Alcohol deaths in young women show 'worrying rise', warns study

The number of deaths of women born in the 1970s has "disproportionately increased" since the middle of the last decade. There has been a “worrying” increase in the number of women in their 30s and 40s who are dying from alcohol misuse, research suggests.

Despite a downward national trend in the number of alcohol-related deaths in England and Scotland, the number of deaths of women born in the 1970s has "disproportionately increased" since the middle of the last decade, the study found. The researchers urged health officials use the figures as a "warning signal".

The study, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, focused on Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, all of which have similar levels of poor health and deprivation. Researchers analysed trends in deaths related to alcohol in all three cities from the 1980s up to 2011 among people born between 1910 to 1979.

In the early 1980s, rates of alcohol related deaths were three times as high in Glasgow as they were in Liverpool and Manchester, and rates rose over the next three decades in all three cities. Death rates stabilised in all three cities by the early 2000s, and fell during the latter part of the decade in all three - apart from in women born during the 1970s.

The researchers said that unlike the men born at this time, women in Glasgow were dying from alcohol related causes at a much earlier age than women born earlier than 1970 and in "notable numbers" during the late 1990s and early 2000s. They noted similar trends in deaths in Liverpool and Manchester.

"The similarity of trends in alcohol-related deaths in young women in Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool raises real concerns for the long-term health of this cohort in both England and Scotland," they said. "It is imperative that this early warning sign is acted upon. Given this increase in the younger cohort is seen in all three cities it is hard to dismiss this as a city-specific phenomenon. "Failure to have a policy response to this new trend may result in the effects of this increase being played out for decades to come." 19.7.13

 

PR manager jumped to her death from bridge over the Thames after getting addicted to baclofen prescribed to help with her alcoholism

  • Anna Sargent, 36, found baclofen online as she battled alcohol addiction
  • But she struggled with damaging side effects of withdrawing from the drug
  • Was last seen leaving hospital and her body was found eight days later

A PR executive leapt to her death from a bridge over the Thames after becoming dependent on a powerful drug she was taking to tackle her alcoholism, an inquest heard today.

Anna Sargent had come across baclofen online when she was trying to find a way to get over her addiction to alcohol. But despite being treated at the exclusive Priory clinic, she was unable to deal with the drug's withdrawal symptoms and killed herself while in a depressive spiral.

Ms Sargent, 36, was last seen alive on September 18 last year when she left Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, West London, where she was being treated for severe panic attacks.

Police searched for her after she went missing but were unable to find her until her body washed up on the shore of the River Thames next to Hammersmith Bridge eight days later, West London Coroner's Court heard.

Ms Sargent's parents, David and Margaret, have accused staff at the Priory of mismanaging their daughter's attempts to stop using baclofen, whose withdrawal symptoms include hallucinations, insomnia and confusion.

'Clearly she had to get off baclofen but that led to withdrawal symptoms,' Mr Sargent said. 'When she heard from her consultant that the terrible side effects of withdrawing from baclofen would last for weeks, it caused her to feel more anxiety.

'She couldn't face more of these terrible effects of feeling anxious and suicidal and she couldn't face life - it is down to baclofen.'

Ms Sargent first suffered from depression as a teenager before graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University and pursuing a successful career in public relations, the inquest was told. She worked as a press officer at the BBC then became PR manager for Fox Kids Europe and ended up working with law and property firms.

Last September, she took an overdose of baclofen, which was still in an experimental phase, and was admitted to the Priory. However, her parents claim that staff at the clinic, which has previously treated celebrities such as Amy Winehouse, had failed to inform them of the details of her treatment and did not send a letter of condolence after her death.

A few days after entering the Priory Ms Sargent was rushed to A&E at Charing Cross Hospital in the middle of the night suffering severe panic attacks. Returning a verdict of suicide, coroner Sean Cummings called on the Priory to improve its communication with patients' families.

'The medical cause of her death is drowning,' he said. 'Ms Sargent had a history of depression for her teenage years and struggled with alcohol use and was desperate to stopping using alcohol.

'She researched online and discovered baclofen had some notoriety for the helping of alcohol dependency.  'She eventually overdosed on baclofen and was admitted to the Priory for detoxification and on 18 September 2012 took her own life. 'This has been a very unhappy tale - Ms Sargent was a beautiful girl and she clearly loved her family.'

A former colleague wrote on Ms Sargent's Facebook memorial page: 'I'm still shocked and saddened. 'Anna hid her troubles well from her colleagues and we wish we had realised. We were very fond of her.' 9.7.13

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Prescriptions for alcohol soar by 70% in the last decade, deaths rise 65%, hospital admissions rise 140%

  • Doctors last year prescribed almost £3million worth of drugs increased by 70 per cent in the past decade
  • Hospital admissions related to drinking rose 140 per cent in last decade
  • Alcohol related deaths rise 65 per cent from 1999

The use of drugs to treat alcohol addiction increased by 70 per cent in the past decade. Doctors last year prescribed almost £3million worth of drugs, up from £1.72million in 2003.

The number of prescriptions for medication went up from 102,741 in 2003 to 178,247 in 2012.

The number of hospital admissions related to drinking also rose sharply, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre for England. Hospitals handled 200,900 admissions last year which were blamed solely on drinking, a 1 per cent rise on 2011 (198,900) and a 41 per cent rise on 2002-03 (142,000).

There were 1,220,300 hospital admissions attributed partly or wholly to drinking last year – a doubling since 2002-03, when the figure stood at 510,700. Men account for around two-thirds of those needing hospital treatment.

Dr Nick Sheron, Royal College of Physicians adviser on alcohol, said: ‘It is extremely important that patients who are dependent on alcohol have access to drugs that can help them recover.

‘However, the rise in prescriptions of drugs to treat alcohol dependency is indicative of the huge strain alcohol abuse puts on our society.'

A Department of Health spokesman added: ‘It's encouraging to see that more people are getting help for problems with alcohol. But these figures prove that alcohol is causing harm to the health of hundreds of thousands of people and we must continue to act.

‘That is why we are already improving prevention by funding alcohol risk assessments at GPs and encouraging increased access to alcohol liaison nurses in hospitals.' Critics said the schemes were 'useless and don't work'. 30.5.13

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Could your medicine give you a drink problem? The disturbing side-effects even the manufacturers don't know about

Several years ago, Anne-Marie Cook, a 40-year-old health care assistant from Surrey, was prescribed the antidepressant Seroxat after she'd become anxious and withdrawn following the death of her father.

Within a few months she began to feel better and started going out with friends again. Sensibly, she checked the drug information leaflet to make sure it was all right to have alcohol while on the medication. ‘There is no known interaction between Seroxat and alcohol,' it read.

But this isn't the whole story, as Anne-Marie learned to her cost. In rare cases, there is an interaction. She had no idea of it at the time, but with hindsight it explains her changed behaviour.

‘After just a couple of drinks I started to become verbally aggressive and reckless,' says Anne-Marie (not her real name). ‘Once I started drinking I found it hard to stop. I also found I was becoming confused after drinking alcohol.

‘I got banned from restaurants and bars in my local town and became an embarrassment to my friends. Once I climbed onto my roof. I was not trying to kill myself. I felt as if I was in a dream.'

For over a year her drinking worsened and she was even arrested several times. She lost her job and her home, but couldn't stop herself. ‘I knew something was wrong; my craving for alcohol was so intense I felt possessed, but couldn't understand why.'

She searched the internet for clues and, to her astonishment, found she was far from alone. Seroxat is one of a group of antidepressant drugs known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

As Anne-Marie explains: ‘There were lots of other people reporting the same desperate craving for alcohol on SSRI medication. Yet no one in the medical profession seemed to be taking notice of it. ‘I had tried telling my GP and doctors I saw in rehab that I thought the drug was the cause, but they accused me of being in denial about my alcoholism. 

‘The Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) didn't mention it because it is a fairly rare side-effect.'

Anne-Marie's story and how she eventually discovered a link between the drug and her craving, is told on rxisk.org, a new website designed to collect information about uncommon side-effects of drugs, in order to help patients get their concerns taken seriously by their doctor.

Since it was set up last autumn, the website has collected a number of reports about another rare SSRI side-effect — severe hair loss.  It may sound superficial, but it can have devastating consequences, particularly for women.

Unusual adverse reactions such as these will not appear in a drug's patient leaflet because they have not shown up in a clinical trial. This is because clinical trials don't study enough people to pick up uncommon effects, says psychiatrist Tim Kendall, a visiting professor at University College London. 

‘Drug trials are not a good way of picking up uncommon side-effects because the drugs are tested only on a few thousand people and then  prescribed to millions.' But unreported uncommon side-effects are just part of a bigger problem.

RxISK is the brainchild of a leading psychiatrist, Dr David Healy of University of Wales, Bangor. Author of over 100 scientific papers, he is a long-time campaigner for greater transparency about adverse effects of drugs. 

‘Drug companies and the drug regulator have never been proactive about uncovering evidence of risks from drugs,' he says.  Over the past few years there has been growing concern that drug companies haven't provided the full picture about new medicines. 

Take the blockbuster diabetes drug Avandia — it raises the risk of heart attacks and internal memos showed the drug manufacturer had known about this potential side-effect since 2006. However, it wasn't until an independent researcher published data showing this risk in 2007 that the information was made public. The drug was finally withdrawn in the UK in 2010. An estimated 1,200 heart attacks a year were the result of taking it.

Critics say the drug regulation system is also to blame for lack of information about drugs, including potential side-effects.  Many widely used drugs are licensed by the drugs watchdog on the basis of summaries of trial results. Independent researchers have no right to see all the data. 

On the few occasions when full data has been released, it hasn't matched claims in the summaries, says Professor Kendall, medical director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which produces guidelines for NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). 

‘The agency often won't release full details of the results of drug trials, claiming commercial confidentiality,' he says. ‘We need greater transparency about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. The RxISK website is a valuable first step.'

The site makes it easy for patients to see if their symptoms could be a side-effect of their drug. It allows you to access more than four million side-effect reports sent to the American drug regulator, the Food And Drug Administration, since 2004. You can see which are considered most serious and which have been reported most often.

At the moment, if you tell your doctor that you have been having side-effects, such as losing massive amounts of your hair, it's not evidence the drug caused it. 

Official advice is for you or your GP to fill in a Yellow Card, giving the details and to submit it to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). But the system is flawed, say critics. 

‘During my time in clinical practice it became clear that the Yellow Card system was not a useful source of information,' says Sir David Weatherall, now retired and Regius Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Oxford University. 

The new website has set up an early warning system to see if patients' reports flag up a risk. ‘It doesn't involve anything elaborate,' says Dr Healy. ‘When you report an effect on RxISK, there is a form that includes a few questions about your experience with the drug.'

These include: Did the problem start about the time you started on the drug? Did it start or get worse if the dose was increased? 

Once you've submitted the form, one of the site's medical team assesses how likely it is that the drug is responsible and emails you the results so you can discuss it with your doctor. 

The site's medical team includes the previous head of the World Health Organisation's unit for monitoring drug side-effects and a biomedical physicist who has developed a system for analysing adverse medical events. 

Armed with the RxISKRxisk report, you and your doctor can have a much more informed talk about making changes, such as altering your dosage. If you improve as a result of lowering the dose or stopping altogether, ‘that's a pretty good clue the drug is linked to the problem,' says Dr Healy. 

Sir David Weatherall feels this approach ‘is a much better way of making use of same sort information you report on Yellow Cards'. 

The site also acts as a forum for patients to discuss problems they've been having with drugs. Funding comes from selling data to governments, health insurers and pharmaceutical firms.

Anne-Marie finally persuaded her doctor to switch her to an antidepressant that works differently from  SSRIs and her alcohol craving vanished. 

When she learned about RxISK she posted her story on the site, hoping it may help others: ‘I look to other people's experiences for information about drugs. They seem to be more accurate and honest in their findings than companies, regulators or doctors.' 23.4.13

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Soaring number of career women 'killed by alcohol' and figure is rising faster than men

The number of alcohol-related deaths among career women has soared over the past decade and is now rising faster than among men, figures reveal. For women in high-flying roles such as chief executives, doctors and lawyers, the number of deaths caused by drinking has risen by 23 per cent.

And at lower management level, those losing their lives to liver disease and other conditions caused by alcohol rose from 247 to 290 – a 17 per cent hike. Among men, the number of deaths in both categories were higher but rose less sharply – the toll for 2011 was 15 per cent higher than in 2001.

The rising deaths are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to measuring the total damage to the nation’s health caused by alcohol. Harmful drinking among middle-class and middle-aged women is also fuelling rising rates of liver disease, cancer and high blood pressure, which can cause strokes and heart attacks.

Tory MP Tracey Crouch, chairman of the All-party Group on Alcohol Misuse, said: ‘A harmful drinker is drinking more than 35 units a week. That’s the equivalent of half a bottle of wine a night. ‘A lot of people drink far more units than they realise, especially women. I think there are a whole combination of reasons – it’s become more socially acceptable, the availability and low cost of wine and the pressures on professional women when you are working and also have a house to run. ‘We need to look at education and raising awareness about this at the workplace.’

One unit of alcohol is around half a glass of wine. Women are recommended to drink no more than 14 units a week, while for men the figure is 21.

Among women. deaths caused by alcohol poisoning, liver disease, hepatitis or alcohol-related heart and pancreas failure reached 1,402 in 2011, the most recent figures available, compared to 1,177 a decade earlier – a 20 per cent rise. For women in ‘higher professional’ occupations, deaths rose from 42 to 52.

In ‘intermediate occupations’, such as secretarial or other skilled office work, it rose from 142 to 209 – 47 per cent – according to data for England and Wales from a Freedom of Information request to the Office for National Statistics.

For women in low-skilled and technical jobs deaths from alcohol has remained the same since 2001. For ‘semi routine’ jobs such as shop assistants and hair dressers, it has risen 47 per cent, from 202 to 306. In men deaths from alcohol rose from 2,850 to 3,488 over a decade, a 22 per cent increase, of which the highest toll was among those in manual jobs.

Research last year showed that middle-aged professional women are drinking more alcohol than teenagers for the first time. Over-55s drink more than any other age group and are now the biggest burden on the NHS.

Professor Ian Gilmore, chair of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, said rates of almost all serious diseases in the young and middle-aged have fallen as we live longer, but liver disease is rising ‘dramatically’. He said: ‘These figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as they are the cases where alcohol is specifically mentioned on the death certificate. ‘When you look at diseases where alcohol is a major factor, such as oesophageal and throat cancer, or strokes, the true toll is much larger.

When I became a liver consultant 30 years ago, to see a woman dying with alcohol-related liver disease was really rare. ‘Today it’s not common, but every liver specialist will have seen women in their late 20s or early 30s dying of alcoholic liver disease.’

Professor Gilmore backs the Government’s planned introduction of a minimum alcohol price per unit. He argues research shows the price of alcohol has a major effect on drinking in every social class.

Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, said: ‘An increasing number of middle-class, professional women are drinking over safe limits and figures show they drink twice the amount of women in manual jobs. ‘If we’re to tackle this, it’s crucial that workplaces take this issue seriously which is why we’ve raised the issue with a group of MPs.’ 25.1.13


Peril of drinking to relax: Could that well-earned glass turn you into an alcoholic?

  • Scientists say desire for pleasure coupled with a low sense of risk can lead to drinking problems
  • Findings could help those at risk from stress-related alcohol and drug disorders
  • Researchers excited as study reveals how the brain processes threat and reward conflicts


Reaching for a glass of wine following a long day is a habit enjoyed by millions. But scientists think they may have solved the mystery of why that one glass could turn into a drinking problem – it is all down to how we cope with stress. They have discovered that stress-related problem drinking only occurs in people who have a specific combination of brain functioning.

Previous studies have focused on how the pleasure we get from drinking alcohol activates the reward centres of the brain. But this study found a desire for pleasure coupled with a low sense of risk could lead to problems with alcohol in future. Scientists carried out MRI scans on 200 university students to look at the differences in the functioning of reward and threat circuits in their brain.

While coping with problems such as failing exams and bad relationships, only those with a heightened drive to seek immediate reward coupled with a weaker sense of risk were likely to consume increased amounts of alcohol.

Senior author Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, said: 'Imagine the push and pull of opposing drives when a mouse confronts a hunk of cheese in a trap. 'Too much drive for the cheese and too little fear of the trap leads to one dead mouse.' He added: 'We're very excited about these findings as they nicely bring together our parallel research on individual differences in threat and reward processes.'

Yuliya Nikolova, lead author of the study, said the findings could help those particularly at risk from alcohol and drug abuse disorders in the wake of stress. She added that, in future, doctors could see if someone was susceptible to developing a stress-related drink problem and intervene. The research was published in the journal Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

Over the past decade, the number of drink-related deaths in men and women has soared by more than a quarter and ministers say it is a major public health problem.

As many as 8,664 people died as a direct result of alcohol in 2009, compared with 6,884 in 2000, according to the Office for National Statistics. But experts warn that this is only a fraction of the true figure. They say as many as 40,000 people die every year from alcohol-related health problems such as strokes, heart attacks and cancer.14.11.12

Two thirds 'hit the bottle' to relax after a stressful day at work

•  60 per cent blamed work for their stress levels while half blamed financial worries

Most adults admit they turn to alcohol to help them cope after a stressful day, according to new research. A survey for the charity Drinkaware found almost two-thirds of people aged 30-45 drank alcohol to unwind. A fifth of men and nearly one in six women said they drank every day or most days of the week.

Four out of 10 women and a third of men said they were drinking more than the Government's daily unit guidelines, which are set at 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women.

Almost half of the 2,000 people questioned (44 per cent) said they were more likely to drink after a stressful day and more than a third (37 per cent) said they thought about having a drink on the way home.

The majority of those questioned (60 per cent) blamed work for their stress levels while half blamed financial worries and more than a third (36 per cent) said family life caused stress.

Siobhan McCann, head of campaigns and communications at Drinkaware, said: 'Alcohol can be a 'false friend' when you are trying to deal with stress. 'Even though it might seem like a few drinks can relieve the pressures of the day, in the medium to long term it can actually add to them - whether they're work, financial or family related.

'Stress can also be an excuse for people to drink more than they should, especially if they don't realise the negative impact it can have on their health and wellbeing.

'Think about your evening routine - if you spend most of your time on the sofa with a drink in your hand, look at other hobbies you can enjoy with family and friends to help clear your mind. With a summer of sport ahead, there has never been a better time to get out and get active.'

Professor Paul Wallace, chief medical adviser to Drinkaware, said alcohol can disrupt sleep, cause weight gain and increase the risk of cancer, heart and liver disease. 'The more you consume, the more your body gets used to it. So make a point of having days off from drinking so that your body doesn't develop a tolerance to alcohol,' he said. ICM carried out an online survey of 2,008 UK adult drinkers aged between 30-45 in May 2012. 6.7.12

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Alcohol dependency prescriptions rise 60%

Prescriptions for alcohol dependency have risen more than 60% in eight years as the cost of alcohol abuse to the NHS soars, official figures show.

Prescriptions for alcohol dependency drugs rose from 102,700 to 167,800 between 2003 and 2011, according to   a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) . These now cost the NHS £2.4m per year.

The report reveals how alcohol abuse is placing growing pressure on NHS services. There were 142,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2010/11, representing a 40% rise since 2002/3.

The report includes a broader measure of both primary and secondary care activity relating to alcohol consumption. This recorded over 1.1 million admissions in 2010/11 - a rise of 11% compared with the previous year.

The NHS now deals with 130% more alcohol-related cases than eight years ago.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: 'This report shows how drinking in England has impacted upon admissions to our hospitals and on prescriptions dispensed in our communities. There are thousands more cases of both hospitalisation and of prescribed drugs being dispensed to tackle the effects of alcohol compared with eight years ago.

'Today's report also includes a great deal of work around hospital data and how the scale of admissions due to drinking alcohol, which is a very complex area, can be most accurately viewed. The consultation will help develop this work further.' 31.5.12

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Deep concerns over government plans to cut benefits for alcoholics and drug addicts who refuse treatment

Doctors and addiction charities today expressed deep concerns over government plans to cut the benefits of people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction who refuse treatment.

In the latest step in Iain Duncan Smith’s controversial reforms of the benefits system, Jobcentre Plus staff will be able to cut the jobseeker’s allowance of claimants who reject treatment for their addiction.

The new rules will come into place in October 2013 when the universal credit, which is designed to wrap benefits into one payment, is introduced. Under the universal credit reforms, claimants will have to sign a contract in which they agree to look for work in exchange for an undertaking from the government to support them while they do so.

A suspected addict who refused help for their alcoholism or drug addiction could be told by Jobcentre Plus staff that their refusal breaches their contract and that their benefits will be docked.

But doctors warned that current treatment options for addicts were “woefully inadequate”.

Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physician’s special adviser on alcohol, said: “Current treatment facilities for addicts in this country, particularly those with alcohol dependence, are woefully inadequate and we strongly support initiatives to improve this.  However, patients must be treated with respect and given genuine choice in their treatment options, and these must be fully respected in any scheme.”

Martin Barnes, chief executive of drug charity DrugScope, warned that the change set a “dangerous precedent” and would breach the principles of the NHS constitution. The charity has written to the work and pensions secretary asking him to clarify the plans. He said: “We are surprised and concerned at reports that Ministers believe that stopping benefits is an appropriate or effective way of engaging people with drug or alcohol treatment and supporting their recovery. If accurate, this would be a reversal of the government’s publicly stated position.

Mr Barnes said there was no evidence to suggest that "using the stick of benefit sanctions" would help people engage with treatment and aid recovery. He added: "Indeed, the risk is that people will disengage from support services, potentially worsening their dependency and the impacts on their families and communities.

Linking benefit to a requirement to undergo treatment would set a dangerous precedent for people with physical or mental health problems and would be against the principles for healthcare set out in the NHS Constitution."

Alcohol Concern's chief executive Eric Appleby said: "It's true that a number of people are not living their lives to their full potential because they have a drink problem. "It's right that the Government recognise that these people need help to overcome their addiction.

Incentives are only part of the story: the real answer is to make sure that high quality treatment services are fully funded and available all over the country. "At the moment, only one in 16 people with an alcohol problem are receiving specialist alcohol treatment. In order to make this work, job centre staff will need to be properly trained in order to recognise when someone has an alcohol problem and to be able to offer the right advice."

Mr Duncan Smith last night used a speech to an event hosted by Alcoholics Anonymous to warn that the Welfare State has failed the almost 360,000 addicts who rely on benefits for their income. He argued that his new Universal Credit system will encourage them to seek help and become employable again. "The outdated benefits system fails to get people off drugs and put their lives on track," he said.

"We have started changing how addicts are supported, but we must go further to actively take on the devastation that drugs and alcohol can cause. "Under Universal Credit we want to do more to encourage and support claimants into rehabilitation for addiction and starting them on the road to recovery and eventually work.

"Getting people into work and encouraging independence is our ultimate goal. Universal Credit will put people on a journey towards a sustainable recovery so they are better placed to look for work in future and we will be outlining our plans shortly."

Statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions show that almost 40,000 people claim incapacity benefits with alcoholism as their primary iagnosis. The DWP says 13,300 of these people have been claiming for at least 10 years. It also says that around 80 per cent of Britain's estimated 400,000 "problem drug users", some 320,000 people are claiming out-of-work benefits.

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the charity Addaction warned that “abstinence cannot be forced onto people” and that threatening to remove benefits could be counterproductive. He said: “Encouraging people with serious drug and alcohol problems to access support is always the best option.

“Those that Addaction help on a daily basis will tell you how coming off drugs or alcohol is extremely difficult, and how deciding to access treatment took them a very long time. Remove financial stability during that time, and you can severely damage someone’s chances of beating an addiction and recovering.” 24.5.12

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Don't drink more than THREE glasses of wine a week: Oxford study claims slashing the official alcohol limit would save 4,500 lives a year

•  Guidance would see recommended consumption cut to half a unit a day

•  Findings could influence first review of drinking advice for 15 years


Britons should drink no more than three small glasses of wine a week, scientists have said. More than 4,500 lives could be saved annually by changing official advice on ‘safe' levels of alcohol intake, they believe. It would mean recommended consumption – for men and women – would be cut to half a unit a day, the equivalent of just a couple of gulps of beer.

The new advice flies in the face of previous studies, which have shown that drinking alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of dying from heart disease. But the researchers, from Oxford University, say this benefit is far outweighed by the harm to health caused by regular drinking.

Cutting consumption could stem the epidemic of alcohol-related chronic diseases set to cause 210,000 deaths during the next 20 years. Currently, the Department of Health says ‘safe' drinking levels are three to four units a day for men, or two to three for women.

A small glass of wine contains 1.3 units, while a pint of beer contains at least two units.

But the new study says the ideal intake to prevent chronic disease is five grams a day – around half a unit. This is less than half a small glass of wine and just a quarter of a pint of beer.

The findings could influence the first review of drinking advice for 15 years, amid concern the existing limit wrongly implies that daily drinking is healthy. The review was prompted by a report earlier this year from the Commons Science and Technology Committee, which said advice on safe drinking was confusing. It suggested new guidelines could tell people to observe two teetotal days a week.

For the new study, scientists led by Dr Melanie Nichols, of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University, analysed the death toll of 11 conditions known to be linked to long-term alcohol consumption.

They included heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy and five different cancers.

The team used data from large-scale studies on drinking and chronic disease risk, combined with estimates of weekly alcohol consumption among 15,000 adults in England from the 2006 General Household Survey. Just under a third of the adults were non-drinkers.

Their results, published in online journal BMJ Open, showed that cutting alcohol intake to half a unit a day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in England each year.

This amounts to three in 100 of all deaths from the 11 conditions studied.

Regarding the positive effects of alcohol on protecting against heart disease, the researchers pointed out that cutting consumption would lead to 843 extra deaths per year. But this would be offset by a reduction of deaths including more than 2,600 from cancers and almost 3,000 from liver cirrhosis.

Dr Nichols said: ‘When all of the chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal consumption level is much lower than many people believe. ‘More than 4,000 deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke and liver disease in England could be prevented if drinkers reduced their average level of alcohol consumption to half a unit per person per day – a level much lower than current UK government recommendations.'

Earlier this year alcohol specialists Professor Ian Gilmore and Dr Nick Sheron calculated that drinking would cause 210,000 deaths in the next 20 years through illness, violence and accidents.  Figures show alcohol-related injuries and illness cost the NHS in England £3.3billion a year.

Eric Appleby, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said current guidelines were already confusing – and telling people to drink very small quantities on a daily basis was no less confusing. He said: ‘We need to make sure [guidelines] are an easy-to-understand way of watching what you drink that's practical for people to apply to their everyday lives.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'The Chief Medical Officer is reviewing current alcohol consumption guidelines. 'She will review the evidence on alcohol and health risks including whether advice is needed on the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk in one session.' 31.5.12

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There is no safe limit for women drinkers: Stark warning as Scottish doctors report alcohol is linked to one in five breast cancer deaths

One in five Scottish breast cancer cases is caused by alcohol – and there is no ‘safe' limit to avoid the risk. The warning comes amid a ‘silent epidemic' of women drinking to excess.

The high level of consumption north of the Border has seen the number of new breast cancer cases linked directly with alcohol soar in the past decade. Almost 4,500 women in Scotland are diagnosed with the disease each year. Now, experts have warned that as many as a fifth of those are caused by booze.

