Baby boomers driving surge in hospital admissions for alcoholism

The latest figures released by the UK’s National Health Service show an increase in the number of hospital admissions because of alcohol by well over 25%, over the last six years, alcohol also caused 6,000 deaths last year.

Image Credit: Axel Bueckert / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Axel Bueckert / Shutterstock

The scenario

About 1.3 million people were in hospital because of illnesses linked to alcohol, either as primary or secondary cause. Even in the stricter sense, alcohol contributed over 380,000 hospitalizations in 2018-19.

The report says that in Kent and Medway alone, over 35,000 people were treated for alcohol-related illness or injury in the year 2018-19, which is 6 percent more than in the previous year.

There were well over 200,000 people injured or sick due to alcohol-related issues in these areas in the years 2012-18. Almost 2 in 3 of them were men.

Reasons for hospitalization include cancer and accidental injuries, with psychiatric or behavior disorders following next. Other common reasons include heart disease, stroke, liver and lung diseases.

Older but not wiser?

About 62% were men and 40% were aged 45 to 64 years. However, 77% of all alcohol-related deaths took place among people aged 40 to 69 years. And the greatest weekly spending on alcohol, at over 10 pounds, was by people aged 65 to 74 years old.

The generation aged 55-64 years, are, however, the biggest drinkers of all, putting away 14 or more units of alcohol a week. For men, 14 units a week is the maximum recommended limit according to the NHS. When it comes to a breakdown, 40% of men and 20% of women go over this limit.

Social worker Laura Bunt, who heads the charity Addaction, points out “The group most at risk are older adults. Harmful drinking among older adults is often a hidden problem, with many drinking at home instead of out and socializing.”

Some experts think that perhaps modern life is more stressful and therefore people use alcohol to medicate themselves. For instance, middle-aged people may face financial, marital, bereavement and job stresses which are met wrongly, by drinking, rather than by constructive ways of coping.

Possible solutions

Kenward Trust is a charity dealing with alcoholics and their families, helping to regather disrupted dysfunctional families of alcoholics while restoring their productivity. Kenward CEO Penny Williams says the focus ought to be on rehab because this is the only way to really produce a change in behavior, with people to support alcoholics and giving them time to find their way out. She rebuts the utility of prescription medications in this group.

Others such as Sir Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance say the government must tax alcohol heavily, with at least a 2% rise in duty, impose a minimum unit price in England, as already exists in Scotland and Wales. Others also urge an increase in funding for alcohol rehab.

The NHS says it will soon launch its specialized alcohol care units in those hospitals which have the greatest load of alcohol-related admissions. Such units will help these patients and their families to escape the addiction. It hopes these measures will reduce such admissions by 50,000 over the next 5 years.

The real reason

Meanwhile, the industry body the Alcohol Information Partnership predictably downplays the problem, describing this huge number as a “minority of problem drinkers.” This begs the question as to whether alcohol is ever good, for anyone, other than people who don’t really have a reason to live. Numerous studies have shown that there is absolutely no “safe limit” for alcohol intake, and that it has an amazingly addictive component. The last thing most people need to hear is that most drinkers have it good and that only a few “problem drinkers” are at risk.

Implications

The researchers think this rise in alcohol-fueled illness is due to the unavailability of funds for alcoholic rehabilitation programs, leaving such people to fight their addiction alone for up to 3 decades. Williams says, “It's a real concern because ultimately it's costing all of us far more money to keep treating people in A&E and taking up valuable nursing time and valuable resources instead of putting people through a rehab system like ours, where the costs are minimal in comparison.”

Williams says, “The government needs to think seriously about reinvesting - we've seen massive decreases of up to 16% in investment in drug and alcohol addiction, and in particular rehab because it's seen as expensive.” However, along with rehab, the government and charities alike need to focus on the basic reason why drinking is a growing and costly problem – and it’s not because of lack of funding, but its image as a socially acceptable and respectable activity. Changing that image will take work and plenty of examples upfront, but it could go a long way in reducing the scope of this activity.

Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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