Taken literally, that is the message contained in the more sensational headlines yesterday. In fact the news story is the proposal to make available to persons at high risk level of alcohol dependency in England and Wales a drug called nalmefene. it has the effect of reducing the pleasure which the brain registers from the consumption of alcohol and therefore removing the urge to drink more. Unlike some other drugs aimed at preventing alcohol consumption nalmefene, we are told, does not generally cause dangerous side effects. It works by removing the desire to continue drinking, rather than setting up an adverse reaction to alcohol.
Many health professionals welcome the move. They believe that the cost of the drug (currently in the region of £3 per tablet) will be more than offset by the savings to the National Health Service, where costs of dealing with alcohol related disease are soaring. Others favour minimum pricing, and most agree that long term education and change of societal habits will be the most effective cure for our society’s ills.
The main talking point for the man in the street (or perhaps the woman in the Clapham winebar) is the definition of “high risk level”. According to the World Health Organisation, this is 7.5 units per day for men and 5 per day for a woman. That works out at the equivalent of three pints of beer or two medium sized glasses of wine per day. Those figures have caused much consternation. But the fact is that alcohol related illness has soared over the last thirty years. We are drinking far more than previous generations. The good news is that levels seem to have dropped a little in the last couple of years. Whether we accept the WHO recommended levels or not) and many of the figures bandied about over the years have been purely arbitrary, we ignore medical advice at our peril.