Fears over Norfolk alcohol health timebomb

Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol means that some 300,000 people in the

Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol means that some 300,000 people in the region are at risk of health problems which are related to drink. - Credit: PA

Almost 300,000 people in the region are putting their health at risk by consistently drinking above the recommended levels of alcohol, figures have revealed.

In Norfolk, there are almost 22,000 people whose heavy drinking has put them at 'significant risk' and may have already caused serious harm to their health.

But, according to the figures produced by Alcohol Concern, the largest at-risk group in Norfolk are almost 90,000 drinkers - some 14pc of the population - who health experts consider 'increasing risk drinkers'.

They are people who are not alcoholics, but who regularly drink above the health service's recommended limits and are upping the chance of damaging their health.

And those two groups of drinkers are costing the Norfolk healthcare system up to £34.8m each year, experts have warned, with 105,565 alcohol-related admissions and attendances in the county in 2010/11.

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In 2009 there were 252 deaths in Norfolk which were attributed to alcohol - 169 men and 83 women.

The figures have been released at the start of Alcohol Awareness Week, as a campaign is launched to get people debating the health risks and social problems which drinking too much can cause.

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According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol is a factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, stroke and depression.

Lucy Macleod, director of public health at Norfolk County Council, said: 'Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren't alcoholics. They're simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years.

'And we're not necessarily talking about young people: those aged over 45 are three times more likely to drink alcohol every day, which may challenge some people's perceptions about who is drinking too much.

'That's why campaigns like Alcohol Awareness Week are so important: to address those misconceptions, help people who are drinking too much to recognise this, and make sure they know there is help available to cut down or quit, if they need it.'

In Suffolk, there is an estimated 18,200 people drinking at very heavy levels and 74,696 in the 'increasing risk' bracket, while in Cambridgeshire there is an estimated 21,222 in the first category and 70,414 in the second.

The combined total for the three counties, in terms of the cost to health services, is estimated at £89.7m.

The Hair of the Dog campaign, run in association with Alcohol Concern, is highlighting that it is important to talk about drinking, which the World Health Organisation names as the third largest risk factor to health in developed countries,

It is also promoting that help for people who think drink is affecting their health. The Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP) is a one-stop-service offering advice and treatment for adults with drug and alcohol problems.

Harold Bodmer, chairman of the Norfolk Drug and Alcohol Partnership (N-DAP), which funds the NRP service, said: 'The N-DAP is committed to reducing the harm that alcohol causes not only to the individual, but to their families, friends and wider communities.

'The services we fund are there to support people to make positive changes to their drinking, from expert advice through to a full confidential assessment, and a comprehensive range of treatments.

'Whether it's you or a friend who needs support, we would urge people to call the NRP, or drop in to their nearest centre, to have a chat and make their first step towards treatment and recovery.'

The NRP service operates from five sites across the county (Hellesdon, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn, Thetford) with another due to open in North Walsham soon.

If you are over 18, you can drop in between 10am and 4pm and talk to a member of staff. You can also telephone 24 hours a day on 0300 7900 227.

Further details at www.norfolkrecoverypartnership.org.uk or by emailing recovery@norfolkrecoverypartnership.org.uk

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