Career women who enjoy a ‘Sex and the City'-type lifestyle are among those who are drinking to  hazardous levels.

The Scottish Government has embarked on a series of multi-million pound campaigns in a bid to detect cancer early and encourage women, including middle-class women, to drink less. But last night experts said there was no safe recommended intake for women if they wanted to reduce their chances of  developing the disease.

It comes as startling figures show that alcohol is responsible for one in five cases of breast cancer. Put simply, if alcohol were removed from the Scottish population, 20 per cent of breast cancers would be prevented.

Doctors added that the incidence of breast cancer has also increased by about 10 per cent in recent years. The country's senior medics are warning that an increase in alcohol consumption and a rising ‘ladette culture' is taking a deadly toll on women.

Dr David Morrison, director of the West of Scotland Cancer Surveillance Unit, said: ‘Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women and the number goes up every year.  'We don't know all the risk factors but the evidence that alcohol causes breast cancer is now very clear – it causes one out of every five cases in Scotland. There's no “safe” amount – every drink counts.

‘Lowering your consumption will reduce your risk. There are controllable and modifiable risks, alcohol is one of those.' He added that, as more women survive the disease, they are looking at ways of reducing the risk of developing the illness for a second time.

The Scottish Government has recently launched its Detect Cancer Early initiative. The initiative hopes to increase early diagnosis – which is key to beating the disease – by 25 per cent. The aim is to save more than 300  extra lives a year by the end of the next parliamentary term.

Dr Morrison added: ‘We know that about one unit a day of alcohol increases a  woman's risk by about 10 per cent.' It is believed that binge drinking is responsible for the majority of cases.

But recent studies have also shown that even drinking a so-called ‘safe' amount of alcohol below the recommended daily limit can increase the risk of developing cancer.

And the danger can remain even for those who become teetotal. General guidelines advise that women should not go over three units of alcohol per day and that men should drink no more than four units.

One unit is roughly equivalent to a third of a pint of normal-strength beer, half of  a 175ml glass of red wine or a single whisky. The rate at which women in Scotland are being diagnosed with cancer has also accelerated ahead of England.

The latest figures in the Scottish Health Survey also show that about 38 per cent of women regularly exceed daily or weekly sensible drinking guidelines.

Last week, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon introduced the minimum price per unit for alcohol in Scotland. However it is possible for a woman to exceed the weekly guidelines for less than £5.

It is estimated that one in 30 female deaths in Scotland is alcohol-related. Alcohol now claims 25 lives a week overall north of the Border. 22.5.12

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Deaths from liver disease up by a quarter in a decade fuelled by drinking boom in Britain

Soaring numbers of Britons are dying from liver disease fuelled by excessive drinking and obesity, experts warn. The death toll has risen by a quarter in the last decade and many of the victims are middle-aged.

Just over 11,500 men and women now die of liver disease every year up from 9,200 in 2001, according a report by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network. But 90 per cent of victims are under the age of 70 and experts say they are ‘dying before their time.'

The report warns that liver disease is the only big killer that is continuing to rise and deaths from heart disease and cancer are now beginning to level off.

Experts warn the increasing burden of the illness will leave the NHS at ‘breaking point.' It is estimated that just under 80 per cent of these deaths are caused by alcohol, 20 per cent by obesity and the remainder by hepatitis or inherited conditions. Separate figures also reveal that liver disease is claiming increasingly younger victims.

The average age of death of liver disease is now 60 in women and 58 in men. In the mid-1980s it was 64 and 62 respectively.

Andrew Langford, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, said ‘The increasing numbers of people with, and dying from, liver disease leaves the UK at breaking point and we cannot afford to overlook these patients any longer. ‘Liver disease has remained the poor relation in comparison to other big killers such as cancer and heart disease, yet liver disease is the only big killer on the rise. He called on the Government to intervene by banning cheap alcohol and bringing in taxes on high fat foods.

The report's authors analysed figures from the Office of National Statistics on the number of deaths caused by liver disease every year since 2001. These included deaths caused by alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis – and other less common conditions. Nearly all of these illnesses are caused by alcohol or obesity.

There were 11,575 such deaths in 2009, the most recent figures available, and 60 per cent of victims were men.

Professor Martin Lombard, National Clinical Director for Liver Disease and one of the authors of the report said: ‘The key drivers for increasing numbers of deaths from liver disease are all preventable, such as alcohol, obesity, hepatitis C and hepatitis B. ‘We must focus our efforts and tackle this problem sooner rather than later.' 22.3.12

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GPs 'should ALWAYS ask patients how much they drink' claim MPs who see intrusion as vital to beating booze culture

Doctors should question patients about their drinking habits as a matter of routine, an influential committee of MPs and peers urged last night. 
They say the intrusion is vital to prevent an avalanche of health problems from excessive drinking. 

Anyone identified as a ‘risky drinker’ – someone who regularly consumes more than the weekly limit – would be sent on an intervention session with a doctor or nurse and given advice about how to cut down.

The recommendation for mandatory questioning comes from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse. The group claims it is necessary to focus on ‘risky drinkers’ who so far have fallen under the radar because the emphasis has been on teenage or binge drinking.

Almost a quarter of the population falls into the ‘risky’ category. Although not seen as alcoholics, they are still putting themselves at greater danger of heart attack, stroke and various forms of cancer. Of particular concern are professional women who share a bottle of wine with their partner every night without realising that they are exceeding safe drinking limits.

Campaigners say the move would save the Health Service millions of pounds by reducing the number of people ending up in hospital with alcohol-related conditions.

But Dr Clare Gerada of the Royal College of GPs expressed concern. She said: ‘I would be careful about the idea of blanket screening across the whole population, because many patients would see it as behaviour that it’s not our business to control. ‘If we were to ask patients routinely about alcohol, many would be frightened to come to see us because they would see it as an intrusion into their private lives. ‘Brief interventions can work but I would be concerned about patients feeling they were being dictated to.’

However, the chair of the all-party group, Baroness Dianne Hayter, said: ‘GPs ask patients about their smoking and are even starting to ask about their weight. Every time I go to see my GP I have my blood pressure taken. ‘So I would like to see GPs at least check on what people are drinking when they come in. People trust their GP and will listen to their advice – such as what the safe limits are, and how they might want to consider taking two days off a week.

‘It would be very effective for the many people who do not even know they are drinking unhealthily.’ She added that screening would help pick up more serious cases of alcohol abuse. ‘Many drink as a social prop but many have more serious dependency,’ she said. ‘These brief interventions can ensure people get access to early advice and help.’ 

The all-party recommendation comes just weeks before the Government publishes its long-awaited Alcohol Strategy, which is expected to include a minimum price of around 40 to 50 pence a unit.

The all-party group is supported by the think tank 2020 Health which has called for greater use of so-called ‘brief interventions’. These are ten-minute sessions with a GP or nurse to discuss alcohol intake. The interventions use motivational interviewing and behaviour change techniques to help the patient assess and make plans to change their drinking behaviour. 2020 Health says this has been shown to reduce risky drinking, with an average reduction of five units per week remaining one year later.

Eric Appleby of the charity Alcohol Concern said: ‘Early intervention is an effective way of preventing people developing risky drinking patterns, and it promises great savings to the Health Service.  ‘It is essential that the resources are made available to roll out this approach across the country, which will include professional training and an appropriate screening procedure to identify those who may need support.’

Current guidelines recommend that women drink no more than two or three units a night, and men no more than three or four. A regular pint of beer or a standard (175ml) glass of wine has two units. 17.3.12 GPs 'should offer climate change advice to patients'

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Middle-aged tipplers: Over 45s more likely to drink every day than younger people

•  22 per cent of men aged 65 and over drank almost every day...

•  but 25 per cent of men aged 25 to 44 binge drink

The middle-aged of middle England are far more likely than young people to have a daily tipple, official figures revealed yesterday. While young adults are more prone to binge-drinking, those over 45 are three times as likely as younger people to drink alcohol almost every day.

Very few young men in their teens and early 20s drink daily, and even fewer women. But more than one in eight of those over 45 drinks practically every day.  And when it comes to men of pensionable age, more than one in five opens a can or bottle of beer, wine or spirits every day.

The figures shift the focus away from young people when it comes to the abuse of alcohol.

Binge-drinking by the young has made them the target of frequent criticism for bringing scenes of violence and disorder to many city centres at weekends. But the findings from the Office for National Statistics reveal a picture of steady drinking by the middle-aged who are ‘taking unnoticed risks with their health', according to one expert.

People in nearly 8,000 homes were questioned for the General Lifestyle Survey which found that 13 per cent of people over 45 – more than one in eight – drink ‘almost every day'. That compares to 4 per cent of younger people. ‘The evidence suggests that adults tend to drink more often as they get older,' the ONS said.

For men over the age of 65, 22 per cent – more than one in five – drink almost every day.

They outnumber young men by more than seven to one – among men aged 16 to 24 only 3 per cent drink almost every day. Among women it is 12 to one. Twelve per cent of those over 65 drink daily compared to 1 per cent of teenagers and twenty-somethings.

The findings confirmed that middle-income earners drink more than working-class people.

In the homes of people with managerial or professional jobs, 40 per cent of men and 35 per cent of women drink more than the Government's recommended safe levels, which are set at a maximum of four units daily for men and three for women. A unit of alcohol is half a pint of beer, while a small glass of wine amounts to 1½ units.

Fewer than a third of people in the homes of those with jobs classed as routine or manual drink over the limits. There is also more heavy drinking in middle-income homes.

But younger people remain more likely than their elders to be binge-drinkers. Just under a quarter of men below the age of 45 had drunk the equivalent of more than four pints of beer in a day in the week before they were asked the question, but only 20 per cent of men aged 45 to 64, and 7 per cent of pensioner men.

Just under a fifth of young women had drunk heavily recently, but only 11 per cent of those over 45 and 2 per cent of over-65s.

Eric Appleby, of Alcohol Concern, said: ‘These new statistics expose the hidden truth about alcohol and middle England. ‘The middle-aged middle classes are taking unnoticed risks with their health, increasing their likelihood of suffering illnesses such as liver disease, stroke and cancer.'

Chris Sorek, of Drinkaware, said: ‘Although it can be easy to find excuses to drink after a long day, many people are unaware that they are putting themselves at risk.'

The survey also found that only one in five people now smokes, compared to an estimated four out of five in the early 1950s and 45 per cent of the population in 1974. 9.3.12

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Leading doctors warn of liver failure epidemic in young adults as cases soar

•  The North East has seen a 400 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions for people in their early 30s with alcoholic liver disease

Consultants have called on the Government to introduce new curbs on alcohol advertising to protect young people but critics said 'awareness campaigns never work and usually make matters worse'.

In an open letter they warned Britain is facing an epidemic of liver disease caused by a binge drinking culture and cheap booze.

The North East has been hit particularly hard with figures showing a 400 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions for people in their early 30s with alcoholic liver disease.

The consultants are supporting a campaign by Balance, the north east of England's alcohol office, demanding a stop to the alcohol industry recruiting young people as the next generation of problem drinkers. Balance said children were 'swimming through 40% proof advertising' and were being encouraged to start drinking younger, and to drink more.

In the open letter published in The Guardian the consultants, mostly liver specialists and gastroenterologists, blamed the problem on our having created 'an excessively pro-alcohol culture by selling alcohol for pocket money prices'.

They said a decade ago it was unusual for a liver specialist to treat anyone for alcoholic cirrhosis who had not reached their 50s. 'Alarmingly, this is no longer the case. In the North East we are in the middle of an epidemic,' they add.

'It is clear we need to halt this epidemic in its tracks, otherwise we will soon be treating young men and young men and women in their 20s on a regular basis for a disease that is 100% preventable.'

A spokesman for Balance said: 'It's time we said enough is enough. 'Our children are being bombarded by alcohol advertising which is encouraging them to drink alcohol at an early age - and in greater quantities. 'Early consumption is linked with a host of problems including brain damage, truancy, experimenting with drugs and unsafe sex.

'We don't think that it's normal for children to be bombarded by alcohol adverts while going about the business of being children.' Balance's petition demands a ban on alcohol advertising on television and non-18 certificate films in the cinema, as well as a halt to the sponsoring of sports and cultural events.

The North East has the highest rate of 11 to 15 year olds drinking.   This means they are more likely to be victims of crime, have unprotected sex, and under perform at school.

Research by Balance showed North-East hospitals recorded 189 admissions for 30 to 34-year-olds with the disease last year, compared with 37 in 2002. In total, there were 778 admissions for 30 to 34-year olds with alcohol liver disease between 2002 and last year, costing the NHS about £1.8m.

There were a further 482 admissions for under-30s, with some people admitted under the age of 20. In all, in the past eight years there have been 21,798 alcoholic liver disease admissions across the region, costing the NHS £51.7m. 2.12.11

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Increasing numbers of Professional, doctors, dentists, vets and lawyers are becoming 'functioning alcoholics'

  • ‘We are seeing a lot of professionals coming in, particularly from London. They are in workplaces where you really wouldn't want them to be'
  • 1 in 15 doctors develop an addiction at some point
  • 24% of lawyers will battle alcohol during their careers

Rising numbers of professionals, doctors, dentists, vets and lawyers are becoming ‘functioning alcoholics', experts warn. Addiction specialists have given them that label because they do not fit the typical image of down-and-out street drinkers. There has been a surge in demand from professionals seeking rehab treatment abroad to avoid being recognised in nearby hospitals or clinics, it is claimed.

The British Medical Association has estimated that one in 15 doctors will develop an addiction problem at some point and they are three times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than the general population.

Research has also suggested that up to 24 per cent of lawyers will suffer from alcoholism during their careers. At an international conference in Ireland this weekend calls were made to help the growing number of professionals battling alcoholism. 

Rory O'Connor, the UK co-ordinator of health support programmes for dentists and veterinary surgeons, told the Observer that Britain was turning a blind eye to a huge problem. He pointed to the shame and stigma attached to addiction and said many professionals struggle to seek help as they see their role as helping others.

