There are many TV shows which follow the working lives of real doctors and nurses working in a hospital accident and emergency department. Watch any of them, especially those which show the department on a Friday or Saturday night, and you will quickly see that a large percentage of patients are there as a result of injuries sustained while drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
There are two ways to consider the damage caused. Firstly, there is the direct impact whereby abuse over a length of time has resulted in severe problems with the body, or where too much of a substance has been ingested and intoxication has occurred. On the other hand there are more indirect problems, such as injuries sustained in a fall or during an alcohol or drug fueled assault.
Depending on the location, it has been estimated that as many as 35% of all visits to A&E are a result of drinking alcohol and this figure rises to an incredible 70% between midnight and 5am. In England in 2009/10, over 1 million people were admitted to hospital because of alcohol. These are obviously extremely worrying figures, and concern is only increased by the fact that about £2.7 billion a year is spent by the NHS on dealing with alcohol-related problems. Also worrying, is the fact that numbers are on the rise, with the number of people being diagnosed with alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver virtually tripling between 1996/7 and 2005/6. In an even shorter time period, the number of people admitted for alcoholic liver failure more than doubled.
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Figures for drugs other than alcohol are predictably lower, but they still highlight a problem. Research has suggested that annual admissions for drug misuse total approximately 400,000 with costs in the region of £100 million.
So what can be done? It may be easier to talk about what won’t work rather than what will because clearly a solution has yet to be found. Increasing prices of drinks seems to be the current main idea but this has been tried before and has had little effect, evident in places such as Scandinavia. The issue that needs tackling is the culture of going too far and overdoing it. It could be argued that people need to be strongly educated in the areas of drug and alcohol misuse, but would knowing the dangers really stop them?
Especially in the case of alcohol, there is very much a culture in place which states that it is perfectly acceptable to go out regularly and drink far too much. If this can be addressed so that people deal with alcohol in a responsible way, we may go some way to seeing an improvement in the statistics revealed previously. The government and various charities and groups can do everything in their power to educate and inform people about the dangers that substance misuse can bring, but the ultimate responsibility unfortunately lies with the public; a public who need to decide whether that extra drink is really worth it.