Bottoms up as Britain carries on drinking

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The Independent Online
Drinking, like sex, is something people enjoy when they are doing it but are censorious about when they are not. The latest survey of the most popular social pastime in Britain shows that binge drinking is epidemic yet most people find drunkards offensive.

One million men and 190,000 women said they got drunk at least once a week - and those were the ones who admitted it. When asked what they meant by drunk most said "not in control".

Yet the survey of 1,600 adults, conducted for the Health Education Authority, also revealed that more than half of men and more than two thirds of women said they might leave a party because people were getting drunk.

Binge drinking is fraught with danger. It causes accidents, injuries, blackouts, memory loss, alcohol poisoning, violence, crime, sickness, hangovers and behaviour that gives cause for regret, the Health Education Authority said. Yet few are put off. The survey showed how socially acceptable getting drunk was.

The habit is commonest among 16- to 24-year-olds, with four out of ten young men downing the equivalent of four or more pints at least once a week, enough to put the average man's blood alcohol level at least 50 per cent over the drink-driving limit. More than a quarter of young women said they downed three pints or their equivalent at least once a week.

The best advice for drinkers, as the party season approaches, is to take regular "drink holidays" - days when no alcohol is consumed at all to give the body time to recover. It takes the liver an hour to metabolise half a pint of beer or equivalent, so after a heavy session it can be 12 hours before the liver gets back to normal.

At least one or two drink-free days a week can prevent it becoming overloaded.

The authority published a series of steps people can take to control their drinking. They include: work out a daily limit and stick to it, do not let people pressure you into having another drink, skip rounds or choose alcohol-free drinks during some of them and do not drink on an empty stomach.

All this is to be made easier to follow with a series of post cards aimed at underage drinkers entitled "puke", "snog", "prat" and "scrap" - to be distributed, in an unhappy coincidence, in cinemas showing the Spice Girls movie.

Andy Seale, campaign manager, said: "Getting drunk is more than a health risk. It can damage your career, your studies, relationships, reputation and self-respect." Yet 1.2 million people still do it every week. Funny that.