He told the paper: 'There are serious issues regarding health professionals accessing appropriate help for mental health issues and there are serious issues in the treatment that is out there for them.' He also said it was 'not wise' to have people practising while impaired through addiction.14.11.11

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Third of middle-aged men are more likely to develop liver disease and cancer through 'risky drinking'

One in three middle-aged men are increasing their chances of developing cancer and liver disease through 'risky drinking.' A study found 31 per cent of men aged over 45 regularly drank the equivalent of more than two pints of beer five times a week. Whilst over the safe limits it is not classed as binge drinking and researchers said drinkers may not realise it could affect their health.

Among women, 16 to 24-year-olds were most likely to be risky drinkers, with 22 per cent over-indulging. Risky drinking was found to be higher among professionals and those with the largest household incomes.

The research, called From One to Many, was released today by think-tank 2020health, which called for an increased focus on addressing the problem, saying it could save the NHS £124 million with effective interventions costing as little as £15 per patient.

It said evidence shows a 10-minute session with a doctor or nurse to talk through the health risks and ways to cut down can reduce consumption by as much as five units a week. The think-tank also called for universal alcohol screening at the age of 30 to increase awareness and help catch potential problems before they develop, and more stringent guidance from the Department of Health on the dangers of drinking every day.

Other recommendations include making wine more readily available in half-bottles that can be shared by two people without them going over the limit. Julie Manning, the organisation's chief executive, said: 'No one would question the need to tackle the UK's infamous binge drinking culture - and it's increasingly a policy focus.

'What's worrying, however, is the way in which we overlook the habits of the silent majority who are slowly drinking themselves to death.  'A true focus on prevention would provide better support to the eight million risky drinkers across the country and result in considerable cost savings for the NHS.'

Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: 'Risky drinkers are a real concern for GPs. They may not necessarily get drunk or display dependence, and they may not even realise they are drinking dangerously, but they are quietly, slowly, paving the way to serious health problems in the future.

'GPs are not killjoys, but we are here to help. More than any other healthcare professionals we see the long term damage to individuals and their families caused by this chronic, excessive drinking. I hope this report will help GPs and their patients make informed decisions that will prevent serious ill health in the future.'

Women are considered to be risky drinkers if they have more than one standard (175ml) glass of wine five nights a week, and men if they drink more than two pints of beer on five nights of the week.

On average 26 per cent of men are enjoying one too many, compared to 18 per cent of women. However there was some good news for married people - they are half as likely to show mild alcohol dependence than those who are single, separated or cohabiting. 1.11.11

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Don't drink on 3 days a week... As the liver crisis deepens, leading doctors warn of the dangers

  • •  More than 16,000 people die from liver disease every year in the UK
  • •  Young regular drinkers and middle-class women particularly at risk
  • •  Royal College of Physicians say current guidelines must be rewritten

Drinkers should have three alcohol-free days a week if they want to avoid the risk of liver disease, warn Britain's most eminent doctors.

Current official guidance on healthy drinking limits is ‘extremely dangerous' and must be rewritten – because it implies that drinking every day is fine, the Royal College of Physicians said.

Government advice states men should drink no more than four units a day and women no more than three. But this must also address the risks of daily drinking, doctors insisted. They told MPs the risk of liver disease, alcohol dependence and serious illness increases if people drink every day rather than taking time off.

They also urged Ministers to consider imposing stricter guidelines on pensioners – perhaps as little as seven units a week for older women and 11 for older men. 

One unit is the equivalent of one small glass of wine (125ml) or half a pint of lager. Older people's bodies are more affected by regular drinking, which puts them at risk of dementia, depression and falls, they said.  Yet pensioners are currently given the same guidelines as all adults.

In their submission to MPs on the Commons science and technology committee, the doctors said: ‘Government guidelines should recognise that hazardous drinking has two components: frequency of drinking and amount of drinking.  ‘To ignore either of these components is scientifically unjustified. ‘A simple addition would remedy this – namely a recommendation that to remain within safe limits people have three alcohol-free days a week.' They added: ‘The implied sanctioning of a pattern of regular daily drinking is potentially extremely dangerous. 

The RCP disputes the claim that drinking every day will not accrue a significant health risk. ‘Frequency is an important risk factor for development of alcohol dependency and alcoholic liver disease.' 

More than 16,000 people die from liver disease, usually caused by excessive drinking, every year in the UK.  It is Britain's fifth biggest killer and the only major cause of death increasing year-on-year. Twice as many people die of it now than in 1991 and rates have soared by 13 per cent since 2005.

The British Liver Trust says liver disease is the biggest cause of premature death for women, and the second only to heart attacks for men. The first drinking guidelines in 1987 – which were written by the RCP – stated that men should drink no more than 21 units a week and women no more than 14. 

On top of this, everyone should take two or three days off a week. Doctors are angry that reforms to the advice in 1995 dropped this reference to alcohol-free days.  ‘This in effect appeared to sanction daily or near-daily drinking, one of the key risk factors for alcohol-related harm and dependency,' they said.

‘If the daily limit of four units was drunk with no drink-free days, this would be the equivalent of 28 units per week; a 30 per cent increase on the RCP's guidelines.' The paper added: ‘Further studies have shown an increased risk of cirrhosis for those who drink daily or near-daily compared to those who drink periodically or intermittently.'

Young regular drinkers were particularly at risk, it said.

A 2009 study showed increases in UK liver deaths ‘are the result of daily or near-daily heavy drinking, not episodic or binge drinking. This regular drinking pattern is discernable at an early age', the paper said.

Government experts expect the cost of treating people with liver disease will soar by 50 per cent in four years to more than £2billion.

Middle-class women are particularly at risk of daily drinking as they often have a glass or two of wine after work, followed by more at the weekend. Lower limits should be considered for older people, as even modest levels of alcohol consumption can have a more profound effect on their bodies ‘due to physiological changes associated with ageing', the paper said.  ‘There is concern current guidelines are not appropriate for older people,' it added.

Sir Ian Gilmore, RCP special adviser on alcohol, said: ‘We recommend a safe limit of 0-21 units a week for men and 0-14 units a week for women provided the total amount is not drunk in one or two bouts and that there are two to three alcohol-free days a week. ‘At these levels, most individuals are unlikely to come to harm.'

In June, a Royal College of Psychiatrists report called for a limit of 11 units a week for men aged over 65 and seven for women of this age.  The RCP quoted these suggested limits but did not explicitly endorse them. 22.10.11

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Alcohol-related hospital admissions reach record one million level

The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England has topped 1m for the first time, according to official statistics. An NHS Information Centre report said admissions had increased by 12% between 2008/9 and 2009/10.

That includes liver disease and mental disorders due to alcohol abuse as well as some cancers, accidents and injuries.

The Department of Health will publish a new alcohol strategy later this year. The number of admissions reached 1,057,000 in 2009/10 compared with 945,500 in 2008/9 and 510,800 in 2002/3.

Alcohol was the main or secondary cause of 207,800 NHS admissions in 2006/7, compared to 93,500 in 1995/96. Since 1995 alcohol related hospital admissions have risen from just 93,500 to 1,057,000 in 2010 a 1,130% increase in just 15 years.

Nearly two in three cases were men.

Earlier this year the charity Alcohol Concern predicted the number of admissions would reach 1.5m a year by 2015. It estimated that would cost the NHS £3.7bn a year.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: "Today's report shows the number of people admitted to hospital each year for alcohol related problems has topped 1m for the first time. "The report also highlights the increasing cost of alcohol dependency to the NHS as the number of prescription items dispensed continues to rise.

"This report provides health professionals and policy makers with a useful picture of the health issues relating to alcohol use and misuse. It also highlights the importance of policy makers and health professionals in recognising and tackling alcohol misuse which in turn could lead to savings for the NHS."

Public health minister Anne Milton said: "These statistics show that the old ways of tackling public health problems have not always yielded the necessary improvements. "We are already taking action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets selling below cost alcohol and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime. "We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy later this year."

Critics said, 'they keep publishing new strategies which continue to fail, what patients need is access to successful and effective treatment which is available privately but blocked on the NHS to safeguard jobs'. 26.5.11

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Alcohol to blame for 13,000 cancer cases a year in UK

At least 13,000 cancers in the UK every year are the result of people's drinking habits, according to one of the largest studies ever carried out into diet and cancer. Charity urges Europe-wide action to cut consumption after huge study underlines risks of drinking too much.

The research, carried out across eight European countries including the UK, has found that thousands of cancers could be prevented if men had the equivalent of no more than two drinks a day and women had no more than one.

Nearly half of the alcohol-related cancers in the UK – nearly 6,000 – were related to the mouth and throat. Alcohol is a key cause of cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, voicebox and pharynx.

But alcohol also causes more than 3,000 colorectal cancers and about 2,500 breast cancers every year, according to Cancer Research UK, which cofunded the study.

The full extent of the damage is revealed by the Epic study (European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition), which is monitoring the links between diet and cancer in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany and Denmark. It finds that 10% of men's cancers and 3% of women's cancers in western Europe are caused by drinking.

Doctors and health groups are already concerned about the rise in liver disease. The British Liver Trust said the study should trigger a Europe-wide effort at preventing alcohol-related harm.

"Once again we are seeing the impact alcohol can have in all areas of health," said the trust's campaigns manager, Sarah Matthews. "While alcohol damage is often linked to the liver, this study highlights the impact alcohol has on the rest of the organs in the body.

"The results are not a surprise as we feel we haven't touched the tip of the iceberg in preventing alcohol health harms in the UK. Substantive measures, such as setting a minimum pricing at an effective level, have been ignored and we continue to employ a half-hearted attempt in protecting the health of society. This study should form the basis of EU action to tackle the four Ps of alcohol marketing – price, promotion, placement and product. Only then will we see a change in how alcohol is viewed and consumed."

The study looked at the past and present drinking habits of nearly 364,000 men and women, mostly aged between 35 and 70 at the time of recruitment in the mid-1990s. They completed a detailed questionnaire on diet and lifestyle when they joined the study. Alcohol consumption was measured by specific questions on the amount, frequency and type of drink.

The study, published by the British Medical Journal, found that thousands of cancers could have been avoided if people had consumed no more than one drink a day for women or two for men.

In 2008, current and former alcohol consumption by men was responsible for about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, colorectum and liver in Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Britain. More than half of these cases (33,000) were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

There were about 21,500 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, liver, colorectum and breast in women in the eight countries in 2008, the study found. Most – 17,400 cases, or 80% – were due to consumption of more than one drink of beer, wine or spirits a day, the researchers say.

Madlen Schütze, first author of the study and epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, said: "Many cancer cases could have been avoided if alcohol consumption is limited to two drinks per day in men and one drink per day in women, which are the recommendations of many health organisations. And even more cancer cases would be prevented if people reduced their alcohol intake to below recommended guidelines or stopped drinking alcohol at all."

Naomi Allen, a Cancer Research UK-funded epidemiologist based at Oxford University, who was involved with the Epic study, said: "This research supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts."

She added that alcohol was probably causing even more cancers than the research suggests. "The results from this study reflect the impact of people's drinking habits about 10 years ago," she said. 8.4.11

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Are YOU addicted to wine o'clock?

It's the relaxing tipple at the end of the day that signals the start of 'me time'. But as these disturbing stories testify, for many women it becomes a dangerous compulsion.

There was a time when Flora Lee marked the end of the day by putting her children to bed and retreating to the kitchen to pour herself a well-deserved drink. She refers to it as ‘that first gin and tonic of the evening' — the longed for moment when she could put the daily grind behind her. ‘It signalled the beginning of me-time,' says the 30-year-old mother of two.

However, the problem was that Flora was following up that gin and tonic with a glass of wine — and then several more. At one stage, she admits she was polishing off a bottle of wine a night over dinner with her husband Nick, a fraud consultant.

‘I had reached the stage where occasionally I couldn't remember going to bed. I'd never drink to the point of falling over, but I could see I was drinking far too much,' she says. Flora was drinking up to 60 units of alcohol every week, more than four times the recommended levels, but worryingly her story is far from unusual.

The latest government statistics show that behind the closed doors of Britain's middle-class homes, drinking has reached an all-time high. What's more, middle-class women are twice as likely to be heavy and regular drinkers as any other class or sector of society. Almost one in five women drinks to excess — and the number drinking more than the recommended number of units has grown by a fifth over the past decade, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.

By contrast, men's drinking habits have remained constant over the past ten years.

Like Flora, drinking for these women has become a routine way of ‘self-medicating' against the stresses and strains of everyday life.

‘It reached the stage where I wasn't getting hangovers, but I was feeling sluggish and tired in the mornings,' says Flora, a former PA who lives in South-West London with her 36-year-old husband and their children Holly, five, and Jack, two. She stopped drinking when she was pregnant, but once her babies were born she began again. Not surprisingly, alcohol soon became a refuge from the pressures of motherhood.

‘I had post-natal depression after Jack and found that drinking made me feel less blue,' she says. ‘It became a form of escapism.'

Jane Hopkins, a 34-year-old businesswoman from Warwickshire, agrees. ‘Wine is the punctuating moment to my day,' she says. ‘Once I have tidied up and sat down at my laptop in the evening, that is the time for the bottle of Chardonnay to come out. Wine signals a time to relax.'

According to Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, many high-earning women are turning to drink to alleviate stress. ‘Alcohol is a sedative, but it's also a drug of dependence. Often, these people don't realise that,' he says.

Most would not even regard themselves as binge drinkers, despite the fact the NHS says that women who drink more than six units a day are just that. One unit is equal to half a standard 175ml glass of wine.  

Jane, who is single and runs Mums Club, an online networking business for women, is aware that she drinks a little too much, but refuses to believe it is a serious problem. ‘I have never classed myself as a heavy drinker, but I can see I am reliant on alcohol,' she says. ‘I know I drink more than the recommended number of units for women in a week. I probably get through three or four bottles.'

