Leader comment: Cancer can be the deadly price of the demon drink

Alcohol can cause cancer and host of other health complaints that cost Scots 100,000 years of life in 2015, health experts have warned.
You might want to consider how much you've been drinking before buying some more (Picture: John Devlin)You might want to consider how much you've been drinking before buying some more (Picture: John Devlin)
You might want to consider how much you've been drinking before buying some more (Picture: John Devlin)

We all know that alcoholics are damaging their health. But where’s the harm in a drink or two of an evening? And, if it extends to three or four, surely that’s just being sociable?

There is a tendency to talk only about diseases like cirrhosis of the liver when thinking of the harm caused by too much booze or to quietly, disapprovingly, note a heavy drinker’s red, bulbous nose while sipping our glass of red wine.

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But the reality is that a host of serious health problems are linked with consumption of the demon drink – cancer chief among them – and alcoholics are not the only ones to suffer. Strokes and accidental injuries are among the other ways that alcohol can be a killer or cause permanent, debilitating conditions.

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And all this adds up to some 100,000 years of lost or blighted life in a single year, according to a stark calculation by NHS Health Scotland. That’s a lot of death, grief and misery.

If we weigh that against the pleasure many of us get from alcohol, do the scales balance? It seems unlikely. We should all question whether we are imbibing in the spurious belief that it ‘won’t happen to us’ or that ‘if cancer strikes, it’s just fate’.

Alcohol also affects our mental health, leading to thousands of hospital admissions every year.

After winning a years-long court battle with the Scotch Whisky Association, the Scottish Government will introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in May and it can only be hoped this policy will soon bear fruit.

With the Scottish Conservatives calling for a “step-change” in efforts to prevent alcohol-related deaths, it appears there is a broad political consensus about the need to tackle the problem.

Minimum pricing seems like a good start – we will have to see how it works in practice – but regardless of its effectiveness, it should only be the start. As Tory Shadow Health Secretary Miles Briggs pointed out, there should be a “particular focus on Scotland’s most deprived communities” given the poorest Scots are six times more likely to die from alcohol-related diseases than the richest.

This would appear to be a symptom of a broader malaise in society like the hopelessness created by life in the sink estates of our cities.

But this is a problem we should all take seriously and, fortunately, is one we can all do something about. We just need to wake up to the need to do it.