As a sober addict, I was sad to read that Elizabeth Robinson’s report on the over-provision of alcohol in Shetland was criticised.
It is the NHS’s responsibility to write from the perspective of what is best for our health and that seems to be what was done. Next year, the licensing board will make a decision about the future of alcohol sales within Shetland and it is important for them to get the opinions of as many different groups as possible.
We know that there is a problem with over-provision and also that there is a serious problem around unhealthy drinking patterns within Shetland. The challenge is to address these issues while still giving those who want to drink sensibly that opportunity.
Regarding the idea of changing sales times, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that restricting trading hours reduces alcohol-related harm. At present, the window of time until 10am when alcohol can first be sold gives addicts the opportunity to practice sober skills.
I feel that opening that window wider, until lunch time, would have a minimal effect on someone who is, for example, doing a quick shop during their lunch break, while at the same time, giving an alcohol dependent person an extra two or three hours of sobriety.
When I drank I always had to make sure I had enough to cope with those first few shaky hours in the morning.
Yes, people will “stockpile” to cope with the morning shortage, but that happens anyway. I was not alone in that when I drank I always had to make sure I had enough to cope with those first few shaky hours in the morning.
The real advantage of opening the window wider would be for people who know they have a problem and are trying to change. They could schedule appointments during sober hours, increasing their chances of learning new coping strategies, dealing with other issues in their lives and learning new skills.
I feel that allowing “shop” sales to commence from lunchtime onwards could be part of a balanced response to our problems taking into account the majority of people who drink sensibly while also helping those who are trying to change their habits for the better.
The decisions made by the licensing board next year will have a long-term impact directly or indirectly on everyone in Shetland. We have the opportunity to help people living in the torture of active addiction and at the same time reduce the number of future addicts.
I feel that NHS Shetland should be congratulated for putting forward strong and specific suggestions and opening up a much-needed debate.