NICE backs minimum alcohol price to beat binge drinkers

Alcohol should carry a minimum price to curb dangerous drinking habits, NICE has recommended.

The guideline, issued on Wednesday, recommends setting a minimum price per unit for alcohol, as well as controls on advertising and availability.

One in four adults regularly drinks above the recommended level of alcohol, with impacts on health, antisocial behaviour, crime and work absenteeism, NICE said.

Under the guidance, GPs will be asked to identify and advise patients at risk of harm from alcohol abuse.

Patients presenting with symptoms of alcohol misuse, such as hypertension or sleeping disorder, should be asked about drinking habits and advised on ways to cut down, NICE said.

Practices will also be asked to use a certified alcohol consumption questionnaire to identify at-risk patients.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that practices would be in control of how the recommendations would work at practice level. ‘It is for practices to determine how best to implement the guideline,' he said.

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field welcomed the report and said GPs witness first hand the ‘dreadful physical and emotional toll' of alcohol misuse in the community.

He said: ‘The clear signposting to other health and support services will also help GPs across the country decide on the right course of action for patients, appropriate to their age and the extent of their problem.'

NICE also unveiled guidance on treating the complications of alcohol abuse, including advice on patients referrals.

Heavy drinkers at risk of experiencing seizures and other complications should be referred to hospital immediately. GPs should also be on the lookout for the serious brain disorder Wernicke's encephalopathy, whose symptoms may be overlooked.

The guideline is the first coordinated approach to treating people with physical harm caused by heavy drinking.

The NHS spends over £2bn each year treating the effects of alcohol misuse.

Editor's blog: Douze points from Norway to minimum alcohol pricing

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