With nearly 90,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions, including more than 2,100 children under 18, it is clear the West Midlands has a drink problem.
Nine out of 10 adults see nothing wrong with a glass of wine or a beer to unwind after work or enjoying a drink with a meal, they are blinded to health dangers by the idea that only binge drinking is dangerous.
Government officials and West Midlands Police, as part of The Regional Alcohol Group, have launched the Big Drink Debate to find out what can be done to improve the region’s unhealthy relationship with booze.
Key to the six-week debate is an on-line questionnaire at www.bigdrinkdebate.co.uk which aims to find out how excessive drinking impacts on people’s lives, health services and work.
In 2005, nearly 2,700 people in the West Midlands died from alcohol-related conditions, such as liver disease, and on average 54,683 drink-related crimes are committed every year across the region - with 39,190 being violent and 763 of a sexual nature.
But as the credit crunch tightens its grip causing financial uncertainty and supermarkets jostle for supremacy by selling cut-price alcoholic drinks, there are fears those drinking at home could be doing themselves more harm than they realise.
Dr Rashmi Shukla, regional director of public health, said: “A big part of this whole debate is to make people aware of how much alcohol they’re actually consuming, because there are so many products of varying strengths that it’s not as simple as saying a small glass of wine or half a lager is a single unit any more.
“In all honesty I don’t check what alcohol percentage is on a bottle of wine before I buy it, which probably means I drink more units than I think I do.
“Most people do drink sensibly and safely, but the amount we’re drinking has gone up over the years, seemingly without anyone noticing.
“There are obvious problems such as the prevalence of binge drinking among young people, but there are also hidden dangers with people drinking at home, in terms of developing a dependency or becoming violent towards their partners or families.
“This is why this debate is so important. We need to find out what impact alcohol is having on our society, and what people in the West Midlands think needs to be done, what will work and what won’t.”
Earlier this week Annette Fleming, chief executive of Birmingham-based alcohol advice charity Aquarius, said there was a growing trend for parents to get drunk at home in front of their children, as more people buy cheap wine or beer from local supermarkets.
“Far too many people think it is fine to drink a bottle a night and say to themselves ‘I am not causing a problem, I am at home and therefore I don’t have a problem.”
Chief Constable Paul Scott-Lee, of West Midlands Police also voiced fears over the growing drinking-at-home trend, as despite a fall in overall violent crime, incidents of domestic violence had increased.
He added: “More than 50,000 people go out on Broad Street over a weekend, the majority of which have a great time without any trouble, but there is still a minority that make it difficult.
“I don’t think the police should be saying where alcohol should be sold or how much it should cost, that’s a matter for the Government and the public to debate, we don’t live in a police state.
“Our relationship with alcohol in the West Midlands has definitely changed over the past decade or so. Where before it was good to brag about how long it took to get drunk, the big boast seems to be around ‘speed drinking’ to see how quickly people can become drunk.”