It doesn't help that she is surrounded by friends doing exactly the same thing. ‘Alcohol has no social stigma. It isn't as if we are all falling about drunk. I really rely on wine to relax me. I honestly do not know how I would cope without it. Just the action of pouring out a glass is calming,' she says.

Robin Touquet, Professor in Emergency Medicine at Imperial College, London, and one of Britain's leading alcohol experts, describes the phenomenon as ‘gratification for being the domestic goddess'. ‘Many women simply do not appreciate  how dangerous it is to drink wine every day,'  he says.

He points the finger at the way alcohol is being marketed at women. ‘Drinks companies do everything they can to make drinking seem safe and sensible. Supermarkets sell wine at low prices to encourage sales. Women are made to feel that it's natural to have their shopping basket filled with wine as well as food.' 

Old government guidelines stated that men should consume no more than 21 units of alcohol a week, while for women the limit was 14. But the latest Department of Health advice says women should have no more than three units a day and that they have at least two alcohol-free days a week. ‘If you find it hard to have a couple of alcohol-free days then you have to question whether or not you are developing a dependency on alcohol,' says Professor Touquet.

PR executive Natasha Chilon, 35, from West Dulwich, South-East London, admits she drinks most nights, but takes comfort from the fact that her reckless drinking is mirrored by her friends. ‘If I couldn't have a drink I do not know how I would unwind,' she says. ‘I know that I use wine to self-medicate, but an awful lot of women are the same.'

Natasha, who has clients in Los Angeles, often takes calls during the night and so rarely gets more than four or five hours of sleep. She feels constantly exhausted. Recently separated from her husband and with the responsibility of caring for her disabled mother, she has no intention of giving up drinking — despite suffering hangovers.

‘I'm not a binge drinker,' she says. ‘I am just someone who has come to rely on alcohol and feels anxious if I can't drink. I know I would feel much more healthy without it, but I don't think I can stop. ‘I do a full day's work, then come home and care for my mother, and then I sit down at my laptop at 10pm or 11pm and out comes the wine.'

Last year, a study carried out at the London School of Economics found a link between educational attainment and alcohol consumption, after researchers tracked the lives of thousands of 39-year-old women. The report's authors offered several possible explanations, including the fact that female graduates tend to have children later and therefore often have more active social lives or work in male-dominated workplaces with a drinking culture.

They are also likely to have grown up in middle-class families where their parents drank regularly. Heavy drinkers face a higher risk of health problems such as cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, lung and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental illness.

Experts say women need to wake up to the fact that the concept of ‘Wine O'Clock' — the nickname for the hour at which the first drink of the day is poured — isn't turning out to be as much fun as they first thought.

It's a lesson Flora Lee learned to her cost. ‘A middle-aged male friend died of a heart attack last year and that was my wake-up call. I could see I was drinking far too much. I have two gorgeous children and want to be around for them,' she says. ‘I got so worried I recently bought a liver check test kit that measures potential damage to your liver through drinking. To my utter alarm, I was in the ‘‘amber to red'' scale, which meant I was drinking way too much and in danger of causing long-term damage to my liver.

The leaflet advised I give up drinking for a month and see my doctor. He reassured me that I had not done any permanent damage, but that I must cut down. ‘I haven't given up drinking, but I have two or three alcohol-free days and for the rest of the time I restrict myself to one or two glasses. The weight has fallen off me, too — at least half a stone. I feel much more healthy.'

But many middle-class women don't learn their lesson until it is almost  too late. Forty-year-old Georgina Hawkins lives in Herefordshire with her three children, William, 13, Susanna, 12, and Sarah, seven. Her drinking began as a single glass of chilled white wine at the end of the day to help her cope with the stress of having a new baby.

‘Looking back, I think I had post-natal depression, but it was never diagnosed,' she says. ‘I simply knew I felt much better after a glass of wine — all my other middle-class mummy friends were doing the same thing.'

But that single glass of wine began to creep up. ‘Within a year, I was drinking a bottle of white wine a night. But drinking wine is socially acceptable — it's what the middle classes do when we get together. If I ever casually mentioned I thought I should cut down they'd all tell me not to be so silly.'

It got to the point when Georgina found herself drinking during the day and then opening a second bottle in the evening. ‘My then husband ran a landscape gardening business and he didn't notice I was drinking too much, because he liked a glass of wine,  too. It was a sociable thing we  did together.'

Georgina didn't drink during her first two pregnancies, but when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, she was unable to stop. ‘I always had a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. It just took the edge off, as I was going through such a stressful time,' she says. ‘My father was ill with cancer, my marriage was descending into a series of rows and I felt inadequate,' she says.

During one row, when they were both drinking, Georgina hit her husband. He rang the police and she was arrested. By the 17th week of her third pregnancy she realised she had to stop drinking and checked herself into rehab. But after Sarah was born — without suffering any physical effects due to her mother's alcohol intake — she began drinking heavily again.

By the time Sarah was six months old, Georgina's life had begun to spiral out of control. ‘It was hell,' she says. ‘That social glass of wine had turned into a nightmare. I couldn't stop. ‘I had blackouts, I would wake in the morning covered in bruises, unable to remember what had happened or how I had got to bed.

The older children even rang my parents, saying: “Come and get us, Mummy is drunk.” I started hiding drink — there were bottles of wine under the mattress.'

Her perfect middle-class life had fallen apart. ‘I realised I had to stop. I'd separated from my husband and moved from our former home near Hampton Court to rural Herefordshire. ‘It was so hard, but I stopped drinking, it's been really tough, but I have not had a glass of wine for several years. ‘I know many middle-class women who are still drinking heavily, but they will not admit they have a problem.

‘Wine and that lovely gin and tonic at the end of the day has become the panacea of the middle classes. But I know only too well how one glass turns into a bottle — and the damage it can do.' 7.4.11

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Critics slam 'stupid and ridiculous' £75,000 scheme to give alcoholics mobile phones so they can receive regular texts to help them quit as a 'waste of money'

Health chiefs have launched a £75,000 project to send encouraging texts to alcoholics on special mobile phones. Detox patients will receive automated daily SMS messages to check they're staying sober. They'll text back to say they're doing OK - or need help.

The dedicated handsets are being handed out to 120 addicts in Bolton, Greater Manchester, in the first scheme of its kind in Britain. They cannot be used to make or receive standard calls. If patients respond to their daily text with a positive response, saying they are fine, they get an automated reply congratulating them on their progress.

But if they text back that they are in danger of drinking again, they'll be offered face-to-face help or a phone conversation with a key worker as soon as possible. The programme was developed after research showed 80 to 90 per cent of people treated for alcohol dependency relapse within a year.

Critics said the scheme was 'stupid, ridiculous and a desperate attempt to provide some sort of help to justify their existence. The NHS has a history of dreaming up pointless schemes, this is just another example in a long line of doomed thinking while wasting tax-payers money'.

Debra Malone, consultant in public health at NHS Bolton, said: 'The best way to make sure service users successfully adjust to a life without alcohol is to provide them with ongoing support during this difficult period of adjustment. 'However, this is not easy to achieve when the client is back in their own home. Normally there is little or no contact between the service user and the service in the periods between set appointments and it is often during these periods that people can experience stress and be tempted to drink again. We hope this project can change that.'

Bolton is the first place in the country to use the innovative technique to help detox patients.

The Bolton Relapse Prevention Project is a joint initiative between NHS Bolton, Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and d2 Digital by Design, funded by healthcare improvement charity The Health Foundation.

The 120 phones being given out are designed solely for the scheme. They can send to and receive messages from an automated system and cannot be used for any other purpose. This means the handsets have no street value. If someone does not reply, a member of the alcohol team will ring them on their home phone. Critics said 'this typifies the deluded thinking at the NHS, if someone is too drunk to answer their phone, someone from the alcohol support unit will 'ring them' to find out why, it's a joke'.

It is hoped that by maintaining contact with patients and providing them with a line of direct communication, more people will successfully complete their post-detox treatment programme and be able to stay alcohol-free.

Other possible benefits include reducing demand on other health services, the criminal justice system and welfare agencies. If the scheme works, the technology could be used to help people with a range of conditions. 6.4.11

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Charity's concern at alcohol-related hospital admission

The number of people admitted to hospital in the UK because of problem drinking could rise to 1.5 million a year by 2015, a charity says. Alcohol Concern estimates that it will cost the NHS £3.7bn annually if nothing is done to stop the increase. It wants alcohol specialists to be employed in all hospitals and GP practices.

The Department of Health said it would publish a new alcohol strategy in the summer. Thousands of people die each year as a result of their drinking, mostly as a result of alcoholic liver disease. Drinking is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Growing problem
The charity says the number of people being treated in hospital for alcohol misuse has gone from 500,000 in 2002-3 to 1.1 million in 2009-10.

It states that 1.5 million people will need treating every year by the end of the Parliament, if there is no new investment in alcohol services to stop the rise. The report calls for specialist alcohol health workers to be employed across the health service. It claims this will in fact save the NHS £3 for every £1 spent.

Don Shenker, chief executive at Alcohol Concern, said: "With the prime minister saying that NHS is becoming 'increasingly unaffordable', we can show how billions can be saved simply by introducing alcohol health workers in hospitals to help patients reduce their drinking. "As problem drinking costs the country so dear, a modest investment in supporting problem drinkers will lead to a three-fold saving, surely a necessity in an economic downturn."

Primary care trusts in England, which are being abolished as part of government changes to the health service, are criticised in the report for not dedicating enough of their budgets to alcohol problems. The authors identify the transfer of powers to GPs as an "ideal chance" to transform alcohol services.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "Misuse of alcohol can cause significant harm and the government has wasted no time in taking tough action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime.

"It is clear we need a bold new approach to tackling this and other public health issues because so many of the life-style driven health problems are already at alarming levels. "That is why the newly published strategy for public health sets out plans to ring-fence public health spending, devolve power and budgets to local communities, and work across areas from behavioural science to education to improve public health.

"We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy to follow on from the Public Health White Paper in the summer." 14.2.11

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Alcohol deaths down BUT less alcohol is consumed in recession

A drop in consumer spending during the recession has led to fewer people drinking alcohol, a charity said. New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows men in the UK drank 16.3 units of alcohol a week on average in 2009, down from 17.4 in 2008, while women drank eight units a week on average, down from 9.4 in the previous year.

The figures also show a drop in the number of people dying, with 8,664 alcohol-related deaths in 2009, 367 fewer than in 2008. However, the number of deaths is still up 26% on a decade ago.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "The slight fall in 2009 in alcohol-related deaths mirrors a slight drop in alcohol consumption, and while this is positive, it is wholly due to a drop in consumer spending as a result of the recession.

"It is very likely that alcohol consumption will rise again once the economy picks up. Government alcohol policy should ensure alcohol becomes less affordable permanently, not just in an economic downturn."

The figures mirror data published last September by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), which showed the sharpest year-on-year decline in alcohol consumption since 1948. Overall, there was a 6% fall in 2009 - the fourth annual drop in five years.

The ONS data also shows a continuing trend regarding middle-class drinking.

More than a third (35%) of women in professional and managerial households exceeded the recommended alcohol intake on at least one day in the week prior to interview compared with 23% of those on lower incomes.

For men, the figure was 41% in professional and managerial households, compared with 34% of men in manual jobs. 27.1.11

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Flawed study: Alcohol is not more harmful than heroin, crack cocaine:

Alcohol is more harmful than illegal drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, a new study by British researchers lead by Professor David Nutt claimed on Monday.

Scientists looked at the dangers to both the individual and to wider society and found that alcohol was the most dangerous substance, according to the study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD).

The results fly in the face of long-held opinions about which drugs pose the greatest dangers, with the authors claiming they demonstrate "the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm." "They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol... is a valid and necessary public health strategy," said the authors.

Drug experts on the committee devised their own system to judge substances and believe their consensus provides a valuable assessment which could guide policymakers.

The research, published in medical journal The Lancet, looked at the how much a drug harms the human body as well as other factors such as what its use costs the health care and prison systems.

Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine - or crystal meth - were found to be the most deadly. But when the wider social effects were factored in, alcohol was the most dangerous, followed by heroin and crack cocaine, said the study.

Substances were given a mark from zero to 100 based on certain criteria, with alcohol scoring 72 overall followed by 55 for heroin and 54 for crack.

One of the study's authors was David Nutt, a former British government drugs adviser during the previous Labour administration. He was sacked after a disagreement with the government over the decision to upgrade the classification of cannabis.

The ISCD says its remit is to investigate and review scientific evidence relating to drugs, free from political concerns. But critics said the study is flawed, ‘persistent use of heroin, crack, crystal meth and most other class A drugs is much more damaging than persistent use of alcohol or nicotine which can be enjoyed socially. If you laid these drugs out on a table and had to pick one to use on a regular basis, most people would chose alcohol or nicotine over heroin, crack or meth. If the majority of society took this advice and took up smoking heroin instead of drinking alcohol we would descend into chaos, this study is irresponsible and has been presented to grab headlines not facts'. 2.11.10

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Despite the headlines - Alcohol consumption actually 'continues to fall'

Alcohol consumption in 2009 saw the sharpest year-on-year decline since 1948, figures from the British Beer and Pub Association suggest. The BBPA said the data showed a 6% decline in 2009, the fourth annual decline in five years.

The association said UK drinkers were now consuming 13% less alcohol than in 2004, below the EU average. It used HM Revenue and Customs data about the amount of alcohol sold by producers and importers into the UK.

It is thought the decline may be due to the effect of the recession on spending, but could also be a sign that messages about responsible drinking have affected drinking habits.

The organisation said UK taxes on beer remained the second highest duty rate in EU - 10 times higher than in Germany and seven times higher than in France. Some £5.5bn is paid in duty and VAT, with alcohol contributing £14.6bn in total to UK tax revenues.

