14 units each week.
And 29 per cent were drinking even more – to a level deemed as harmful; the Scottish average was 26 per cent.
The average number of units consumed each week by adults in Forth Valley was also higher than the national average of 12.7 units – sitting at 13.6 units.
Men admitted to drinking 18.8 units a week on average, while women drank 8.5.
Luckily, support for those who have an alcohol problem is not in short supply.
Forth Valley Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (ADP) is responsible for developing an area-wide strategy.
The partnership includes local councils, NHS Forth Valley, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Services, local communities and the voluntary sector.
It is guided by two alcohol and drug partnerships – one in Falkirk and the other covering Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
Recovery is the main focus of all services under the ADP umbrella.
But while drugs tend to grab the headlines, it appears alcohol is actually a far greater problem.
Both Signpost Recovery and Addiction Support and Counselling (ASC) – two charities which work in Falkirk – treat a greater proportion of people with alcohol issues.
A Signpost spokesman said: “We dealt with in excess of 2000 people last year.
“By a two to one ratio they were referred to us for alcohol problems.
“But while alcohol is a far bigger problem, treatment times are also far quicker.”
It’s a similar story for referracls to ASC.
On average it receives 2000 referrals every year and 75 per cent of those involve alcohol misuse. But ASC is also seeing an increasing number of people who have problems with both.
No-one argues that more work still needs to be done.
So it is hoped that the Court of Session’s ruling in October – that minimum unit pricing presents a legal and effective measure for reducing alcohol harm – will help address Scotland’s horrendous alcohol record.
Dr Andrew Fraser, NHS Scotland’s director of public health science, said: “It is tragic that an average of 22 people in Scotland die each week because of alcohol.
“Minimum pricing targets the cheap, high-strength alcohol favoured by heavier drinkers.
“There is compelling evidence that it will not only save lives and cut hospital admissions in Scotland but it will also help to tackle the country’s alcohol related health inequalities.”
For those who need help with alcohol now, Signpost Recovery has a number of drop in centres in Forth Valley. For more details, call 0845 673 1774 or visit signpostrecovery.org.uk.
ASC also accepts self referrals. It can be contacted on 01324 874969, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
Alcoholics Anonymous holds weekly meetings in Falkirk town centre, as well as Grangemouth, Denny, Larbert and Stenhousemuir.
Call its free helpline on 0800 9177 650 or visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.
Around four per cent of all cancers in the UK are directly attributable to alcohol – 12,800 cases every year – according to charity Alcohol Concern.
After smoking, alcohol is one of the most preventable causes of cancer. It can cause seven different types, including bowel and mouth cancers. Prolonged heavy alcohol use can also result in alcohol-related dementia. It has been shown that the brains of men who drank more than four units of alcohol a day over a ten year period age at a much higher rate than light drinkers. Heavy alcohol consumption is also known to increase the risk of developing some forms of diabetes – a risk particularly acute in women.
Studies have shown that alcohol may also reduce a man’s sperm count and even small amounts can reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving.
For those who jump behind the wheel while over the now lower limit in Scotland, the consequences are also dire. Police Scotland will launch its festive drink driving campaign on December 2 – it will run until January 2, 2017.
And the message is pretty clear this year.
Chief Superintendent Andy Edmonston, head of Police Scotland’s road policing unit, said: “If you choose to drink and drive, or drive while unfit due to drugs, there is a high likelihood you will be caught.
“Even if you’re just over the limit, you’re still a drink driver in the eyes of the law – there is no grey area.
“Our message is simple – the best approach is none.”
One in 35 drivers stopped during the Christmas and New Year period last year were over the legal limit.
An average of 579 drivers were stopped every day – three per cent were over the legal limit, compared to two per cent the previous year.