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Br J Gen Pract. 2008 June 1; 58(551): 435–436.
PMCID: PMC2418998

Alcohol policies

Woody Caan, Professor of Public Health

An essay in the April issue of the BJGP1 spells out clearly the need for a truly ‘strategic’, multilevel policy response to the growing problem of alcohol-related illness in the UK. Even in core primary care services, like maternity care or family planning, patterns of alcohol use across the lifespan cause multi-faceted problems.2 Within schools' revised personal, social, and health education programme, alcohol education is a prominent area, but we are struggling now to create good learning materials and to build confidence among teachers that they can help ‘make being drunk socially unacceptable’.1

My own accumulating observations in community settings, around domestic violence, or children entering local authority care, just drove me to join the new special interest group for Alcohol and Violence (launched by the UK Public Health Association). At the political level, we need to ‘resist corporate pressure’1 not just from the alcohol industry but from a wider leisure and tourism sector that has a powerful hold over the present government. At a professional level, too, we ought to acknowledge that most NHS provision for alcohol dependence is ineffective, and that alcoholics stay away in droves!3

In the course of re-thinking our alcohol sevices, it may be useful to look at more effective partnerships between health professionals and the voluntary sector, a this appears to be synergistic in helping patients with alcohol, family, and employment problems.4 Across England, local authorities and primary care trusts are now working out specific priorities for ‘local area agreements’, within which healthy communities are a national priority. GPs are uniquely placed to introduce credible and creative ideas around alcohol into these local agreements.


1. Mirza ZA, Lakasing E. Government strategy on alcohol. Time to revise legislation and implement wider interventions. Br J Gen Pract. 2008;58(549):286–287. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Caan W. Remember the links in the causal chain of fetal alcohol effects. Lancet. 2007;369(9575):1789. [PubMed]
3. Luty J. Specialised alcohol treatment services are a luxury the NHS cannot afford. Br J Psychiatry. 2008;192:245–247. [PubMed]
4. Baldacchino A, Cann W, Munn-Giddings C. Mutual aid groups in psychiatry and substance misuse. Ment Health Subst Use. 2008;1:104–117.

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners