While political parties are vying for attention, and shouting loud and proud about their manifesto’s how about considering reducing harm from alcohol? 

I remember the exact moment I decided to quit alcohol. It was 6.5 years ago, and I realized that my casual drinking had started to creep into every aspect of my life. I wasn’t at rock bottom, but I was definitely on a slippery slope. Ditching the booze was a big deal, and not the easiest period to navigate (especially as I didn’t know then what I know now), but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. My physical health improved, my mental clarity sharpened, and my relationships deepened. Hell, I even started to like myself!  Life without alcohol is liberating, and it’s a message that needs to be amplified through more proactive government strategies.

Alcohol-specific deaths in England are rising, and there has been a lot of noise in the media about harm caused by alcohol.  One strategy that seems to have helped is setting minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol. Scotland implemented a minimum price of 50p per unit five years ago, leading to decreased consumption and fewer alcohol-related deaths. Following this success, Scotland recently decided to increase the price to 65p per unit. (Scotland also has a zero alcohol limit for driving) Wales and the Republic of Ireland have adopted similar measures, but England remains an outlier with no national alcohol strategy for over a decade.

But here’s the thing: we need to raise awareness not just about the dangers of excessive drinking, but also about the benefits of quitting altogether. There are countless individuals who aren’t hitting rock bottom but are still drinking too much. They’re people like I used to be—social drinkers who don’t realize the slow, creeping impact of alcohol on their lives.

Alcohol misuse is linked to over 200 illnesses and injuries. It’s the leading risk factor for death, ill-health, and disability in people aged 15-49, and one of the top preventable causes of death among all adults. Since 2019, alcohol-related deaths in England have surged by more than a third. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to major health issues, including cardiovascular disease, various cancers, and mental health problems. Despite this, our communities are saturated with alcohol adverts and cheap drinks, especially in poorer areas.  Drinking is just the ‘done thing’, its the social glue that sticks everything together and as Jason Vale said:

“Alcohol is the only drug we have to justify NOT taking!”

The ‘alcohol harm paradox’ is particularly troubling: people in deprived areas suffer the most from alcohol-related harm despite drinking less on average. Death rates from alcohol in the most deprived regions are twice as high as in the most affluent areas. This disparity stems from a mix of social factors like stress, poverty, and limited access to healthcare.

Alcohol’s impact isn’t just limited to health either —it’s a massive financial burden too. Nearly 350,000 hospital admissions in England each year are alcohol-related, costing the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion annually. The broader societal costs—like reduced employment, lower productivity, increased crime, and harm to families—were estimated at £21 billion per year back in 2003. Today, that figure is undoubtedly higher.

So why hasn’t England updated its alcohol strategy since 2012? Back then, David Cameron’s government proposed plans, including MUP, but abandoned them due to a supposed lack of concrete evidence. Now, with ample evidence from Scotland, it’s time for England to rethink its stance.

Our current focus on treating those already dependent on alcohol is essential, but its woefully insufficient. We need a comprehensive strategy that prevents excessive drinking in the first place, especially among the estimated 10 million adults exceeding the Chief Medical Officer’s drinking guidelines. (Which are actually ridiculous anyway, I don’t know any regular drinkers who really know what one unit is)

From my personal experience, I can tell you that life is so much better without alcohol. I wake up with energy, my mind is clear, and I have a deeper connection with the people around me. I’ve discovered new hobbies, more creativity, improved my fitness, and found a sense of peace I didn’t know was possible. I’ve become passionate about the topic, I host the Alcohol Free Life podcast, I’ve given a TEDx talk, Sobriety Rocks – Who Knew! written a book Happy Healthy Sober and I run The Sober Club a community focused on wellbeing and holistic sobriety.  So many members tell me they feel as though they’ve been given a ‘second chance at life’.

Imagine if we could encourage more people to experience these benefits.  It’s not just about saving lives, about desperately trying to support those for whom the horse has already bolted.. it’s about showing people that they don’t need alcohol to enjoy life. By reducing alcohol availability and affordability, we can create an environment where choosing not to drink is easier and more appealing.

However, MUP is just one part of the solution. Here are some additional strategies that could help:

  1. Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating the public about the risks of alcohol consumption and the benefits of reducing or quitting alcohol can change attitudes and behaviours. Currently if you go to a GP, unless you are at rock bottom, they tend to have no recommendations.  We need campaigns to  highlight personal stories of transformation, like mine, to inspire others.
  2. Stricter Advertising Regulations: Limiting alcohol advertising, especially in places frequented by young people, can reduce the normalization of drinking. Banning alcohol ads on public transport and in sports sponsorships could significantly lower exposure.
  3. Alcohol-Free Spaces and Events: Promoting alcohol-free venues and social events can provide alternatives for socializing without the pressure to drink. This includes sober bars, dry festivals, and alcohol-free sections at major events.
  4. Health and Education Programmes: Implementing programmes in schools and workplaces to educate about the dangers of alcohol and promote healthy lifestyles can have a lasting impact. These programmes can teach coping mechanisms for stress that don’t involve alcohol.
  5. Better Support Services: Enhancing support services for those looking to reduce or quit drinking is crucial. This includes increasing funding for counselling, support groups, and helplines, making these services more accessible to everyone.
  6. Community Initiatives and Connection: Local initiatives, like community support groups and alcohol-free activities, can create a supportive environment for those trying to reduce their alcohol consumption.  Online connection is key too.  Join us in The Sober Club
  7. Policy and Legislation: Stronger policies around alcohol sales, such as reducing the number of alcohol licenses issued and limiting sales hours, can help curb excessive drinking. These policies should focus on areas with high rates of alcohol-related harm.

As someone who’s been on both sides, (and knowing which one I prefer!) I’m calling on the government to take action. Let’s not wait until more lives are lost. Let’s catch it before it gets worse and show everyone that there’s a better life beyond the bottle. #sobrietyrocks

Check out the work of Alcohol Change UK

 

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