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‘Harder to kick than heroin’: 21,000 alcohol-related Norfolk hospital admissions in a year

Rehabilitated ex-offender and alcoholic, Liz Ellis. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Rehabilitated ex-offender and alcoholic, Liz Ellis. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Norfolk’s alcohol crisis is today deepening, as drink-related deaths have hit a 10-year high in Norwich and almost 60 people a day in Norfolk are being admitted to hospital with conditions linked to booze.

Tod Sullivan.
Picture: Nick ButcherTod Sullivan. Picture: Nick Butcher

Latest data from Public Health England showed 76 people suffered alcohol-related deaths in the city in 2017/18 - up from a low of 48 in 2011 and higher than any time since 2008.

Countywide 434 people died an alcohol-related death in 2017/18, and 21,331 were admitted to hospital with conditions which could be attributable, at least in part, to alcohol - 58 a day.

Some 6,146 admissions were recorded when alcohol was the main cause of the hospital visit - this was up from 4,775 in 2008/2009 - a rise of 29pc.

Liz Ellis, 50 and from Taverham, spent half her life as an alcoholic - she was diagnosed with alcoholism at 25.

Liam Byrne. 
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Liam Byrne. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Ms Ellis has now been sober for eight years, but she said the figures did not shock her as she knew the devastating impact drink could have.

“When I was in my second rehab in Cromer, I was in my late 20s,” she said. “My husband phoned me up saying he didn’t want me back. I arrived in Norwich and it just escalated.”

Ms Ellis turned to crime and also suffered mental health problems. Now she is working with various charities to help others but she said: “Alcohol is the most available drug and the hardest drug to get off, it’s harder than heroin. Alcohol is deadly. Anybody that wants to stop, I will help them.”

It is not just alcoholics who are impacted. Tod Sullivan’s father Paul, who had been drinking since a teenager, died from conditions related to alcoholism in 2004.

Hands holding glasses with beer on a table at pub in London. A group of friends is enjoying beer time in the city, close up on the glasses.Hands holding glasses with beer on a table at pub in London. A group of friends is enjoying beer time in the city, close up on the glasses.

Mr Sullivan, from Beccles, is a mental health campaigner and encounters alcohol often in his work. He said: “It’s impacted me a lot more later in life, there were not many days I interacted with my dad where he wasn’t under the influence.”

Mr Sullivan’s father was a high-functioning alcoholic, meaning he still held down a job and appeared to lead a normal life.

“In my experience alcohol is one of the most difficult things to deal with,” he said. “And it’s so ridiculously cheap. If you had told me the number of people going to hospital had risen by 50pc I wouldn’t be surprised as you can see it, and over the last 10 years people have just got more to worry about.”

This week is Children of Alcoholics Week and Mr Sullivan said: “Like a lot of children of alcoholics I didn’t really realise the impact as a child and he was not abusive or anything like that. But when you grow up around addiction you are used to unpredictability.

Tim Sweeting. Photo: Soul ChurchTim Sweeting. Photo: Soul Church

“You become a bit people pleasing, you find it very hard to say no, and you have shame. In my situation I was running a small business badly and when it went under I tried to take my own life.”

Liam Byrne, chairman of the cross-party parliamentary group for children of alcoholics, has highlighted how hospital admissions related to alcohol rose while councils cut their budgets for alcohol and drug treatment.

A Freedom of Information Request from Mr Byrne showed between 2017/18 and 2018/19 Norfolk County Council stripped £631,000 from its budget for the services - an 8pc cut.

Mr Byrne, whose father died after a lifelong struggle with alcohol in 2015, said: “Every child of an alcoholic comes to learn the brutal hard way that we can’t change things for our parents – but we can change things for our children.

“But frankly that’s harder if addiction treatment budgets are being cut left, right and centre. What this year’s data shows is that it’s simply a false economy. We’re spending money dealing with A&E admissions when we should be trying to tackle the addiction that lands people in hospital in the first place.”

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, said while his services had not noticed a marked increase in alcohol abuse, it was an issue for many clients.

He said: “Alcohol is so often used to help people cope with stressful situations, for example homelessness. It’s rarely the cause and often the symptom of what’s going on.”

Clive Lewis, Labour’s Norwich South MP, said: “When this government came to power, drug and alcohol services were commissioned, provided and properly funded by the NHS.

“Now we’ve got Tory-run Norfolk County Council squeezing and squeezing new providers of the service because the county is having to make hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts at the behest of their own Conservative government.

“It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens when, yet again, funding is cut for services facing increasing demand itself created by cuts to other preventative services such as mental health. That’s what’s behind these awful figures.”

Graeme Malcolm, services manager at Change Grow Live in Norfolk, which provides drug and alcohol treatment, said: “Addressing alcohol misuse in Norwich and across Norfolk is a key priority for us, which is why we have made it easier and more convenient for people to access free and confidential support when and where they need it.

“There is now a drop-in alcohol service in Norwich where people can turn up and ask for help there and then, without the need for an appointment or referral.

“Our specialist alcohol workers provide group or one-to-one support depending on people’s needs, where the aim is to identify and address some of the underlying factors that can lead to alcohol misuse. Where people need more intensive support, such as help with detox, this can now be provided in a community drop-in setting or even in people’s homes, where people can remain within their communities - saving them the time, disruption and possible cost of a residential intervention.”

• To access help for alcohol addiction in Norfolk call 01603 514096 or email norfolk.info@cgl.org.uk, in Suffolk contact Turning Point on 0300 123 0872 or email suffolk@turning-point.co.uk. To contact The National Association for Children of Alcoholics, call 0800 358 3456.

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