While the identified fall in alcohol consumption across Europe suggests that many people are reducing their alcohol intake, which is a positive trend, alcohol abuse could still be costing the UK up to £6 billion a year in NHS bills, premature death, losses to business and drink-related crimes and accidents.
A study by the Royal College of Physicians said drink-related health problems could account for up to 12% of total NHS spending on hospitals, about £3 billion.
But campaigners said that with the estimated £3 billion lost through absenteeism, unemployment, premature deaths and alcohol-related crimes and accidents the total cost of excessive drinking is £6 billion.
The World Health Organization’s research indicates that Europe is still the region with the heaviest alcohol consumption in the World. However, recent studies of trends in the European alcohol market suggest that less alcohol is being bought now than previously.
Not only do fewer people drink alcohol in Europe; those who do drink have changed their behaviour to drink less on average. One report from The Economist found that Italian and French adults drink about 30% less than 30 years ago, with similar reductions in alcohol purchasing in Germany and Spain. Alcohol consumption across most of Eastern Europe has fallen in recent decades.
However, the falling consumption of alcohol has created increasing competition between European alcohol producers, leading to heavier advertising campaigns and promotional price discounts. In many other countries around the world, the sale or advertising of alcoholic drinks is limited by law. As this is not enforced as stringently in Europe, Europeans are more influenced by alcohol promotion than many other regions, and still consume more alcohol per head than other continents.
What does this mean for the prevention and treatment of alcohol addiction? As long as alcohol is heavily promoted on television, in magazines, and other media, alcohol addiction treatment will be easier in a residential alcohol rehab centre where external media can be avoided or filtered to prevent exposure to alcohol advertising. Advertising and in-store promotions are also important factors to consider in relapse prevention as exposure to alcohol may trigger a relapse.
While the identified fall in alcohol consumption across Europe suggests that many people are reducing their alcohol intake it is important to note that those who are suffering from alcohol addiction are not average consumers. Their addiction may progress from large volumes of weak alcohol to smaller volumes of strong alcohol. Alcohol addiction involves a complex interaction of variables, we therefore cannot expect overall trends in the alcohol retail market or in average alcohol consumption to be reflected in the alcohol addiction statistics.