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Is Alcohol Substitute the Key to Binge Drinking Culture in the UK?

David Nutt used to work on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, also being a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. He is concerned about the damaging impact of binge drinking in the UK, so is suggesting an unusual solution. Instead of just encouraging people to drink sensibly, he is working on an alcohol substitute that will still allow individuals to become inebriated, but with far fewer negative side effects than normal alcohol. It is doubtful that this new substance would be able to eliminate all of the dangers of binge drinking, but it could possibly improve the situation.

The Cost of Alcohol Abuse in the UK

It has been estimated that alcohol abuse currently costs the UK about £6 billion every year. This money is spent on providing NHS healthcare, dealing with alcohol-related crime, accidents caused by drunk driving, and lost productivity. Over half the adult population binge drinks at some time or another - this is the most dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption as it involves consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. There is no doubt that excessive drinking involves heavy costs for society, but it also means a great deal of suffering for the individual involved in this behaviour. This could include:

  • leading to alcoholism
  • causing people to develop depression or worsen existent depression
  • increasing the likelihood of obesity as the person is consuming empty calories (a standard pint of lager contains 227 calories)
  • increasing the risk of developing certain cancers
  • leading to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing heart disease
  • leading to type 2 diabetes
  • the inability to make good decisions and the increased likelihood of taking foolish risks
  • more likelihood of engaging in crime or becoming a victim of crime
  • young people who drink destroying their life before it has really started
  • those committing suicide would have been drinking alcohol beforehand.
How Would an Alcohol Substitute Work?

David Nutt is working on a substance that would target the same neurotransmitters as alcohol; this means that it would create similar effects. The new drug would be similar in chemical composition to the benzodiazepine group, which includes things like Valium. The hope is that this substance could be created so that it would eliminate the more negative side effects of alcohol; things like the increased risk of cancer. Most interestingly, the drug can be designed so that the first three doses create a cumulative effect but after this there is no further increase - in other words, there would be no benefit to drinking more than three of these drinks. Another possibility with this alcohol substitute is the availability of another drug for sobering up that would work very quickly to reverse the effects.

Will the Alcohol Substitute Be Safe for Alcoholics?

The idea that there could be a safe way for alcoholics to drink again is regularly promoted in the press. Even if this new alcohol substitute turns out to be a great success, it is doubtful that it would be a good option for recovering alcoholics. The problem is that these individuals usually engage in this behaviour because of some underlying reason. In order for them to build a good life, it is important for them to remain free of any mind-altering substances. Even if it were possible for them to only become mildly intoxicated using this new substance, it would likely trigger the desire to return to real alcohol.

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