Alarming rise in problem drinking at home

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SOARING numbers of Yorkshire’s most affluent residents are seeking treatment for alcoholism caused by drinking at home to cope with increasing levels of stress.

Yorkshire now has the highest proportion of people deemed to be “increased-risk drinking” – people who regularly drink to excess at home – in the country, with the problem particularly severe in North Yorkshire where six of its eight local authority areas are in the bottom 25 of all 326 in England rated for the problem.

The spa town of Harrogate is ranked second from bottom in the country.

Health experts say the rise is being fuelled by a combination of people working harder for increasingly longer hours because of the recession and using alcohol as a pressure valve, alongside a growing cultural shift where it is increasingly common to drink to excess at home.

Private detox clinics are reporting an increase in high-paid workers seeking help to fight alcoholism.

Coun Sue Galloway, the Lord Mayor of York – which is now in the bottom 10 of all English authorities for increased-risk drinking – first raised the issue when she was executive member for adult social services in 2009.

“All the signs were there a couple of years ago that the problem was getting worse,” she said. “I regret that we perhaps didn’t do as much as we could have done to alert people to the problem.

“These are people who aren’t drunks, they are normal people with normal jobs.

“This has escaped under the radar while people focus on binge drinking and anti-social behaviour.”

The latest NHS figures for Yorkshire show it is the second highest of all English regions for hazardous drinking, and one of the highest for alcohol dependency. Managers and other professionals have reported they consume more alcohol than any other group in the region, putting them at serious risk of liver and heart disease in later life.

The Cygnet Hospital Harrogate, which offers private alcohol detox programmes for people across the North, says there has been a growing number of people contacting the clinic in need of help. Ward manager Penny Tugman, 48, said: “We have had some very senior people working in professions like law and medicine who just did not realise their problem – alcohol does not respect any level of society.

“There is certainly a link between stress and anxiety and the use of alcohol. When you drink you feel as if you are calming down but in actual fact the side effects create more anxiety – it becomes a vicious circle.

“We’ve seen many patients that are on anti-depressants, they have gone to their doctor to talk about stress at work or depression but have not even been asked about their drinking, since alcohol is socially acceptable.

“It can be so well hidden and people do not realise it is a problem until it is too late.”

Jonathan Philpott, project manager of St Anne’s Alcohol Services in Leeds, which takes private and NHS patients, said the issue has been steadily worsening for several years.

“These are people who have good jobs and professional careers who are trapped by alcohol and use it as a easy way of escaping from stress, but become dependent. It is a cultural thing now to drink at home, more people are doing it.”

The cost to the NHS of treating alcohol related conditions is estimated at £2.7bn a year and NHS North Yorkshire and York has now launched a campaign targeting people who drink at home.

Hidden dangers: Page 5; Comment: Page 10.

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