Special training sessions are taking place across Kent to help frontline staff who may be in contact with people who are drinking too much alcohol.
The events for professionals, including probation officers, job centre staff, careers advisors and social workers, are just one of the many support services available as Alcohol Awareness Week (13 to 19 November) aims to start conversations around harmful drinking, to help break the cycle of silence and stigma that is all too often experienced by families.
Monica, a former client of the East Kent Community Drug and Alcohol Service, has shared her story: “I started drinking heavily in my early twenties – although I didn’t really like alcohol, it was legal, socially acceptable and you could buy it pretty much anywhere. Over the next two decades, I started drinking more and more heavily, to the point where I drank every day. My doctor told me I had an issue: my liver wasn’t in a good state.”
She added: “I was 47 when I first tried to get help, and it was hard – drinking had been part of my life for over 20 years. I went to the East Kent Community Drug and Alcohol Service in Sittingbourne and they were great. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m now completely alcohol-free. My life is so different to before – I used to be homeless and now I have a home, I pay bills and I have a wonderful dog, who I absolutely adore. It’s not easy, and no one will do it for you, but with the right support, change is possible – no matter how long you’ve been drinking for or what age you are.”
It has been estimated that alcohol related issues costs the NHS around £3.5bn a year in England, with the costs in Kent falling between £71m and £108m.
While deaths from most diseases are decreasing, liver disease has been increasing steadily in Kent. There are now an estimated 341,000 in Kent who are at risk or have alcohol-related health problems. This includes approximately 14,000 people who are severely dependent on alcohol and in need of urgent help from treatment services.
KCC Director for Public Health, Andrew Scott-Clark said: “We support the national campaign to raise awareness of alcohol issues as people still don’t realise how much alcohol they are drinking and the harm it is causing their health in the short and long term. It is crucial that people take responsibility and act because alcohol related harm is largely preventable.
“We commission a number of services, working closely with partner agencies from across health, community and voluntary sectors to spread the message about the recommended drinking levels and provide specialist support and treatment for those who are identified as needing further help to cut back.”
The Department of Health recommended drinking levels are to not regularly exceed more than 14 units a week. One pint of strong beer or cider equals three units, as does a large glass (250ml) of wine. A small glass of wine (175ml) amounts to two units while a bottle of beer can mean 1.5 units but these can all vary depending on the alcoholic strength of the drink.
The KCC ‘Know Your Score’ interactive online test – www.kent.gov.uk/knowyourscore – can help give some initial guidance by asking users a series of simple questions to help them gauge how much alcohol they are consuming and the effects it could have on their health, in both the short and long-term. Depending on their score, appropriate key messages and vital advice about where to find help are then delivered by a number of different experts and health professionals.
KCC Public Health commissions two providers – CGL in west Kent and Forward Trust in east Kent – to inform the public about the potential consequences of misusing alcohol and to provide treatment options to help individuals make healthy, informed decisions about their lives.
Claire Begent, Service Manager at the West Kent Drug and Alcohol Wellbeing Service, part of KCC-commissioned drug and alcohol charity ‘change, grow, live’ (CGL) said: “Change, grow, live (CGL) welcomes this important opportunity during Alcohol Awareness Week, to encourage people to think critically about the role that alcohol plays in their lives. It is widely known that excessive drinking can seriously damage health and have a detrimental impact on families and our communities.
“The reasons people use substances, whether they are drugs or alcohol, are endless and often very unique to the individual. Alcohol specifically is something that has become very commonplace in our society. Cost, availability and the culture that surrounds drinking alcohol may contribute to its use becoming more prevalent, this makes it more important than ever for people to think about how much they drink.”
Mike Trace, CEO of The Forward Trust, the charity which runs the East Kent Community Drug and Alcohol Service, said: “Alcohol issues impact individuals of all ages and from all walks of life. We know from experience that with the right support, people can be empowered to transform their lives and build positive, productive futures with a job, family, friends and a sense of community. Our service has Hubs all over the region and supports anyone from East Kent who has issues with drugs and alcohol, no matter what those issues are. If you need support, we want to help, so do get in touch.”
For more information on the treatment, support and recovery services available, go to www.kent.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/health/alcohol-and-drug-support