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‘Nurses can play a key role in tackling alcohol misuse’

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WE’VE ALL seen them. We’ve probably all been one at some point. Binge drinkers – those who regularly consume more than the recommended level of alcohol.

WE’VE ALL seen them. We’ve probably all been one at some point. Binge drinkers – those who regularly consume more than the recommended level of alcohol.

The tragedy of George Best and a glut of media attention has, for years, warned us of its dangers, yet binge drinking is increasing. And it’s not just wayward youths at fault. Saga magazine recently highlighted the growing number of older people whose intake is far from ideal.

Let’s put aside the stereotypical images from TV documentaries such as Booze Britain, and consider our own habits. How many of us, for example, in the middle of a social gathering, have consciously measured out the recommended number of units considered safe? Very few, I’d imagine. And why would we? We see drinking as a reward at the end of a hard day, or as a natural part of celebrating, socialising or relaxing at home. We don’t need an excuse to drink, and many of us regularly exceed the recommended levels. We know binge drinking is bad but we still do it, ignoring the advice on the bottle to ‘drink sensibly’.

And what is sensible? We all metabolise alcohol at different rates so the idea of a level below which, if we drink, we’ll be fine, is ludicrous – especially as the percentage of alcohol varies from bottle to bottle.

So given all of this, who will take notice of a label on a bottle noting how many units of alcohol it contains? Not the youngsters at the park – nor anyone else for that matter.

Increasing the price of alcohol, raising the purchasing age limit and abolishing 24-hour drinking are all initiatives that have been put forward. Yet little headway has been made. If this government was determined to tackle the problem, surely it could socially chastise alcohol consumers in much the same way it has smokers? It won’t because we accept drinking as part of our culture and, as long as that remains, so will binge drinking.

As nurses we need to see our role as health promoters as vital to our care delivery. We should assess patients’ drinking habits when appropriate, preferably on admission using recognised tools. This is not performed thoroughly enough, nor do we act effectively if a patient’s responses indicate excess consumption. Outside of specialist units, treatment mostly consists of multivitamins and chlormethiazole to combat withdrawal, with the nurse’s role reduced to that of dispenser.

Failure to address these issues now will have serious consequences in the future. The binge drinkers of today are certain to be our patients of tomorrow – and there are going to be lots of them.

Rob Harteveldt is a cardiac liaison nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital
NEXT WEEK: Alison Gadsby on the need to help patients express their faith

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