Drink peril

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ALCOHOL advice staff in Sheffield are seeing an extra 40 people a month from all walks of life as the latest figures indicate as many of one-in-five of the city’s population could have a drink problem.

As the Department of Health said this week that liver disease is now the country’s fifth biggest killer, and cases in the under-30s have risen by half over ten years, Sheffield is adopting a pioneering approach in trying to help a growing number of clients.

A national conference will be held in the city on October 6 at which Sheffield Alcohol Support Service will explain the way it has switched emphasis, with impressive results, from minimising the harm caused by addiction to focusing on recovery.

It will be held against a background of growing pressure to respond to the consequences of the city’s drink problem, on individuals and their families and the cost to the NHS. According to NHS data, Sheffield has:

l85,637 hazardous drinkers - those at risk of damaging their health;

l31,377 harmful drinkers - those whose health has already been damaged;

l89,614 individuals estimated to binge drink regularly.

The support service worked with around 2,000 people last year and is seeing 40 additional people a month, from all walks of life. Many have had very good jobs and have gradually slipped into alcohol problems.

Trends have seen the typical age range of clients shift from 50 to 60-year-olds to the majority being aged between 30 and 40 over the last five years. Traditionally the typical gender split was two-third males to one-third female. Numbers of women with alcohol problems have been increasing steadily, and Sheffield’s residential rehab often has all female residents.

Sheffield Alcohol Support Service, which has been boosted by a £495,000 Big Lottery grant over three years, has forged close links with an addiction recovery project in Connecticut to adjust its own approach, which it says has met with “considerable success”.

Instead of just aiming to minimise the harm drinkers are causing to themselves and others, attention is being focused on helping them to break the cycle of alcohol abuse by encouraging them to be more active.

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