Page last updated at 23:28 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 00:28 UK

'Little help' for alcohol abusers

Man drinking pint of lager
The Scottish Government wants to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol

Almost a third of Scottish men and a quarter of women drink at potentially harmful levels but very few are getting help, a study has suggested.

The figures said some 1,172,200 people in Scotland were drinking at hazardous or harmful levels, with 206,000 people alcohol-dependent.

But only about 17,000 Scots accessed treatment for alcohol problems.

The research was commissioned by the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams (Saadat).

Scotland has a 48% higher level of access to specialist alcohol treatment than in England, the report said.

Over the past two years, Scotland has shown the way within the United Kingdom and in Europe with innovative, evidence-based approaches
Dr Michael Farrell
Royal College of Psychiatrists

But none of the Scottish areas achieved even a "medium" level of access to treatment as measured by North American standards, although Greater Glasgow and Clyde came closest.

The Saadat report added not everyone with an alcohol problem required treatment services, with some people managing to overcome alcohol dependence through "natural recovery".

The study, collated in 2006-07, was published by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London.

Saadat chairwoman Dr Maggie Watts said the association had long been concerned about the gap between need and service availability.

"Local alcohol and drug partnerships will be able to use these findings to inform the development of services provided for people with alcohol problems and continue to work to reduce the harms associated with alcohol use", she said.

"The additional investment made by the Scottish Government will support this."

'Seek help'

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "It is worrying only one in 12 Scots with alcohol problems currently access specialist treatment services.

"That means thousands of people whose drinking is affecting their lives, and the lives of their families, are not getting the help they need.

"We need to encourage people to seek help in overcoming their drink problems at an early stage before their health is seriously damaged, as well as ensuring alcohol services have the capacity to provide effective, evidence-based treatment as quickly as possible."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed Scottish Government proposals to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol, but expressed concern at the shortage of alcohol treatment services in Scotland.

Dr Michael Farrell, chairman of the Royal College's addictions faculty, said: "Alcohol misuse has been a neglected issue throughout the United Kingdom for many years.

"Since the 1970s there have been rising rates of alcohol-related harm, but little investment in services.

'Cultural change'

"Over the past two years, however, Scotland has shown the way within the United Kingdom and in Europe with innovative, evidence-based approaches to prevention and treatment."

The Scottish Government welcomed the report, which it said showed access to alcohol treatment services were considerably better in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, but admitted there was "clearly more work to be done" in order to achieve a "long-term cultural change".

A spokesman said: "That is why we are investing a record £120m over the period 2008 to 2011 to both prevent alcohol related problems occurring and develop specialist treatment and support services.

"This is an increase in funding of 230% on the previous three year period."

Labour's Cathy Jamieson said the Scottish Government must do more to ensure that those who struggle with alcohol addiction can access treatment quickly.



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