Student article series

Alcohol Awareness Week: The role of AHPs in prevention and treatment

Alcohol Awareness Week

Alcohol Awareness Week spans from the 3-9th July and is managed and hosted by Alcohol Change UK. This year’s theme is on “Alcohol and cost”.

Alcohol affects millions of people each year, economically and socially as well as having negative health impacts. Annually, the emergency services and the NHS spend an estimated £21 billion within society. Alcohol awareness week aims to raise awareness and improve the support and prevention in relation to alcohol abuse and to save lives.

AHPs and Alcohol Awareness

Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) play an important role in alcohol awareness with Dietitians, Occupational Therapists, Radiographers, Paramedics and Speech and Language therapists all playing a key part in prevention and treatment.

In total, there are 14 AHP professions and they make up the third largest clinical workforce in the NHS. AHP’s work in a variety of settings that include hospitals, the community and patient’s homes. Furthermore, their number one aim is to support patients physically, psychologically, socially and cognitively.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that contains Ethanol and it is produced through fermenting grains, fruits and other sugars. Alcohol is not digested in the same way as food as it is absorbed right into the bloodstream and travels to all of our organs.

The metabolism of alcohol mostly occurs in the liver as well as in other body tissues. When alcohol is broken down its most common metabolic pathway uses enzymes to break the alcohol down into acetaldehyde. It is further broken down into acetate and then finally into CO2 and water for easy excretion. However, acetaldehyde is what makes alcohol harmful as it is a toxin that has negative effects on the body such as liver damage.


Costs of Alcohol

On average, individuals spend tens of thousands on alcohol over the course of a lifetime.  Each year, excessive alcohol consumption decreases millions of people’s mental and physical health both short-term and long-term.

Short term health implications of excessive drinking include:

  • Violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Injuries
  • Pregnancy miscarriages

Long term health implications of excessive drinking include:

  • Different types of cancers such as head and neck, oesophagus, colon etc.
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)


Alcohol Recommendations

Alcohol units are based on the size of the alcoholic drink and its strength. According to UK guidelines, it is recommended for individuals to consume a maximum of 14 units per week, spread across 3 days or more. There are several benefits of reducing your alcohol consumption such as:

  • Improved mood, memory and quality of sleep
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of cancers, liver disease, hypertension and stroke
  • Help with weight management

The Role of the Dietitian

Registered dietitians provide individuals with healthy drinking standards to limit harm to health and educate on different drinks values. Examples of healthy drinking standards are listed below to encourage safe and healthy consumption:

  • Recommended to not regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
  • Alternate an alcoholic drink with a glass of water – this will help to prevent you becoming dehydrated.
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach. If you do reach for snacks while drinking, choose a healthier option.
  • Drinking in rounds can mean you end up drinking more than you intended. Instead, drink at your own pace.
  • Try cutting down with a friend, as you’ll be more likely to stick to it with moral support.
  • Eat a healthy dinner before you start drinking so you’re not tempted to go for less healthy options later in the evening.
  • Pace yourself by taking small sips.
  • Avoid “binge drinking” – it’s not advisable to “save up” your units to splurge at the weekend.
  • If you’re drinking white wine, why not add a splash of soda water to help the same number of units last longer?

As discussed, alcohol can cause a myriad of social, economic and health related costs that AHP’s work together in the prevention and promotion of healthy alcohol recommendations and on to diagnosing and treating the long term effects of excess alcohol consumption.

Alcohol awareness week is all about raising awareness of alcohol abuse and campaigning for change.

You can get involved in alcohol awareness week by signing up on Alcohol Change UK’s website. For more information on alcohol awareness check out the links below: