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Professor David Nutt at the Garden

February saw the first of our Health Talks, suggested by our community and in response to our conversations around the health priorities of the South Bristol Locality Partnership. We were delighted to welcome Professor David Nutt to talk about ‘Alcohol and How to Reduce its Harms’ and as feedback said “a world-renowned researcher was in my local park!”


David Nutt has an impressive CV and is an international expert, but his humble beginnings date back to his childhood spent in Hartcliffe and remembering the airport nearby. His interest in alcohol research started as a result of realising the harmful effects of alcohol on body and mind as he sadly observed 3 of his small group of fellow students suffering or dying from the effects of alcohol too young.


Following a healthy Redcatch Community Garden delicious meal, David kicked off the talk with a question relating to Amy Winehouse – what killed her? The answer: acute alcohol poisoning followed by a period of not drinking. This revelation immediately grabbed the audience's attention.


David then proceeded to recount his own experience of being dismissed by the Home Office for asserting that alcohol should be recognised as a drug and highlighting its alarming role in the deaths of men under 50, with an increasing number of young women facing similar risks.


Compelling data showed that the number of liver-related deaths have been steadily climbing since the 1970s, now with 80% of liver deaths due to alcohol and liver deaths compared with other health mortalities continuing to rise – a direct association with the accessibility of alcohol that we see today. Garages, supermarkets, corner shops - it's everywhere now. Other countries such as Sweden, after acknowledging their previous problems with alcoholism, have greatly reduced their numbers of alcohol-related deaths simply by reducing the number of places you can buy it.


Feedback from our audience indicated their surprise at the frequency of alcohol-related visits to A&E, among other insights. They were particularly struck by the notion that even modest reductions in alcohol consumption can have a significant impact on our overall health.


So, what to do about alcohol? 1. Tell the Truth. David explained how his honesty got him the sack, but went on to show how toxic alcohol is to almost all our organs! He revealed that if alcohol was invented today, it would not pass drug safety guidelines and if treated as a food additive the maximum allowable exposure per year would be 100mls. Scary stuff!

However, David admits that alcohol is a good social lubricant, and he is not anti-alcohol as such, but rather as a doctor, he is deeply committed to understanding the scientific basis for its harmful effects on individuals, their social circles, and the broader community. His passion lies in effectively disseminating this message to raise awareness.


Reducing the harms of alcohol is one of the health priorities of the South Bristol Locality Partnership. During our community discussions, we found that engaging in conversations about this topic proved to be particularly challenging due to alcohol's prevalence in society at large. When we sought input from community members on potential strategies for mitigating the impacts of alcohol, education emerged as a recurring suggestion. David's presentation served as a direct response to this need and the event undoubtedly served as an educational platform for the audience.


2. Optimise Treatment. Alcohol abuse and dependence have the widest treatment gap among all mental disorders and less than 10% of patients with alcohol abuse and dependence are treated. The reasons why are complex but should not be a reason for those who are struggling to not seek help and support. We have added the details of local support organisations at the bottom of this blog.


3. Reduce Consumption. The minimum pricing of alcohol per unit in Scotland has worked to some extent to reduce admissions to intensive care units, but the Alcohol Industry is a strong advocate and the British Government is yet to take the glaring data showing that in the last 40 years alcohol consumption has doubled - as the real cost has halved and alcohol-related deaths have increased - seriously. As feedback from our audience noted, the "level of government complicity and corruption around alcohol” was the most surprising part of the talk.


Education is important and should start early. The percentage of 15–16-year-olds who have been drunk at least once a month has increased, although there is evidence to suggest that young people are shunning alcohol and asking for alcohol-free events in colleges and universities. However, Prof Nutt reminded us to “know our healthy limit”, “keep under 14 units a week” and “don’t drink unless it is beneficial.”


So, what is the future for alcohol-related harms? David explored the concept of alcohol alternatives during his discussion. He proposed that if we could retain the positive aspects of alcohol while eliminating its harmful effects, we could significantly alleviate the burden on public health. This approach holds promise for reducing the negative consequences associated with alcohol consumption in the future.


We discussed changing policy, making alcohol less available – how crazy is it for garages to sell booze and the corner shop to allow under-age sales?! There is a lack of education on the harmful effects of alcohol in schools and increasing product placement on TV. Perhaps there is a role of TikTok and Social influencers to spread the message of harm and Government will act as they are now doing for tobacco.


This first Redcatch Community Garden health talk was a great success and we are very grateful to Professor Nutt for spending the evening with us. We are also grateful to Knowle West Healthy Living Centre for sponsoring this event.


We intend to invite more speakers for future events and we're eager to align our topics with the interests of our community. Please feel free to share any subjects or themes you'd like us to explore in the comments below!


Further Reading:




Support Organisations:

Bristol Drugs Project: https://www.bdp.org.uk/

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