Drinkers who struggle to resist more than the equivalent of two to three large glasses of wine a day could be prescribed a pill through the NHS to reduce dependency on alcohol.
Tens of thousands of drinkers who consume more than the recommended daily maximum amount of alcohol are seriously affecting their wellbeing, said the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
The non-departmental health body advised that people who drink too much would be eligible from today for the daily pill Nalmefene, also known as Selincro, which has been shown to cut alcohol consumption down by 61 per cent after six months alongside regular counselling sessions.
Nalmefene, which would cost the health service £288m a year (or £3 a pill), reduces the urge to drink by switching off reward receptors in the brain and could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,074 alcohol-related diseases and injuries.
Treatment could be free for men who drink more than 7.5 units a day, approximately three to four pints of standard-strength lager, and for women who drink more than five units daily, which works out at just less than two large 250ml glasses of red wine at an AVB strength of 12 per cent.
The NICE said that doctors would be "legally obliged" to prescribe the pill to those who require it, however their clinical trials prove that "heavy drinking days" were reduced by 42 per cent with a placebo including counselling, while there was a 55 per cent reduction with the pill and counselling (paragraph 3.10).
Total alcohol consumption was also noted to have been reduced by 50 per cent with placebo and counselling and the number was cut by 61 per cent with pill and counselling.
Around 81 per cent of women who admit that they drink above the daily recommended allowance said they do so in order to wind down and cope with demanding careers and family life - in what is described as "oblivion drinking".
The term was coined by psychoanalyst Jan Bauer, author of Alcoholism and Women: The Background And The Psychology, who told the Mail on Sunday: "The main question is: what self are these women trying to turn off? They have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash - and alcohol's a perfect way to crash."
Sarah Turner, co-author of The Sober Revolution and owner of the Harrogate Sanctuary for predominately middle-aged and middle-class alcoholics, said: "This is an epidemic. High-functioning, intelligent women are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to take the edge off and stop their brain going at 300 miles an hour."
Risky drinking is also the highest among white men aged 45 to 64 and women aged 16 to 24 who seek to relieve stresses from managerial-based professions and struggling to strike a home-work balance, researchers at University of Sunderland found last year.
Dr Lyn Brierley-Jones, a researcher at the university, said: “Our research showed a common perception among some middle-class groups that regularly drinking at home, particularly wine, is safe and sensible, even though such drinking regularly takes them over the recommended daily guidelines.
“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests that such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life, and a major health burden for the NHS.”
GPs are advised to offer the drug to those who are having difficulty drinking less, and NICE estimates that 35,000 people will end up taking it.
The drug has been available to patients in Scotland since October last year and has been made available nationwide through the NHS this month.
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