Action over alcohol abuse `is inadequate'

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Almost nine out of 10 health, social services and probation professionals believe that alcohol misuse is not being recognised despite the fact that 8.5 million people drink above medically recommended levels and nearly three million are alcohol dependent.

The survey by Alcohol Concern - which questioned key personnel working for 203 health authorities, councils, probation services and prisons - reveals that 40 per cent have no alcohol misuse strategies in their areas and 60 per cent believe training on alcohol in their organisation is inadequate.

At the beginning of the charity's Think Drink Week, around 6 million men [more than one in four] and 2.5 million women [more than one in 10] are drinking above medically recommended levels - 21 units for men and 14 for women. One million women and 1.8 million men are alcohol dependent.

More than 90 per cent of health, social services and probation professionals say that many of their clients have drinking problems, but less than six out of 10 have a system for identifying and recording clients who have a drinking problem. Less than half have made a study of the level of problem drinking in their area.

But the areas which such professionals felt most gloomy about were training and strategy for dealing with such problems. Fewer than one in three people think there is enough training available for those who deal with alcohol abusers. Even fewer believe they have adequate services to deal with them. More encouragingly, 35 per cent said new alcohol services were opening in their area during the next six months.

Alcohol misuse currently costs British industry around pounds 2bn per year, largely as a result of absenteeism and poor work performance. Three-quarters of employers say alcohol misuse is a problem for their organisation.

NHS responses to alcohol related health problems cost an estimated pounds 150m per year. The deaths of 28,000 people every year are drink related and one in four male hospital admissions is related to alcohol. Deaths from liver disease are 10 times more common in heavy drinkers than non-drinkers and some 65 per cent of suicide attempts are linked with excessive drinking.

The director of Alcohol Concern, Eric Appleby, said: "The survey confirms what people are telling us every day - that there is simply insufficient help available for the millions of people experiencing problems with alcohol, and there is little prospect of meeting the Government's Health of the Nation alcohol targets if present circumstances persist.

"On a positive note, 35 per cent of the people polled say new alcohol services will be opening in their area in the next 12 months - and nationally we know the Department of Health is concerned about the impact of alcohol misuse, as it has earmarked pounds 2.5m to establish new support agencies over the next couple of years plus another pounds 2.5m through the Drug and Alcohol Specific Grant.

"However, our survey shows that much work needs to be done at a local level."