Other figures published in the BBPA Statistical Handbook 2010 show beer is the most popular drink sold, accounting for 60% of all alcohol sales in pubs, hotels, and restaurants. Wine is in second place at 17%.

Baby Steps
In 2009, the UK ale market increased its market share of all beers for the first time since the 1960s. The number of UK brewers is now at its highest since 1940.

The total spending on beer is £17bn a year, or 41% of all spending on alcohol. The average price of a pint of bitter is £2.58, with lager £2.95.

London is the most expensive region to buy a pint, with prices 35% higher than in the north-east of England.

Neil Williams, from the BBPA, said while alcohol consumption had historically fallen during recessions, the figures showed a long-term downward trend. "A key factor is that beer is by far the worst hit sector and we feel that it's the government's taxation policy in relation to beer that's causing that," he told the BBC. "We've seen taxes shifting on to beer from other categories of drinks and that is a real problem."

He rejected the introduction of minimum pricing, saying the government should target those who binge drink.

"A minimum price is a blanket measure that will just put up everybody's shopping bill in a time of recession. What we need is targeted measures at those who are misusing alcohol," he said.

One possible solution would be to charge people for A&E hospital treatment, 'if you get a £500 bill for hospital treatment due to drinking too much, you might be inclined to drink less next time you go out' said one critic.

The association's chief executive, Brigid Simmonds, added that beer and pubs played a vital role in the UK economy in terms of turnover, jobs, and tax revenues.

But Dr Stuart Flanagan, who works in accident and emergency, said while the BBPA figures were encouraging, they had to be seen in the context that alcohol consumption had risen for 60 years.

He told the BBC : "Although we've seen a decrease year on year in the last few years, we've reached our sort of peak of alcohol consumption in 2004, so these are really baby steps in terms of how much alcohol reduction we're seeing across the board." 3.9.10

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Drinking puts 1,500 people in hospital every day

Over one in four drinkers exceed weekly limits according to national surveys and alcohol sales figures suggest the number is much higher. Experts have warned that the number of hospital admissions caused by alcohol consumption has risen by two-thirds in the last five years.

Reports reveal more than on average 1,500 men and women are admitted to hospital every day due to alcohol abuse, a 65% rise over five years. Professor Mark Bellis, director of the North West Public Health Observatory commented, 'The English death toll from alcohol now exceeds 15,500 people every year'.

In addition to the serious health risks associated with drinking too much, more than 400,000 brawls , burglaries and sexual assaults are blamed on alcohol each year, according to the report.

A questionnaire distributed by the NHS Information Centre revealed that 9% of men and 4% of women exhibited signs of alcohol dependency .

Worryingly, Britain 's increasing addiction to alcohol is taking an average of seven months off the life of every man and woman, and in the worst affected areas, life expectancy is shortened by up to two years.

Health Minister Lord Howe said, 'Levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime , ill-health and deaths are unacceptable and we have already outlined our commitment to tackling the problem by taking action to stop the sale of alcohol below cost, to review alcohol taxation and price and introducing a tougher licensing regime.'

NHS alcohol treatments have failed to stop the increase in alcohol related harm and have been described as 'dire'. 1.9.10

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PCT faces high court challenge after axing alcohol rehab funding for the Priory

A campaign group dedicated to securing effective abstinence treatment for the UK 's 1.1m alcohol dependents today launched a High Court challenge against a Primary Health Care Trust after it axed all funding for places at one of the country's leading rehabilitation centres blaming poor treatment outcomes and high costs. This PCT also axed funding for places at a day programme which helped alcoholics to recover.

Lawyers for UK Advocates wrote threatening proceedings against Nottinghamshire County PCT in the Administrative Division of the High Court after learning of the health authority's plan to stop all referrals to the Priory Clinic in Nottingham [who receive 75% of their funding from PCT's] from the end of September this year.

As the Government cuts back on spending in the wake of the financial crisis, fears are growing that the Priory could suffer a significant contraction in profits as they have been able to charge the Government heady fees to provide NHS patients with care at short notice. The Priory was acquired by Ducth bank ABN Amro for £875m, a price tag many believe was £100m too rich. Five years later, ABN's private equity portfolio is in the hands of the British taxpayer after the Dutch bank was bought by Royal Bank of Scotland, itself then part- nationalised in 2009. Priory's addiction to debt has become a national problem. The accounts to the end of 2007 show Priory made a pre-tax loss of £72m after being forced to pay £94m in interest payments on its £1bn debt pile.

Central to UKA's challenge is the PCT's use of a single sentence from the National Treatment Agency's 2006  Review of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Alcohol Problems for the National Treatment Agency (NTA) as evidence to justify denying county residents access to detoxification beds, residential rehabilitation places and aftercare programmes provided at the clinic, as the NTA considered 'residential rehab doesn't actually work very well' and 'there is no evidence that rehab works'.

MISREPRESENTED RESEARCH
In a letter to referral agencies, seen by UKA and Addiction Today , the PCT uses that one quote from the NTA's Review questioning the effectiveness of residential rehabs that base treatment programmes partly on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

However, on being informed of the use of the 212-page report in this context by the Addiction Recovery Foundation, the authors of the quote - Duncan Raistrick and Nick Heather -  responded that they "are very unhappy that the Effectiveness Review might have been misrepresented" and that the report found that "there is a place... for residential care… for those with greater impairments particularly with regard to social deterioration and high risk of relapse" and "we are supportive of mutual aid, including 12-step programmes and of Twelve Step Facilitation".

SPURNING DoH GUIDELINES
Nottingham PCT's letter makes no reference to a series of definitive guidelines from the Department of Health that commissioners of alcohol treatment services are expected to follow when making decisions on the shape of NHS alcohol treatment services, and that make it clear that both residential rehabilitation and 12-step based treatments should be included in a range of treatment interventions.

It also pre-empts forthcoming guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence ( NICE ) on the management and treatment of alcohol dependency, expected early next year. The PCT's decision comes amidst deepening concern among service providers and users over the future of alcohol treatment in the county, which are currently 'under review'.

Earlier this year UKA threatened similar action against Nottinghamshire County PCT when it abruptly pulled funding for an intensive day care programme for alcohol dependents in the city commissioned from a private sector provider, despite highly promising early results.

UKA chairman Robert Beckett said: “I've spent over 20 years trying to work in cooperation with NHS commissioners to secure the rights of alcohol dependents to treatment that gives them the best possible chance of getting sober and staying sober. Sadly this has failed and we have no option but to ask the courts to intervene. The PCT has cherry picked one sentence from one of scores of academic studies - some of which have very different findings - to justify doing this, even though it runs contrary to the Department of Health guidelines they are committed to following.

"This is serious blow for alcohol dependents in Nottinghamshire and will have a huge knock on effect on thousands of people either in need of treatment or already in recovery through the clinic. “We are caught in an epidemic in alcohol dependency that is killing thousands every year and costing the country billions of pounds, yet the PCT is prepared to stop providing a service that has been proven to be outstandingly successful for 20 years. “We hear similar stories about inadequate and poorly structured services elsewhere in the UK all the time and this action could be just the first of many.”

But supporters of withdrawing the funding have said 'The courts can not force the PCT to carry on using the Priory, it's a pointless threat, it is impossible to keep funding such programs with high costs and poor treatment outcomes, some people need several attempts are residential rehab before they regain control, if at all, which is hardly realistic in the present economic climate'. 2.7.10

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GPs to quiz NHS patients over alcohol intake as watchdog pleads for minimum pricing

All NHS patients face being quizzed about their drinking habits by their GP under tough new alcohol guidelines recommended by the NHS's watchdog. Patients could be asked how much and how often they drink when they register with a GP, attend Accident and Emergency or receive advice about their medication or sexual health.

The guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - the Government's health advisory body - also recommends setting a minimum price alcohol to combat Britain 's binge drinking epidemic. In addition, a crackdown on cheap drink, booze cruises and a possible advertising ban are included among measures put forward to make alcohol more difficult to buy.

Professor Eileen Kaner of Newcastle University chaired the Nice group of experts who made the recommendations. She said: 'It should be a common medical practice to ask about alcohol where alcohol could be a contributory factor or (where patients have) a condition where alcohol is likely to be a factor, such as sleep disturbance and hypertension.'

Those patients thought to be drinking too much could be advised to stay off alcohol for one or two nights a week, have one or two fewer drinks or eat before they go out drinking, she added.

The guidance is the strongest call yet for a radical shake-up in the nation's 'unhealthy relationship' with alcohol. It will severely test the coalition Government's approach to excess drinking. The Tories have already pledged to stop supermarkets and off-licences selling alcohol below cost price to encourage trade but have stopped short of backing a minimum price fearing an industry backlash.

However, the Lib Dems have a minimum price policy in their manifesto. Nice stopped short of saying what this price should be, although the British Medical Association is backing a 50p per unit minimum. Research shows increasing prices has the biggest effect on the heaviest consumers and on young people, who spend a relatively high proportion of their income on alcohol.

The guidance from Nice also says there should be cuts in the amount of drink holidaymakers and 'booze cruisers' are allowed to import. The number of outlets selling alcohol could be reduced, along with opening hours, while councils should restrict new licences in 'saturated' areas to cut crime and disorder. Shops selling to those who are under age or clearly drunk should face penalties or closure, says the guidance, while a complete ban on advertising would protect young people.

Professor Mike Kelly, Nice's public health director said the annual toll of excessive drinking costs the NHS £2billion, leads to 500,000 related crimes, 17million lost working days, 1.2 million violent incidents and just under 15,000 alcohol-related deaths.

However, Tory MP Peter Bone, a former member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, said: 'My main problem with minimum pricing is that it increases the profits of supermarkets and does not increase Government revenue. 'My other problem is that you will not combat yobbish behaviour in this country just by putting up the price. 'It is not going to solve the problem. We need a cultural change in this country.' 2.6.10

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Prescriptions for alcohol dependency reach record level

Record numbers of drinkers are being prescribed pills to help them beat alcohol addiction, according to official figures published yesterday. More than 150,000 people were forced to rely on medication to fight their alcohol dependency last year.

The figures revealed that GPs issued more than 150,000 prescriptions last year for anti-alcohol drugs – a 12 per cent rise on last year. The findings raise concerns that campaigns for sensible drinking are not working.

In 2009 nearly 95,000 prescriptions of acamprosate calcium were dispensed. The drug helps restore the brain's chemical balance to reduce a patient's withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. Over the same period, more than 55,500 disulfiram prescriptions were dispensed, which causes a severe and unpleasant reaction in the patient if they drink alcohol. It is unclear whether the increased uptake of alcohol medication reflects a genuine rise in the number of problem drinkers or a greater willingness among drinkers to seek treatment and doctors to offer medication.

But critics say 'the medications do not help but have unpleasant side effects, the number of alcohol related deaths has risen by 40% in last 10 years because these drugs don't work'.

The data from the NHS Information Centre also found that one in four adults risk damaging their health with "hazardous" alcohol consumption.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Doctors determine what's best for their patients. If someone is finding it hard to stop drinking, their GP might decide to prescribe medication." In 2008 there were 6,769 deaths directly related to alcohol, an increase of 24 per cent since 2001 – suggesting that alcohol abuse is creating a problem which is yet to peak. The main contributor to this increase was the rise in alcoholic liver disease, up 36 per cent from 3,236 cases in 2001 to 4,400 in 2008. There were also 1,367 deaths due to alcohol-related fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver.

Almost three in 10 men (28 per cent) reported drinking more than the recommended 21 units a week, with almost one in five women (19 per cent) consuming more than the recommended 14 units in a week.

Seven per cent of men said they drank more than 50 units, or 25 pints, a week while 5 per cent of women reported a consumption of more than 35 units a week – equivalent to nearly three bottles of wine.

However, sensible drinking campaigns appear to have influenced the behaviour of schoolchildren, who were less likely to have tried an alcoholic drink than in 2001. Some 48 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds said they had never tried alcohol, compared to 39 per cent in 2003. Young people in London were the least likely to have had a drink, but 63 per cent of those in the North-east had tried one.

Almost 18 per cent of this age group reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, down from 2001 when 26 per cent of pupils reported drinking in the last seven days. These students reported drinking an average of 14.6 units – equivalent to more than seven pints of normal-strength beer – in the last week.

Middle-class professionals were most likely to have consumed alcohol in the previous week – 79 per cent of professional men and 67 per cent of women. Manual workers had the lowest consumption, with only 64 per cent of men and 46 per cent of women drinking in the past week. Chris Sorek, the chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "You don't have to be dependent on alcohol to be drinking at levels that put your health at risk. More than one in five men and one in 10 women are technically binge-drinking once a week and probably don't even realise.

"It's shocking to discover that alcohol-related deaths are again on the increase – and, with a rise in prescription items dispensed to treat drink dependency, it's vital now, more than ever, that we act to educate people on the effects of drinking too much before more people come to harm."

Simon Litherland, managing director of Diageo GB, which makes beers, wines and spirits, said: "While alcohol misuse is a serious issue in Britain, these figures not only show that overall alcohol consumption continues to fall, but that there is clear progress in raising awareness and tackling misuse.

"The number of people binge drinking, drinking under age and exceeding government guidelines have all fallen – clear signs of the early success of campaigns by Government and industry."

Jo Webber, the deputy director of policy of the Ambulance Service Network at the NHS Confederation, said: "The role of the NHS should not just be about treating the consequences of alcohol-related harm but also about active prevention, early intervention, and working in partnership with services in local communities to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm." 27.5.10

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Booze Britain : Prescriptions for alcoholism soar 12% in a year

The number of prescriptions for drugs to treat alcoholism has risen by 12 per cent, figures showed today. More than 150,000 prescriptions for two medicines used to treat withdrawal symptoms or induce sickness when alcohol is drunk were written in 2009, data for England revealed.

