Suburban drinkers, OAPs and middle-aged revellers spark surprise over booze stats

Alcohol use was discussed at a Stockton Council meeting
-Credit: (Image: PA)

Alcohol use in Stockton is still higher than average, with statistics seeming to show more drinking among women and pensioners.

The figures sparked debate at Stockton Council's health and wellbeing board. Mandy MacKinnon, the council's strategic health and wellbeing manager, said: "Alcohol-related mortality is higher in Stockton than it is in England. Hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions are also significantly higher in Stockton.

"Despite the fact that rates are reducing, the gap between England and Stockton remains the same or very similar. Alcohol remains a significant cause or preventable illness and premature death for our local population, and it contributes to inequalities as a cause of cancer, cardiovascular disease and poor mental wellbeing."

She said 23.7% of adults in Stockton drank above the recommended rates of 14 units per week, along with higher levels of adult binge drinking, according to data from the Office of National Statistics. She referred to a minimum price of 50p per unit by law in Scotland, leading to rates of alcohol-related deaths increasing more slowly than elsewhere in the UK. How do we compare with that? Some of the higher volume beers, ciders and lagers were being sold at less than that."

She added: "Alcohol is of course normalised within our culture. And the evidence base shows that alcohol availability, affordability and acceptability all impact on consumption and therefore on levels of harm."

She said NHS, public health, licensing, community safety, police, care and voluntary workers had embarked on a "multitude of activities" to tackle alcohol-related harm, including treatment, support, outreach, communications and training, with a new campaign starting next month. An alcohol care team at the University Hospital of North Tees will expand to respond to substance misuse too, and the council supported treatment provider Change Grow Live, with over 400 adults in treatment.

'Reaching more people who need the support'

Ms MacKinnon said: "This exceeds the current target set nationally to increase treatment by 20%, something we're really proud of. We are reaching more people who need the support. We also are providing acute support for people who are identified as being ready for detox. We're currently seeing 13 people per quarter. The turnaround is much higher than we expected.

Councillor Steve Nelson, cabinet member for health, referred to statistics of patients with alcohol units recorded in the North-east, saying he was surprised to see there was a higher percentage of female patients than men: "It's not often you see that."

Recorded by age, he pointed out the highest numbers were for people aged 70 and over, with 45% of patients aged 100 and over recorded with alcohol units. Cllr Nelson joked: "There's a message to go to the public - have a few drinks if you want to live a long life."

'Notoriously underreported'

Public health director Sarah Bowman-Abouna said this might be down to how the data is recorded, with older people more likely to be in hospital or in contact with healthcare professionals. She said: "I would have expected middle age to be proportionately larger. We know there's a lot of home drinking in that age group."

She said they needed more specific data for Stockton to dig deeper and understand what was happening.

Cllr John Coulson drew links to deprivation and social media, but Cllr Nelson said: "I think there's a lot of drinking behind those curtains in leafy suburbs. It may be more visible in poorer areas. It's everywhere, isn't it?"

Councillor Steve Nelson and director of public health Sarah Bowman-Abouna from Stockton Council
Councillor Steve Nelson and director of public health Sarah Bowman-Abouna from Stockton Council -Credit:Stockton Council/Teesside Live

Cllr Dan Fagan said of units per week: "That's notoriously underreported, isn't it? It's an old doctor's joke that if a patient tells you they're drinking 14 units a week, you can double it.

"I don't know anybody who drinks less than 14 units a week, if they're being honest. And that's in that hidden middle-aged group.

"I did see some data about Yarm having one of the highest alcohol-related problems or difficulties in the borough from GP records. It crossed all social boundaries, and if you want to see excessive drinking in middle-aged women you just have to go on Yarm High Street on a Friday or a Saturday."

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