Quality Standards
Issued: August 2011
QS11

Alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use quality standard

Introduction and overview

This quality standard covers the care of children (aged 10–15 years), young people (aged 16–17 years) and adults (aged 18 years and over) drinking in a harmful way and those with alcohol dependence in all NHS-funded settings. It also includes opportunistic screening and brief interventions for hazardous and harmful drinkers. The quality standard addresses the prevention and management of Wernicke's encephalopathy but does not cover the separate management of other physical and mental health disorders associated with alcohol use.

Introduction

Alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use are associated with increased risk of physical and mental health comorbidities including gastrointestinal disorders (in particular liver disease), neurological and cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety disorders and ultimately, premature death. It is estimated that 24% of people aged between 16 and 65 in England consume alcohol in a way that is potentially or actually harmful to their health or well-being. Depending on the diagnostic criteria used, alcohol dependence affects between 3% and 6% of people. Brief interventions can be effective in reducing drinking in hazardous and harmful drinkers, but people with alcohol dependence and some harmful drinkers will require more specialist alcohol services. Alcohol misuse is also an increasing problem in children and young people, with over 24,000 treated in the NHS for alcohol-related problems in 2008 and 2009. Current practice across the country is varied and access to a range of specialist alcohol services varies as a consequence. This quality standard describes markers of high-quality, cost-effective care that, when delivered collectively, should contribute to improving the effectiveness, safety and experience of care for harmful drinkers and people with alcohol dependence.

Alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use are associated with increased risk of physical and mental health comorbidities including gastrointestinal disorders (in particular liver disease), neurological and cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety disorders and, ultimately, premature death.

This quality standard describes markers of high-quality, cost-effective care that, when delivered collectively, should contribute to improving the effectiveness, safety and experience of care for harmful drinkers and people with alcohol dependence in the following ways:

  • Preventing people from dying prematurely.

  • Enhancing quality of life for people with long-term conditions.

  • Ensuring that people have a positive experience of care.

  • Treating and caring for people in a safe environment and protecting them from avoidable harm.

The 2011/12 Adult Social Care Outcome Framework is available from www.gov.uk.

It is also expected that this quality standard will contribute to reducing alcohol-related hospital admissions and readmissions to hospital.

Overview

This quality standard refers to harmful drinking and alcohol dependence collectively as 'alcohol misuse'. Where a statement refers exclusively to harmful drinking, alcohol dependence or hazardous drinking, this is explicitly stated. Definitions of these terms can be found in Developmental sources. The term 'alcohol misuse' is a working definition taken from NICE clinical guideline 115 and is not used as a diagnostic term or to imply intentionality.

The quality standard for alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use requires that services should be commissioned from and coordinated across all relevant agencies encompassing the whole care pathway. An integrated, multidisciplinary approach to provision of services is fundamental to the delivery of high-quality care to people who misuse alcohol. A specialist alcohol service is one in which the primary role is the assessment and management of alcohol misuse, including both psychological and physical effects. Some specialist addiction services will have this role for both drug and alcohol misuse.

NICE quality standards are for use by the NHS in England and do not have formal status in the social care sector. However, the NHS will not be able to provide a comprehensive service for all without working with social care communities. In this quality standard, care has been taken to make sure that any quality statements that refer to the social care sector are relevant and evidence-based. Social care commissioners and providers may therefore wish to use them, both to improve the quality of their services and support their colleagues in the NHS.

Subject to legislation currently before Parliament, NICE will be given a brief to produce quality standards for social care. These standards will link with corresponding topics published for the NHS. They will be developed in full consultation with the social care sector and will be presented and disseminated in ways that meet the needs of the social care community. As we develop this library of social care standards, we will review and adapt any published NICE quality standards for the NHS that make reference to social care.