This is up 12 per cent on the figure for 2008 and a 46 per cent rise on the figure for 2003. A new report from the NHS Information Centre puts the cost of the drugs at £2.38million in 2009.

The first drug, Acamprosate Calcium, accounted for almost 95,000 prescriptions. It acts on the brain to help people cope with the withdrawal symptoms from stopping drinking. Disulfiram (also called Antabuse), which makes people sick, made up just over 55,500 of the 150,445 items prescribed. On average, 271 prescription items were dispensed for alcohol dependency per 100,000 people in England .

The figure was higher than the national average in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and East of England. The figure was lowest in London.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: 'This report shows a year-on-year increase in prescriptions being dispensed to help people battle their dependency on alcohol. 'The report also shows the burden alcohol places on the health service in England and will be of use to healthcare professionals as they try and plan how to tackle the issue.'

Today's report also includes previously published data on people's drinking habits. In 2008, there were 6,769 alcohol-related deaths, up 24 per cent from 2001. Of these, 4,400 were due to alcoholic liver disease.

Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: 'You don't have to be dependent on alcohol to be drinking at levels that put your health at risk. 'More than one in five men and over one in 10 women are technically binge-drinking once a week and they probably don't even realise.

'It's shocking to discover that alcohol-related deaths are again on the increase - and, with a rise in prescription items dispensed to treat drink dependency, it's vital now, more than ever, that we act to educate people on the effects of drinking too much before more people come to harm.' Critics say 'these medications do not work but have serious side-effects'. 26.5.10

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Alcohol-related liver disease trebles in 15 years

The number of Scots with chronic liver disease — which is associated with binge-drinking — has almost trebled in the past 15 years, giving the nation the second-highest rate in Europe. According to NHS statistics for 2008 released yesterday, 9,072 people with the condition were treated in hospital and the disease was the cause of 1,059 deaths.

Among 30 to 39-year-olds the mortality rate associated with chronic liver disease has soared five-fold in 25 years. The rise comes at a time when many other European countries have experienced falling rates of the disease. Only Hungary, one of the poorest nations in the EU, has higher rates than Scotland.

According to other figures published by the NHS, drink-related hospital discharges have risen in nearly all age groups over the past five years. The greatest increase was among young adults in their 20s and 30s, at nearly 23 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Health Secretary, said the statistics demonstrated the need to take tough action on alcohol misuse, including minimum pricing for drink. “Most worrying is the increase in alcohol-related problems among young people, who are putting themselves at risk of serious health problems,” she said. “Alcohol is now around 70 per cent more affordable than it was in 1980 and, over the same period, consumption and alcohol-related harm have spiralled. These factors are not unrelated. Cheap alcohol is making a serious situation even worse. By linking price to product strength, minimum pricing will put an end to the sale of high-strength alcohol for less than the cost of bottled water.”

Proposals to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol were included in the Alcohol Misuse Bill, which is making its way through the Scottish Parliament. Although the measure is supported by a broad coalition of health professionals and drinks industry figures, it has little chance of becoming law after opposition parties refused to back it.

Yesterday's figures showed that in 2008-09, 115 Scots a day were discharged from hospital because of alcohol abuse, with the majority — 92 per cent — admitted as emergencies. Overall there were 41,922 cases, fewer than the previous year but 9 per cent more than in 2004-05.

The statistics included 13,694 instances where people were taken to hospital for harmful use of alcohol, as well as 8,385 cases of acute intoxication, 4,762 cases of alcohol dependence and 5,286 cases involving alcohol psychoses. Also included were 270 instances of under-15s being treated, and six cases of youngsters aged between 15 and 19 being treated for alcoholic liver disease.

Scottish Labour said that the figures were further evidence of the harm that Scotland 's culture of hard drinking was causing. The party recently established a commission to examine proposals to reduce the level of problem drinking.

Richard Simpson, Labour's health spokesman, said: “The sharp rise in rates of chronic liver disease is extremely concerning. I am particularly worried about the large increase in young women who are drinking excessively. “We know from studies that minimum unit pricing would make very little difference with this group. Ministers should stop obsessing about this policy and engage in a serious debate about how to deal with Scotland 's hard-drinking culture.

“We need to consider radical measures to reduce the level of problem drinking, including Alcohol Treatment and Testing Orders, a mandatory Challenge 25 scheme and better education about the dangers of abusing alcohol.”

Ross Finnie, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, called for extra resources to treat those with alcoholrelated health problems. “The massive jump in chronic liver disease is a reminder that ... we will still have to treat the thousands of Scots whose habits didn't and won't change quick enough,” he said. “The NHS needs to be prepared for another surge in chronic liver disease. The government must make sure that the right staff are in place and the resources are there.”

Meanwhile, knife killings in Scotland have reached an all-time high, despite a second consecutive year fall in the total number of homicides. Blades accounted for the cause of death in 58 per cent of the 99 homicide victims recorded in 2008-09, while 41 per cent of those accused of murder were intoxicated with drink or drugs. 24.2.10

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Cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland up to £4.64 billion a year

Alcohol misuse could be costing Scottish taxpayers up to £4.64 billion per year, according to an independent study. The research, which looked at the impact across the NHS, police, social services, the economy and on families, estimated the total annual cost at between £2.48 billion and £4.64 billion - with a mid-point estimate of £3.56 billion.

Averaged across the population, the £3.56 billion figure means alcohol misuse could be costing every Scottish adult about £900 per year. Even the lowest figure is substantially higher than the previous estimate of £2.25 billion per year.

Using the mid-point estimate of £3.56 billion in 2007:

* Healthcare related costs were put at £268.8 million or 7.5 per cent of the total
* Social care costs were estimated to be £230.5 million or 6.5 per cent of the total
* Crime costs were put at £727.1 million or 20.4 per cent of the total
* The cost to the productivity of the Scottish economy was £865.7 million or 24.3 per cent of the total
* The human cost in terms of suffering caused by premature deaths was £1.46 billion or 41.2 per cent of the total

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "This report, which takes a more comprehensive view than any previous study, indicates that the total cost of alcohol misuse to Scotland 's economy and society is even worse than we thought. "Not only does alcohol misuse burden our health service and police - it also has a terrifying knock-on effect on our economic potential and on the families devastated by death and illness caused by alcohol.

"The Scottish Government's Alcohol Bill includes a package of evidence-based measures to get to grips with this issue, including minimum pricing to combat the dirt-cheap ciders, lagers and low-grade spirits favoured by problem drinkers. "It is supported by a broad coalition including the four Chief Medical Officers of the UK , the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges , Church of Scotland, Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association. And on Friday, the House of Commons Health Committee also came out in favour of minimum pricing.

"The time for stalling is over and the need for action is clear. I call on all MSPs to do the right thing and support the measures in the Alcohol Bill."

Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "It's clear that alcohol misuse is having a major detrimental effect on Scotland 's economic potential. "To put it in perspective, the mid-range estimate of 3.56 billion pounds for the total cost equates to around one tenth of Scotland 's annual budget and 900 pounds for every adult in our country.

"The reality is that we are all paying the cost - even those of us who drink responsibly or not at all. At a time of financial pressure, it is essential we address this unacceptable drain on our public services and on business."

John Neilson, Assistant Chief Constable, Territorial Policing, for Strathclyde Police said: "There is a clear link between alcohol and violence and we believe that drink is simply too cheap. Too many people are being hurt or even killed as a result of alcohol related violence. This simply has to change. "People have to realise that drinking to excess not only blights our communities but puts them at increased risk of becoming either a victim or a perpetrator of crime.

"The availability of cheap booze has led to an increase in drinking and violence in homes and this makes any drink fuelled incidents more difficult for us to control. A minimum price for drink is not necessarily the only answer, but we believe that it would help to reduce the totally unacceptable levels of violence."

The Scottish Government introduced its Alcohol Bill to Parliament in November. Its proposals include:

* A minimum price per unit of alcohol to raise the cost of the cheapest ciders, lagers and low-grade spirits favoured by problem drinkers
* A ban on irresponsible off-sales promotions which encourage excessive drinking
* A duty on licensing boards to consider raising the off-sales purchase age to 21 where appropriate to develop local solutions to local problems
* A power to introduce a 'social responsibility fee' on some retailers to offset the costs of dealing with drink problems

The Scottish Government has committed investment of almost £120 million over the period of the spending review (2008-11): the single largest increase ever for tackling alcohol misuse in Scotland , and almost a tripling in resources. 12.01.2010

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MPs lambast 'dire state' of alcohol treatment services in damning report

Health select committee accuses government of being 'overly influenced' by drinks industry. MPs today urged the government to overhaul policies on alcohol and improve "the dire state" of treatment services in a report that accused ministers of being too influenced by the drinks industry.

The health select committee's report said the harm caused by alcohol to health continued to be underestimated, with rising consumption accounting for a five-fold increase in liver disease since 1970 in the UK. The report said there were between 30,000 and 40,000 early deaths caused by excessive alcohol consumption while between 16% and 45% of suicides were linked to alcohol.

Dire Treatment Services
The report was highly critical of the lack of treatment services to deal with growing alcohol problems, which it partly attributed to the shift in resources to address dependency on illegal drugs with an overall success rate at just one or two percent for alcohol rleated problems.

It said the "dire state" of treatment services was a "significant disincentive" for primary care services to detect alcohol-related problems at an early stage, which would reduce the need for more expensive treatments later on.

The committee called for all primary care trusts to have an alcohol strategy, based on a "robust needs assessment", targets for reducing alcohol-related hospital admissions and for budgets to be pooled to enable savings from reduced admissions to be poured into treatment and prevention.

'Least effective policies'
The committee also said the government had relied on education and information – what it described as the least effective policies for tackling alcohol misuse – while too little emphasis was placed on pricing, availability, treatment and marketing controls.

The report, which called for a minimum price to be introduced per unit of alcohol, said: "In formulating its alcohol strategy, the government must be more sceptical about the [drinks] industry's claims that it is in favour of responsible drinking."

The MPs were critical of attempts to reduce the harm from alcohol through education campaigns. They said these were ineffective at changing behaviour, and pointed out that drinks industry promotions cost many times what the government spends on encouraging responsible drinking.

The report also criticised the response from government, saying it "ranged from the non-existent to the ineffectual."

Public health minister Gillian Merron said the government had adopted a strategic approach to tackling alcohol abuse but accepted that current levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime and death were unacceptably high. She said: "We will consider all of the committee's proposals carefully and respond to them formally in due course." 8.1.10

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Alcohol abuse will push hospital admissions past a million, experts warn

Alcohol abuse in England could push the number of related NHS hospital admissions above one million in two year's time, according to the North West Public Health Observatory (NWPH).

The NWPH reports 863,257 alcohol-related admissions involving half a million individuals in 2007-08, with 176 alcohol-related admissions more every day in 2007-08 that the previous year, an 8% increase.

Admissions in the same period involved 561,642 individuals, a 6% increase on 2006-07, with deaths from chronic liver disease in 2007-08 increasing by 2.8% to 10,928 for men and 2.4% to 6,293 for women.

Four in five local authorities reported an increase in hospital admissions for alcohol in 2007-08, with fewer than one in 10 reporting a fall.

Says NWPH director Professor Mark Bellis: “Alcohol-related admissions are still only the tip of an iceberg with many people attending accident and emergency units, GPs and pharmacies in order to treat health conditions resulting from their alcohol use.” 20.10.09

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100,000 will die in next decade due to drinking

Almost 100,000 people will die over the next 10 years as a direct result of their drinking, a charity has warned. If drinking patterns continue, around 90,800 people will die within a decade dur to their alcohol consumption, research from the Alcohol & Health Research Unit at the University of the West of England shows.

Alcohol related deaths have trebled in the past 25 years to reach 8,999 last year. However these are only deaths from conditions such as liver disease and alcohol poisoning and do not include the cancer deaths, heart attacks or other diseases which can be caused by drinking. The research released to mark Alcohol Awareness Week this week coincides with another report which found that alcohol is being sold for as little as 9p per unit. It means that three pints (six units) could be bought for 54pence, approximately the cost of a Mars bar.

Professor Martin Plant, lead author of the work said: “The UK has been experiencing an epidemic of alcohol-related health and social problems that is remarkable by international standards. “This could be done by introducing a minimum unit price of 50p which would cut alcohol-related hospital admissions, crimes and absence days from work.

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive Don Shenker said: “This is an unacceptably high death toll and the worst part is that all of these deaths are avoidable. “Whilst there has been a small reduction in consumption and mortality over the last two years, the overall trend is a rise in consumption and a trebling of deaths since 1984.

Dr Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “For 90,000 lives to be thrown away as a result of excessive drinking would be an absolute tragedy. “These findings add further weight to the case for regulation of the labelling, sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks to ensure that the alcohol industry does not engage in unscrupulous practices which encourage consumers to drink to excess. "We call on all political parties to prioritise action on binge drinking in order to prevent the predicted devastation from becoming a reality. The nation's relationship with alcohol is a national and international disgrace.”

Another report found that cut price alcohol is available widely as the campaign to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol gathers pace. Gordon Brown has already ruled out such a move saying it would impact on the moderate drinker too much but last week the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said there was sufficient evidence that the measure would cut problem drinking.

The Core Cities Health Improvement Collaborative (CCHIC), the network of the primary care trusts in England's largest eight cities outside London, carried out the survey. Deborah Evans, chair of the CCHIC steering group and chief executive of NHS Bristol, said: “The price at which alcohol can be bought in and around our inner cities today is nothing short of horrifying.

“As well as finding three litres of cider in big name supermarkets for just £1.18 and £1.26 – which is equivalent to 9p and 10p a unit respectively – we also found super-strength cider at 7.5% available for £1.59 – which is 10.6p a unit – and £1.79, or 12p a unit. “Even leaving aside the consequences this type of cheap alcohol has on crime and disorder in our big cities, the effects that this type of drink has on our health doesn't bear thinking about.”

