Young professional women lead nation of binge drinkers

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Young professional women are among Britain's most prolific drinkers, a government investigation revealed yesterday.

Young professional women are among Britain's most prolific drinkers, a government investigation revealed yesterday.

Women in professional and managerial positions are twice as likely to be drinking at least five days a week as those in other social classes.

They are also drinking greater quantities of alcohol than women in lower classes, despite warnings that excess consumption raises the risk of breast cancer and other diseases. Professional men are also knocking back the alcohol. A quarter of male professionals and managers drink at least five days out of seven. Men in unskilled occupations have a drink on fewer than one in five days.

The findings are contained in a report published by the No 10 strategy unit, which said that alcohol-related problems cost the country £20bn a year.

Britain's culture of binge drinking is killing 20,000 people a year and causing social chaos, the report says.

The 170-page document provides a worrying analysis of the scale of Britain's binge-drinking problem. Forty per cent of men's outings to a pub and 22 per cent of women's visits feature binge drinking.

The Government defines binge drinking as consuming twice the recommended guidelines in one day - six units for women and eight for men. A unit is either half a pint of beer or a measure of spirit.

One woman in five in the professional classes admitted that she drank on five days out of seven, compared with just one woman in ten in the manual classes.

And four out of 10 said they had drunk more than the recommended daily limit at least once in the past week.

Women in higher social classes were also more likely to drink more than six units a day - twice the recommended limit.

The analysis is intended as an interim report before the Government publishes its long-awaited alcohol strategy at the end of the year. The document also suggests that there should be a serious clampdown on the drinks industry.

The report concludes that raising taxes or imposing minimum pricing on alcohol could help to reduce consumption among all drinkers.

It also cites new research, which shows that advertising has an impact on the amount people drink.

The drinks industry has always claimed that advertising does not increase consumption but merely encourages brand loyalty. The report's hard-hitting conclusions suggest that the final strategy could include raising drinks prices and restricting advertising. But charities warned that the Government will face opposition from the drinks industry if it introduces more draconian laws.

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "We do welcome this report and it seems very positive in that it hasn't shied away from the difficult issues, such as advertising and pricing.

"What is important now is that the Government has the courage to face down the drinks industry, who are going to be doing some serious lobbying to make sure their business is not restricted.

"We also need to make sure we have the access to and availability of treatment services for people with alcohol- related problems, something which was less touched upon in the report."

The analysis provides an intriguing snapshot of the drinks boom in Britain over the past 25 years.

In that time the number of off-licences has doubled to more than 40,000 in England.

There are now 78,500 bars and pubs - 20 per cent more than in 1975, and 28 per cent more licensed clubs.

Drinking has also become increasingly affordable. An economic analysis found that alcohol is 49 per cent more affordable than in 1978.

Since 1979, the price of wine has decreased by 9.5 per cent, at a time when consumption has increased sharply.

The drinks industry claims it is eager to be involved in the strategy and denies claims that aggressive marketing of drinks such as alcopops is encouraging a new generation of binge drinkers.

A BOOZY NIGHT OUT IN THE CITY

It's 7PM on Thursday, and in the Hogshead bar in the City of London a smartly dressed - and very drunk - young woman has just been sick in the ladies' toilets.

She comes out of the cubicle, washes her face, reapplies her make-up and checks herself in the mirror. "Right," she says, to no one in particular. "Onwards and upwards."

Two minutes later, she is back at the bar with a large glass of white wine in hand, chatting animatedly to three sharp-suited men.

She doesn't want to talk, but her friend Keeley says: "We've been here since 4.30 for a leaving do. Thursday's are a big night out round here. It's when you go out with people from work, get pissed and either take

Friday off or just get through it with a hangover. It's just the culture. If you don't come and drink, you don't find out what the gossip is, you don't get to talk to the bosses, you don't find out what jobs are going. It really marks you out if you don't drink."

Nearly a dozen staff are working behind the bar, but still struggle to cope with demand. A rotating disc on the bar promotes cherry drop flavoured vodka shots. The cavernous pub is blaring with music.

Simon, 32, buys four pints of lager. "Two each for me and my mate," he says. He drinks half of his first pint before he has reached his friend.

James, Neil and Mike come here every night after work. "It's not really about what the pub's like," says Mike. "It's the fact it's close and serves drink. That's all you need."

There are a few tables and chairs dotted around, but most people are sitting on the tables or standing behind the chairs. There is a bar menu, but food is only served until 9pm. "It does food?" asks Neil, who has been coming to the pub for two years. "I didn't know that. No one eats. We have lunch and survive on that."

The Italian waiter in the nearby Pizza Express laying tables, even though the restaurant is empty. "We close at 10pm because there is no business in the evenings," he said. "People come here, they drink till closing time, they go home. "They don't seem to eat at all. This doesn't happen in Italy. I don't understand."

Back in the Hogshead it is 10.30pm and the decibel level has risen dramatically. Keeley and her friend are still drinking. This time the friend is more forthcoming. "I had to be sick so I could carry on drinking," she says. "I'm OK now, though. Do I get a drink for talking to you?"

THE EFFECT IN NUMBERS

* £20bn: annual cost to the UK of alcohol-related problems

* £800m: annual amount spent by the drinks industry on advertising and other promotional activity

* £250m: amount spent by drinks giant Diageo on a global revamping of its Smirnoff vodka brands

* £1.5m: annual income of Alcohol Concern, the only dedicated charity for drink-related problems

* 17,282,802: number of working days lost to the economy because of alcohol-related sickness

* 495,269: hospital bed days given to patients with alcohol-related problems

* 21,958: deaths attributable to alcohol every year

* 319: annual number of alcohol-related murders

* 8.6: litres of pure alcohol drunk by the average drinker each year

* £7bn: amount raised in tax by alcohol duties

* £30bn: value of drinks industry to the UK economy

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