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We need significant and sustained investment in treatment services to tackle alcohol addiction

4 min read

Alcohol touches every part of our society. Its use is normalised in almost every aspect of our lives, whether you’re socialising or relaxing, celebrating or mourning, at home or on holiday. And alcohol dominates our public spaces, whether you’re out in your town or city centre, at the theatre or a music concert.

It’s also worth remembering that alcohol is a legalised drug and a multi-billion pound industry. While it is enjoyed by millions of us, it also causes incredible harm and misery to others. Therefore society’s relationship with alcohol is a complex one, and one worth proper discussion and consideration. So I’m delighted to have secured, jointly with Derek Thomas MP, a debate in the UK Parliament on Alcohol Harm.

On 1st July this year, I stood up in the Commons and talked openly for the first time about my own experience of alcoholism, addiction and being in recovery.

It was a personal milestone – being able to be honest about something which I know still carries with it a stubborn stigma that seems impossible to shift. Today, I still wince at headlines and articles that reference my alcoholism and addiction before remembering that each one helps chip away at the shame and secrecy other sufferers feel and endure needlessly.

I’m incredibly grateful for the support of so many of my colleagues in Parliament, my constituents, the wider public and those with an interest and understanding in the media. I hope their empathy and understanding gives others the confidence to open up.

But for me, it’s been each person who has themselves experienced addiction, or supported a loved one who has suffered, who has contacted me to share their own stories that has given the greatest meaning to my decision to speak out. Those connections and the strength I have found in being part of a thriving recovery community has been a welcome blessing. 

Whilst the harm and cost inflicted by alcohol has been rising year on year, the last UK government alcohol strategy was published back in 2012

The harm caused by alcohol goes far beyond the individual who drinks too much; it affects children, families, communities, and society.

It is now the leading cause of death, ill-health and disability for those aged between 15 and 49. Every day 70 people die due to alcohol and about 40 per cent of crime is linked to alcohol. All of this comes at a substantial economic cost of at least £27 billion every year.

Alcohol is a significant contributor to inequalities: people from the most deprived areas are up to 60 per cent more likely to die or be admitted to hospital than those in the most affluent areas. Alcohol-related mortality is 28 per cent higher in the North East and 21 per cent higher in the North West compared to the English average.

In 2020 ONS data showed that alcohol-specific deaths were at their highest since records began. Whilst the harm and cost inflicted by alcohol has been rising year on year, the last UK government alcohol strategy was published back in 2012.

Evidence-based policies to reduce alcohol harm are well-established in other countries. The World Health Organization says reducing the affordability, promotion and availability of alcohol is the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce alcohol harm.

To tackle alcohol addiction and harm in the long-term, we need a whole-system approach that incorporates prevention, treatment and recovery. Across the UK people who are alcohol dependent are currently unable to access the support they need. Shockingly, only one in five alcohol dependent people are receiving treatment. Addiction is an illness and people suffering deserve properly funded treatment – the same as any other medical condition.

Earlier this year, over 60 cross-party parliamentarians and I wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a significant and sustained investment to addiction treatment. Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs recommended that £1.78billion is the amount needed to restore our hollowed-out addiction treatment sector.

Addiction – and alcohol harm – can be found everywhere, and yet it remains so well hidden. I’m pleased that tomorrow Parliament will pay it some long overdue attention.


Dan Carden is the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton.

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Read the most recent article written by Dan Carden MP - The government is failing to tackle record-high alcohol-related deaths