Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has said there is a need to break the taboo around alcohol addiction, after it was revealed the number of alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland had reached the highest on record.
The figures by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency for 2017 showed an increase for the fourth consecutive year, with 303 deaths due to alcohol-related causes. It represents a 30 per cent rise in the past decade.
"It is sad to read these figures, not least given the poor quality of life the deceased will have experienced in the lead-up to their death. Anyone with relatives living with alcohol addiction will know how devastating and incredibly poignant the situation is, recognising so many opportunities lost in their lives to the pain and debilitation of addiction," said the South Belfast MLA.
"These figures point to three crucial issues. Firstly, we need to see the introduction of minimum unit price for alcohol, as has taken place in Scotland in 2018. However, for this we require a fully functioning Assembly. The Department of Health should commence an exploration exercise to scope this out, so when the Assembly returns, this could be brought forward as a matter of urgency.
"Secondly, we need to recognise where there is a disproportionate number of these alcohol-related deaths - in socially-deprived communities. With funding to community and voluntary groups working in these areas experiencing year-on-year cuts, the Departments for Communities and Health have to arrest this and start adequately resourcing those programmes with the experience and ability to support people living with alcohol addiction.
"Lastly, there is a wider need for society to recognise alcohol addiction as an illness, many times brought about through mental ill health, debt and family breakdown. It's time this taboo subject is given the compassion it deserves."