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Support for high-risk alcoholics ‘crucial’ in Corona battle

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DEATH rates among dependent drinkers are predicted to rise if support and treatment services are hit during the Coronavirus crisis.

Advice from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) highlights the need to maintain alcohol support and treatment services despite increased demands on frontline NHS due to the outbreak.

SHAAP, made up of medical and clinical experts at Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health, reports that emergency hospital admissions for alcohol withdrawal are common.

The advisory body also warns that heavy drinkers are at higher risk of contracting diseases including sepsis, pneumonia and Covid-19 and points out that most people with alcohol addiction are currently not in treatment. 

In the first of what will be regular reports on the pandemic impact on alcohol harm reduction, SHAAP suggests it is crucial to manage alcohol-related health issues to avoid additional stress on the NHS.

The increased risk of infection among heavy drinkers, the potential for isolated dependent drinkers to suffer withdrawal and for those in recovery to relapse would make diverting resources at this stage a mistake, says SHAAP.

In the report published on 31 March, the body states: “In a period when resources will be severely stretched, local prioritisation needs to be planned with careful and comprehensive assessment of risks.

“The co-morbidity of alcohol withdrawal and pneumonia can present a significant clinical challenge. 

“Any reduction in alcohol services is likely to lead to greater alcohol-related morbidity and mortality in the medium to long-term. 

“Alcohol liaison services in acute hospitals should be continued where this is possible as these can be very useful in facilitating early discharge of patients with alcohol-related problems and so improve bed availability in acute services.”

The board stressed the need for those undergoing detoxification to receive continued support to complete the therapy and that relapse prevention medication such as Antabuse were ‘crucial to recovery’ and prescribing services should be maintained.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Humphreys is co-founder of The Alcohol-Free Shop and a journalist for more years than she cares to remember. Ex-wife of an alcoholic, enthusiastic amateur musician and a passionate dog lover.

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