Underreporting of alcohol abuse: A growing concern during alcohol awareness week

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In recognition of Alcohol Awareness Week (1-7 July), nurse-led support organisation RedArc highlights the pervasive issue of alcohol abuse among those it supports, often hidden behind other primary concerns.

Many individuals use alcohol as a coping mechanism for underlying physical and mental health conditions, with some in denial about their dependency. This makes it challenging to identify the true extent of alcohol reliance, suggesting that cases are likely to be significantly underreported.

Christine Husbands, Commercial Director of RedArc, explains: “People drink for various reasons, and it takes time for them to open up about it. Once they do, we can help address the main cause as well as the secondary issue of drinking.”

Alcohol dependence across various groups

RedArc’s experience indicates that alcohol dependence spans multiple demographics.

Professionals in high-stress roles often mask their addiction, fearing damage to their credibility and job security. Many high-functioning alcohol dependents don’t consider themselves addicted, viewing their drinking as a way to unwind after a busy day. However, using alcohol to manage stress can conceal deeper issues that need addressing. These individuals face similar risks of serious illness as those who acknowledge their misuse.

The shift to remote work has exacerbated this problem. With fewer interactions between employers and employees and more opportunities to drink discreetly, some individuals find it easier to hide their reliance on alcohol.

Financial strain is another factor linked to excessive drinking, affecting all ages and demographics, especially during the cost-of-living crisis. Whether a first-time home buyer, a middle-income family, or someone nearing retirement, anyone can be affected by alcoholism, which does not discriminate by age, gender, or income.

Sarah Dennis, the head of international at Towergate Health & Protection, notes, “Alcohol misuse can be a significant problem for overseas employees. Understanding the additional pressures they face is crucial for employers to offer the right support.”

The issues for local nationals and employees working abroad

Employees working abroad, whether temporarily or permanently, might turn to alcohol to relax or to ease social interactions, facilitating their integration. They might also use alcohol to cope with feelings of loneliness, isolation, or job-related stress. Cultural practices, such as Japan’s ‘nomikai’—after-work drinking parties—can make avoiding alcohol difficult.

Alcohol now more accessible

In some countries, alcohol is significantly cheaper, making it more accessible. For example, in regions like the Far East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, a half-litre of beer costs approximately £0.77 in China, £0.90 in Belarus, and £1.00 in Colombia, compared to around £6.50 in London.

Additionally, countries that previously banned alcohol are relaxing their regulations. Saudi Arabia is set to open its first alcohol shop in Riyadh for non-Muslim expatriates in over 70 years. Similarly, the UAE and Qatar now permit alcohol sales to non-Muslims over 21 in hotels, clubs, and bars.

Support for alcohol-related issues

RedArc finds that individuals often reveal the extent of their drinking only after several follow-up calls, once they feel safe and unjudged.

Building a therapeutic relationship with a trusted third party over time is crucial for those dependent on alcohol to disclose their problem. This often requires long-term support from clinically trained experts who can address both the primary condition and secondary issues like alcohol misuse.

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Support may include emotional assistance, guidance in navigating NHS support, charities such as AA, and providing therapies or counseling if needed. Family members affected by alcoholism also require support.

Such assistance is often available through employee benefits like EAPs, group risk, and PMI benefits, without the need to file a claim.

Christine Husbands adds: “Reaching for a drink to de-stress is not unusual, but if it becomes the norm rather than the exception, there may be underlying issues. We see drinking affecting various groups for different reasons, and ensuring the right support is crucial in tackling both the underlying cause and the substance misuse.”

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