Do you know if you’re an alcoholic?

With around 1,500 alcohol-related hospital stays for both adults and under 18s at the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust every year, it is clear that alcohol-related ill health is both a concern and a significant demand on the NHS. With increased hospital admissions year on year, there’s a real worry that people do not realise the extent of their alcohol consumption.

The team at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spoke to Ian Mitchell, substance misuse liaison at Great Western Hospital, to find out about the support available to those who might find themselves struggling with alcohol use; everything from a daily tipple after work to life-changing addiction.

“We are here to offer support to any patients, across the trust, that have concerns about alcohol,” said Ian.

“Over the last five years, we have seen a 51% increase in the number of patients admitted to hospital with alcohol-related liver disease. Liver disease is one of the main causes of death, and people are dying from it much younger as the dependency on alcohol increases year on year.

“Startlingly, many people actually fall into the ‘alcoholic’ bracket. A lot of people consume alcohol every day, but do not understand or realise the extent of their consumption as they might only have a few glasses of wine or a couple of beers a day.

“Drinkers aged 50 and over have been drinking more frequently over recent years, are unsure about how many units they drink daily and cannot state the recommended units of intake.”

In a study conducted by Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group (Angus, 2019), it was found that the most frequently reported reasons for an increase in alcohol consumption over the last five years was age related.

These were retirement, 40%, bereavement, 26%, and a change in financial circumstances, 18%.

“We see a number of factors associated with older adults being a higher risk drinker,” explained Ian.

“These factors include living alone, being single or widowed, having a chronic illness or disability and not having further education after leaving school.

“Similarly, we see a number of drinkers who are struggling with depression. These people are nearly four times as likely to be a high risk drinker, and this concern is heightened for those who do not cope well with stress or anxiety.

“As well as the drinkers who fall into these generalised categories, we are also aware of an increased alcohol addiction among healthy, middle-aged people. 

“Many of these people will be reaching, and exceeding, their daily intake of alcohol units but do not believe they might have a problem. For these drinkers, a bottle of wine a night, for example, might seem like nothing but does in fact push them over the boundary of an alcohol addiction.

“There was a recent documentary featured on the BBC which saw Adrian Chiles start a drink diary to record his daily intake. He drinks almost every day, but was surprised to see that his intake far exceeded the recommended amount.

“For many people, this is the case. The lure of social drinking and the act of opening a bottle or can every day has become habit.

“During his investigation, Adrian realises that, like many other people, he needs to kick the habit of excessive boozing. For some, this might just mean cutting down your daily intake, or limiting alcohol consumption to weekends only, but for others, this will involve more in-depth support.”

Most referrals to Great Western Hospitals’ substance misuse team are from the wards, rather than through the Emergency Department. The team see around 100 referrals every month, and this is expected to grow as awareness of the service increases.

“At GWH, we have support available for anyone who needs it,” continued Ian.

“The substance misuse liaison service offers alcohol screening, outpatient appointments for those who require ongoing support after discharge, it provides harm reduction advice and offers confidential assessments with the aim of providing treatment options.

“We also point people in the direction of external services that can offer continued support. Turning Point is the addiction service for Swindon residents and can offer advice on medications to aid withdrawals and work alongside clinical staff who are treating a patient.

“With recent NHS figures showing that the number of alcohol-related deaths is at an all-time high, with somebody admitted to hospital every 30 seconds due to drink as a factor, we are keen to tackle this issue head on.

“We will soon be running clinics through our Emergency Department and will be arranging further staff training on how best to support patients in brief interventions, as well as recognising the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal.”

As the trust sees more patients passing through its doors, and admitted to its wards, with alcohol misuse at the forefront of these patients’ healthcare concerns, our substance misuse team is focused on bringing this worrying number down, as they work to educate Swindon residents on the risks of drinking and how to identify what is considered excessive.

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