Alcohol Use Disorders (129) Do health workers have adequate knowledge? (11)

7 March, 2024

Dear Richard Velleman and all,

You make a good case that "the issue is whether a person’s drinking is causing harm or problems to anyone – to the person drinking, or to others (eg their family or friends), or to wider society. So it is NOT about some fixed amount of alcohol consumed, it is about the consequences of the consumption".

Given that there is so much confusion and disagreement about standard drinks/units, a focus on 'whether a person’s drinking is causing harm or problems to anyone' seems highly pragmatic and useful.

What harms are we talking about? The UK NHS says: 'As well as causing serious health problems, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to social problems for some people, such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness. If someone loses control over their drinking and has an excessive desire to drink, it's known as dependent drinking (alcoholism).' These highly visible harms typically only occur among the heaviest drinkers.

Arguably the majority of those who drink excessively, say, 14-42 (8-24 standard drinks) units of alcohol per week will not be visibly manifesting such harms. And yet their alcohol consumption may well be harming their long-term health and wellbeing, and the health of others, including mental and phsyical health.

It seems that every health worker needs to be empowered to identify and address, in each patient, the hidden harms of alcohol (and how to prevent them) as well as the visible harms. How well are health workers able to do this currently, and what resources might assist them?

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: