Wasted: The Impact of Alcohol & Violence on the NHS

While the UK’s alcohol industry continues to pull in healthy profits, the nation is left counting the growing cost of our unhealthy relationship with booze. 

From overstretched accident and emergency departments to a steady incidence of alcohol-related disease, recent figures reveal that alcohol-related harms cost the NHS around £3.5 billion every year.

The atmosphere and safety of our town centres can suffer too. Walk down a UK high street on a Saturday night and you might be faced with a number of obstacles, from broken glass to aggressive drinkers. 

With an estimated 1.1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2015/16, the case for an intervention is clear. But as many of us enjoy drinking, and only experience the edge of the problem, we may not be inclined to back a hard line when it comes to taking action on alcohol consumption.

Most of us identify as moderate or occasional drinkers, and therefore feel safe in the knowledge that our drinking won’t be doing long-term damage to our health. But evidence is showing that drinking even within the national guideline amounts could have a significant effect on our brains.

Advice from the UK's Chief Medical Officers is for men and women to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread out evenly over three or more days. 

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But new research has found that consuming any more than just one unit a day may have adverse cognitive effects for some. This is especially true for middle-aged and older members of the population.

Using data from the UK Biobank, researchers looked at the relationship between alcohol consumption and reaction times for more than 13,000 people over a five-year period.

It's becoming increasingly clear that cognitive decline is likely to become apparent at levels of alcohol consumption much lower than previously thought. Recommendations for safe alcohol consumption should take this into account, especially in regards to middle-aged and older people who are far more susceptible to cognitive decline.

Professor Simon Moore 

Many of us also believe that we know our limits and know when to stop drinking. But that might depend on the company we're keeping.