Middle-aged binge drinkers dying in record numbers

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Saturday 26 January 2008 01:00
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A record number of people are drinking themselves to death, according to latest figures showing Britain is on a dangerous alcohol binge.

Cheap beer, wine and spirits and a binge-drinking culture are taking an increasing toll as both sexes succumb to the harmful effects of alcohol.

A report from the Office for National Statistics published yesterday shows that 8,758 people died from excessive alcohol intake in 2006, twice the number in 1991. Death rates rose in all age groups but the biggest increase for both sexes was among people aged 35 to 54, a legacy of heavy drinking in their 20s and early 30s. Death rates for women in this age group doubled from 7.2 to 14.8 per 100,000 , a larger increase than for women in any other age group.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the increase in women's drinking was causing serious concern.

"The new figures are deeply worrying as women seem to be more susceptible to the damaging physical effects of alcohol. This may be due to their smaller size and different fat distribution, but there are almost certainly other factors at play, possibly genetic and biochemical differences. My colleagues and I are seeing more women with serious liver damage than ever before in our clinics. Liver disease is often symptomless until it becomes very serious and so people often have no warning that they are destroying their liver until it is too late."

Despite the rise in female drinking, the death rate among men is twice that for women and the gap between the sexes is widening. Among men aged 35 to 54, the death rate has more than doubled since 1991 from 13.4 to 31.1 per 100,000. The official figures do not include road accidents or other injuries in which alcohol may have played a part, so the true total of alcohol-linked deaths is higher.

Ministers are under pressure to withdraw 24-hour licences for pubs and clubs, introduced to help curb binge drinking by ending the 11pm closing time rush, despite the lack of evidence that the change has increased drinking. But ministers have resisted demands for price rises, which are known to curb consumption. An alliance of medical organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, has called for an increase in the tax on alcohol and curbs on supermarkets offering big discounts. The NHS Information Centre reported last year that alcohol was 65 per cent more affordable than in 1980 and accounted for only 5.2 per cent of household spending compared with 7.5 per cent in 1980.

More than one in five men and almost one in 10 women binge-drink every week, consuming in a single session more than eight units of alcohol for men or six units for women.

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