Alcohol addiction costs the UK economy billions of pounds every year. The burden on public services such as the NHS and the police due to alcohol-related illnesses and incidences is growing year on year. Many experts believe that one way to tackle this would be to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol to prevent people from being able to source this substance at very low prices.
Concern in Wales
Alcohol is readily available at low prices across the country, but in Wales, it is possible to consume the recommended weekly allowance of alcohol for just over Â£2. This has prompted Alcohol Concern Cymru to call for a minimum unit price to protect problem drinkers and to ease the burden on the NHS.
The charity organisation has conducted a survey among a number of off-licences and supermarkets in cities and towns across Wales and found that in some stores cider is available for as low as 15.5 pence per unit. This means that the recommended allowance of 14 units per week could be bought for just £2.17.
Alcohol Concern Cymru believes that a minimum unit price of 50 pence should be introduced as this could protect those with alcohol problems and would almost certainly ease the pressure on the public purse and lift the burden on those working for the National Health Service.
Consequences of Cheap Alcohol
Mark Leyshon from Alcohol Concern Cymru said, ‘The health harms caused by alcohol remain one of the biggest problems facing Wales, and our hospitals handle as many as 1,000 admissions related to alcohol each week. Many of these illnesses and injuries are linked to cheap alcohol sold in the off-trade “in supermarkets and off-licences“ at prices far below those in pubs.’
He added that it was generally those who drank the most who favoured the cheapest alcohol. This results in large quantities of cheap alcohol being consumed and it is this that causes the most harm. He said, ‘Introducing a minimum unit price would bring a significant reduction in alcohol harms, by changing the drinking behaviours of this group without penalising moderate drinkers. It’s high time to get minimum unit pricing on the statute book for the benefit of all of us.’
The survey found that in just eighteen stores, there were 113 alcoholic products available for less than 50 pence per unit. The cheapest products were all ciders, but there were also a number of wines, spirits and lagers available for less than 50 pence per unit.
Another recent study highlighted the fact that around forty per cent of Welsh adults admitted to drinking more than the recommended weekly amounts, with approximately fourteen per cent confessing to drinking more than that amount in just one day.
The UK guidelines have recently been reduced for men, from 21 units per week to 14 units per week, bringing it in line with the recommended amount for women. Experts have been warning people of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Those who regularly drink more than the recommended amount are at risk of developing a number of physical and mental health problems as well as having a much higher risk of developing an addiction.
Experts also revealed that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption when it comes to preventing cancer or dementia. Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to health problems such as liver disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and cancers of the mouth, throat, and liver.
Addiction is another consequence of excessive alcohol consumption. Those who consume large amounts of alcohol are likely to become tolerant to the effects and physically dependent on the substance. Individuals who become physically dependent on alcohol will suffer withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating, headaches and nausea when they are not drinking and will likely need professional help to quit.