Government's alcohol strategy will fail because of partnership approach with drinks industry

09/08/05

Editorial: British drinking: a suitable case for treatment? BMJ Volume 331, pp 527-8

The Government's strategy on alcohol will do nothing to tackle problem drinking in Britain, because it "embraces the industry's diagnosis and preferred remedies", says an editorial in this week's BMJ.

Current policy accepts the industry view that those who endanger their health through drinking and take part in anti-social behaviour are a minority, and should be targeted through education campaigns, treatment, better policing and self-regulation from the industry.

But these are exactly the policies least likely to reduce problem drinking according to the evidence, says the author.

The rise in drinking in Britain is probably the result of lowering the cost of alcohol while increasing its availability, mixed with heavy promotion of alcohol in British cities, he argues.

Alcohol abuse is now thought to cost the British economy 30bn a year, and alcohol dependency rates in the UK are amongst the highest in Europe, at 7.5% of British men and 2.1% of British women.

The most effective policy to reduce problem drinking is to increase taxes on drinks with the highest alcohol concentration a policy which the Government has snubbed, rejecting the views of the world's leading researchers on alcohol.

In Australia, a country with liberal licensing laws, alcohol consumption has fallen per head by 24% in twenty years, while at the same time rising by 31% in the UK. A policy of lowering taxes on low alcohol drinks, reducing the drink-driving limit to 0.05% (rather than the UK's 0.08%) with vigorous enforcement, has been effective. Low alcohol beer now accounts for 40% of all beer consumed in Australia.

The two alcohol reduction treatments evaluated in this week's BMJ motivational enhancement treatment and social network therapy are cost-effective, and ministers should also look at investing in these to increase access for those affected.

If the Government wants to prevent a "worsening epidemic" of alcohol misuse, it should replace its current policies with some that "have a chance of reducing (rather than merely preventing further rises in) alcohol related harm," concludes the author.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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