More and more I find myself involved in pastoral situations where the abuse of alcohol is a factor. Someone whose brother died after a long battle with a drinking habit; a lost soul found outside the church regretting her relapse to drink; a homeless man struggling to find somewhere to live because of his addiction. I am sure these stories could be repeated in parishes up and down the country. But what I’d like to know is what response the church nationally is co-ordinating to address this increasing problem. I look at a young lad whose father and grandfather were both alcoholics and I wonder what the future holds for him. I think of the children hanging round supermarkets asking shoppers if anyone will buy them a drink. If only we as a church could spend less time busy with our own internal concerns, and more about reaching out to those who are in the grip of addiction.
As far as Plymouth is concerned, the latest report by the Plymouth PCT makes for quite literally sobering reading:
Misuse of alcohol is more serious and widespread than misuse of drugs and is widespread across Plymouth and not restricted to certain groups. Excess alcohol use leads to liver disease, stroke, heart disease and cancer. In pregnancy it results in foetal alcohol syndrome and in children and adolescence it leads to an increased risk of unprotected sex, assault and accidents. There are increasing numbers of people admitted to Derriford Hospital with alcohol related conditions, increases in amount of drinking amongst young people and women and inequalities in death rates from alcohol for people living in the most deprived areas of the City. Currently it is estimated that there are 10,000 binge drinkers in Plymouth, 46,000 alcohol use disorders, 40,000 hazardous drinkers and 7,000 dependant drinkers. Plymouth has above national levels for binge drinking and admissions attributable to alcohol, but has currently below national levels for deaths from alcohol and chronic liver disease. This will change if current levels of alcohol misuse continue.
All this in a city of 250,000 people. The PCT puts the following conclusion in bold type:
Alcohol is a growing problem in the City especially amongst young people and women, leading to increased admissions for alcohol-related conditions.
Lord, have mercy.