Health insurance company AOK reported that in Dortmund, Germany there were almost 6000 days of sick leave due to alcohol last year.
The insurance company noted that even without festivals and social gatherings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people in Dortmund were absent from work on 5,938 days in 2021 due to alcohol problems. This shows that there is a significant productivity loss caused by the products of the alcohol industry in the city of Dortmund, Germany.
Dortmund is the third-largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia after Cologne and Düsseldorf, and the eighth-largest city of Germany, with a population of 588,250 inhabitants as of 2021, according to Wikipedia. There were 230 working days in Germany in 2021.
Alcohol harm in Germany and lack of policy solutions
According to the Federal Ministry of Health,
- 6.7 million people of the 18- to 64-year-old population in Germany have high-risk alcohol use.
- About 1.6 million people in this age group are considered alcohol dependent.
A 2020 study by the German Central Office for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS) estimated that the direct and indirect costs from disease due to alcohol amount to €57 billion every year.
But government revenue only reaches a tiny fraction of this with €3.2 billion from alcohol taxation every year.
But there are some small, positive developments for evidence-based, public health oriented alcohol policy development in the country. In March of 2021, the German parliamentary health committee held a hearing to discuss Germany’s alcohol policy. The committee concluded, that there are evidence-based, cost-effective policy solutions available to reduce and prevent alcohol harm in Germany. What is lacking is political will in Germany and the EU to advance action to solve these problems. After the federal elections, the new coalition government committed to banning alcohol advertising in Germany and the newly appointed federal drug policy commissioner of the government expressed the need to raise the legal age limit for alcohol consumption in Germany.
Changing the alcohol norm, promoting alcohol-free environments and periods
On a more individual level of how people can take care of their health, health insurer AOK is advocating for a period of going alcohol-free for the lent season to reduce the harm caused by heavy alcohol use.
Abstaining from alcohol for a while is good for body and soul and can be an important experience that contributes to a changed use of alcohol in the long term,” said Jörg Kock, AOK Service Region Manager, as per RUHR 24.Jörg Kock, AOK Service Region Manager
A period of going alcohol-free can have long-term benefits for health and well-being. This includes better cardiovascular health, improved stomach and liver health, better sleep, sharper concentration, cutting extra body weight, reduced risk of cancer, and an overall stronger immune system.
For instance, Dry January is a challenge for people to go alcohol-free for the first month of the year. What the AOK is calling for is a similar time period. Alcohol-free months or time periods have long-lasting positive effects on people. For example, a study analyzing the effect of Dry January looked at more than 850 British participants and found that most were still consuming less alcohol than they used to even six months after the challenge.
In another study, researchers from the Royal Free Hospital in the UK investigated how being alcohol free for a time period helps with health. They followed up with 141 people who were consuming on average over twice the amount of alcohol as the UK weekly low risk guidelines (14 units a week) recommend. Of all participants, 94 went alcohol-free completely and the rest continued as usual. Blood samples taken at the end of the research found:
Compared with those who continued to consume alcohol in high-risk levels those who went sober for a month showed improvements in:
- Blood pressure,
- Cancer-related growth factors, and
- Growth factors implicated in the development of skin cancer.