The survey found a three litre bottle of value cider, with an alcohol content of 4.2% or 12.6 units, available in one supermarket for £1.18 and in another for £1.26. Two bottles of the cider could kill a child yet could be bought with a week's pocket money, Ms Evans said.

Louise Rhymes, whose daughter Stacey died last year, aged 24, from alcoholic liver disease, released photographs of her daughter to warn about the dangers of drinking. Stacey drank five litres of alcohol per day. Miss Rhymes, from Nottingham said: “So much more needs to be done to educate and prevent young people drinking to excess. I lost my daughter through alcohol, I'd hate for other parents to experience the same. Living each day without Stacey is just so hard. “I want young people to be shown a photograph of Stacey's face when she was dying. She was killed by alcohol – a drug that is as easy and cheap to buy as a packet of sweets.”

In 2007/8, 105 people a day were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease. Alison Rogers, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “The evidence shows that the introduction of a minimum price per unit would address the levels of consumption, particularly in chronic drinkers and young people. "And it would cost the average drinker less than 11 pence per week – a whole lot cheaper than paying the NHS and policing bills.”

However the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) hit back by releasing figures showing the amount of alcohol consumed in Britain has dropped by eight per cent in the first half of 2009.

The average amount of alcohol consumed dropped to 3.81 litres per head in the first half of 2009 compared with 4.15 litres per head in the same period of 2008, according to the figures compiled by the British Beer and Pub Association from HM Revenue & Customs data.

Alcohol by numbers:

  • 69 - percentage alcohol is cheaper by than it was in 1980.
  • 8,999 - number of people who died from alcohol abuse last year.
  • 3,054 - number of people who died from alcohol abuse in 1984
  • £1.18 - cost of a three lite bottle of value cider (12.6 units) in one supermarket
  • 1.1 million - adults that are alcohol dependent
  • £2.7 billion - estimated annual cost of alcohol misues to the NHS

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'Wind-down wine' alert: The relaxing glass that is turning working mothers into alcoholics

Women who regularly turn to a glass of wine to 'wind down' as they juggle career and family were warned last night they are priming a health 'timebomb' for themselves. Professor Ian Gilmore, one of the country's leading experts, said they risk developing liver disease or becoming alcohol dependent because they do not understand the detrimental effect that regular drinking has on their bodies.

He said the struggle to cope with a career as well as a family was definitely a factor in the rising consumption of alcohol. Younger women also used alcohol to increase their self-confidence and standing in the workplace. A recent survey showed that half of all mothers drank at home at least three or four nights a week.

Professor Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: 'Women in their role as mother or carer use alcohol to cope with exhaustion, anxiety, isolation and with stressful life events. 'Alcohol is a sedative and a relaxant but used on a regular basis can really put people at high risk. Women are storing up a health timebomb by drinking this regularly. 'My fear is that such women are at risk of developing liver disease or becoming alcohol-dependent.'

Recent NHS figures show the number of women admitted to hospital with alcohol-related problems jumped by a staggering 23 per cent in just two years to more than 70,000 in 2008.  Professor Gilmore, who will speak at a meeting of the Young Women's Christian Institute on Wednesday, said women were more susceptible to alcohol-related problems because of their physical and genetic make-up.

He added: 'It only takes five to ten years of being on a heavy drinking treadmill for liver disease to arise.' The professor, who is also chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, said: 'There is a link between alcohol consumption, the emancipation of women and their bigger role in the workplace. Women feel pressure to compete with their male counterparts, especially in those industries which are dominated by men and are highly paid, such as financial institutions in the City.'

Professor Gilmore said that it was also much more socially acceptable and cheaper for women to drink in Britain today, compared to a generation ago. Alcohol is now so cheap in supermarkets that it is possible to get drunk for the price of a Mars bar, according to a report by the Core Cities Health Improvement Collaborative.

Cider is available in big name stores for as little as 9p a unit, it found. This means that downing two pints of cider, or four units – the daily limit for a woman – would cost just 36p. A Mars bar costs 37p. 19.10.09

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How women in their 40s are drinking more than ever

Women in their 40s are drinking far more alcohol than previous generations and regularly turn to a glass of wine to help them cope with the stress of modern life. According to a survey, half of middle-aged women believe they drink more than their mothers did at their age and some are so worried about the amount they drink they are constantly trying to cut down.

Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950s, largely because drinking among women has become much more socially acceptable, and the cost of buying alcohol is 65 per cent cheaper than 30 years ago. However, the survey revealed that it is not just the 'ladette' generation of British women who are regularly indulging in alcohol. 

Women in their 40s and 50s admit to regularly opening a bottle of wine to consume with dinner at home during the week. Woman & Home magazine questioned around 3,000 women - aged between 35 and 60 - to try to establish how their drinking habits have changed compared with the previous generation. Almost half revealed that their mothers rarely drank, save for special occasions, with a quarter admitting that their mother never drank at all at their age.

In comparison, one in ten of the women questioned admitted having a drink every day and a third said they enjoyed alcohol a few times a week. Most - nearly 80 per cent - drank wine at home, with almost half - 46 per cent - admitting to drinking on their own.

Earlier this week the Daily Mail revealed that drinking too much alcohol, coupled with indulging in an inactive lifestyle, can be a factor in the development of breast cancer. Experts at the World Cancer Research Fund said cutting down on drinking, coupled with maintaining a healthy weight, could help reduce the diagnosis of the disease among middle-aged women by as much as 40 per cent.

Alcohol consumption is also blamed for a dramatic rise in cases of cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip and throat which have also increased by a quarter among women in their 40s in the past decade. The survey revealed that around a third of women said they didn't feel they needed a reason to have a drink, but most said they turned to alcohol to help them relax after a stressful day or to celebrate a special occasion.

Researchers point to the fact that single mothers or divorced women are more likely than in the past to open a bottle of wine at the end of a busy day at work or with the children. One in four women said they had been so concerned about one of their female friends' drinking habits they had confronted them about their intake, while a fifth admitted they sometimes worried about their own drinking and were constantly trying to cut down.

Sue James, editorial director of Woman & Home, said: 'Much has been said about teenagers and the "ladette" culture for binge-drinking alcohol, but the amount of drinking done by the core of the female population - the 40-something woman - has rather been overlooked. 'Our survey shows that these women are aware that they are drinking far more than their own mother's generation ever did and that they are concerned about the impact it will have, not only on their health, but on that of their friends and family as well.

Professor Ian Gilmore, who is president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairs the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, said: 'This survey further demonstrates that it is not just youngsters binge-drinking who are having problems with alcohol - the biggest rise in drinking is among middle-aged people.' 5.9.09

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Regular drinking adds 4in to women's waists... and it puts an extra 2in on men's beer bellies

Regular drinking can put inches on your waistline - especially if you're a woman, say researchers. Regularly downing a bottle of wine in a single session could result in four inches extra around a woman's waist. It not only produces 'muffin tops' - the unsightly rolls of fat that bulge over waistbands - it's bad for women's health.

Men who binge drink similar amounts - around five pints of beer or ten shots of vodka - could see their waist size increase by at least two inches. For the first time, researchers believe they have identified the link between drinking and abdominal obesity, which helps trigger diabetes and heart disease.

They blame it on the pattern of drinking, when large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a session instead of being spread over a period of time. In fact, the classic beer belly is a bit of a myth because men who drink beer regularly - around two pints a day - barely see a change in their girth.

The findings come from a 'snapshot' study of almost 30,000 people between 2002 and 2005 by researchers at University College London.

It involved men and women aged 45-69 in Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic, and was based on questionnaires and confirmatory medical testing. Binge drinkers, who made up 20 per cent of the study, were defined as drinking 80-100g of alcohol - ten to 12 units - on one occasion at least once a month.

Men developed waists that were on average 6cm (2in) bigger than people who did not binge drink. Women gained almost twice as much, around 10cm (4in) compared with non-binge drinkers. It was not clear from the study how long people would have to drink in this way to end up with bigger stomachs.

The findings were released yesterday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona. Professor Martin Bobak, who led the study, said: 'Binge drinking is common in parts of Eastern Europe and is also becoming common in many parts of Western Europe.' The research found that the effect of binge drinking was independent from the amount of alcohol drunk in a year.

Professor Bobak said: 'It's not necessarily the volume but the pattern.' He said women were more at risk because in general they have a smaller body mass in which to dispose of the alcohol. Professor Bobak said it was unclear why sporadic heavy drinking should increase abdominal fat, but it may be part of an unhealthy lifestyle. Some research also suggested that stress was to blame.

Binge drinking in the UK is defined as five drinks or more consumed on one occasion - with a drink, or unit, being a small glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a pub measure of spirits. But a standard glass of wine served in Britain is 175mls, which can be 2.5 units if the wine is strong.  2.9.09

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How the middle aged have turned to drink: Stronger wines and beers fuel alcohol explosion

Middle-aged Britons are knocking back more alcohol than young binge-drinkers as they turn to powerful New World wines and premium beers. Forty per cent of those aged 45 to 64 are drinking on between three and seven days a week, almost double the level of those aged 18 to 24.

The arrival of wines with alcohol by volume (ABV) of at least 13 per cent and beers of 5 per cent means the impact of what has been called middle-aged 'stress drinking' is particularly strong. The figures come from retail analysts Mintel which found these stronger drinks mean we are consuming 10 per cent more pure alcohol than in 2000.

Analyst Jonny Forsyth said: 'In the 1970s, a bottle of wine may have been around 11 per cent in ABV and now the same bottle is more likely to be around 13 per cent. 'Equally, we have seen stronger lager become much more popular over the past couple of decades.' As a result, he added, we are drinking more pure alcohol than ever 'by stealth', despite society's greater concern with being healthy.

The research found 22 per cent of adults, mainly middle-aged and in good jobs, drink more at home than a year ago, with many saying it helps them to relax. This 'stress drinking' has coincided with an increase in financial pressures and concerns about unemployment. Heavy drinking appears to have become 'normalised', according to Mintel.

The research found when the 18-24s drink they do so to excess, downing double the amount an older person might enjoy. But, when averaged out over a week, the middle-aged are drinking more. Some 42 per cent take the view that binge drinking is part of Britain's culture, while a quarter of drinkers believe there is nothing wrong with drinking to excess.

Mintel said many older drinkers had failed to change how much they consume to take account of stronger wine and beer. 'The rise in alcohol content has been up until now a rather subtle phenomenon,' the report said. 'Therefore, most are unaware of rising alcohol strength and fail to moderate their drinking habits accordingly.'

The NHS recommended weekly maximum is 14 units of alcohol for a woman and 21 for a man. In the past, it would have taken more than eight standard glasses of wine such as Piat D'Or with a 9.5 per cent ABV to reach 14 units. But today it would take around five glasses of a 14 per cent wine such as a Lindemans chardonnay.

Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians, said: 'This study shows our problems with alcohol are not confined to binge-drinking youngsters - there is a striking increase in overall consumption that mirrors the rising deaths from cirrhosis and other health consequences.' 27.8.09

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Alcohol fuels rising rates of oral cancer in middle age

Drinking is behind an 'alarming' rise in oral cancer rates, it is claimed. Cases of cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip and throat among men and women in their forties have increased by a quarter in the past decade. Experts are blaming alcohol consumption, which has doubled in the UK since the 1950s.

Figures from Cancer Research UK show that since the mid-1990s, rates of oral cancers have gone up by 28 per cent for men in their forties and 24 per cent for women.

Smoking and alcohol are the two main risk factors. But since smoking-related cancers can take up to 30 years to develop, tobacco is not thought to be the main culprit. Other contributing factors may be a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which also causes cervical cancer.

Each year, around 5,000 new oral cancers are diagnosed in the UK and 1,800 die from the disease.

The most common signs of the disease are ulcers, sores, or red or white patches in the mouth that last longer than three weeks, together with unexplained pain in the mouth or ear. Oral cancer can be treated successfully if it is caught early enough.

Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern, said: 'It's time that we introduced tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol.' 11.8.09

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'Little help' for alcohol abusers

Almost a third of Scottish men and a quarter of women drink at potentially harmful levels but very few are getting help, a study has suggested.

The figures said some 1,172,200 people in Scotland were drinking at hazardous or harmful levels, with 206,000 people alcohol-dependent. But only about 17,000 Scots accessed treatment for alcohol problems. The research was commissioned by the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams (Saadat). Scotland has a 48% higher level of access to specialist alcohol treatment than in England, the report said.

But none of the Scottish areas achieved even a "medium" level of access to treatment as measured by North American standards, although Greater Glasgow and Clyde came closest.

The Saadat report added not everyone with an alcohol problem required treatment services, with some people managing to overcome alcohol dependence through "natural recovery". The study, collated in 2006-07, was published by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London.

Saadat chairwoman Dr Maggie Watts said the association had long been concerned about the gap between need and service availability. "Local alcohol and drug partnerships will be able to use these findings to inform the development of services provided for people with alcohol problems and continue to work to reduce the harms associated with alcohol use", she said. "The additional investment made by the Scottish Government will support this."

'Seek help'
Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "It is worrying only one in 12 Scots with alcohol problems currently access specialist treatment services. "That means thousands of people whose drinking is affecting their lives, and the lives of their families, are not getting the help they need.

"We need to encourage people to seek help in overcoming their drink problems at an early stage before their health is seriously damaged, as well as ensuring alcohol services have the capacity to provide effective, evidence-based treatment as quickly as possible."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed Scottish Government proposals to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol, but expressed concern at the shortage of alcohol treatment services in Scotland . Dr Michael Farrell, chairman of the Royal College 's addictions faculty, said: "Alcohol misuse has been a neglected issue throughout the United Kingdom for many years.

"Since the 1970s there have been rising rates of alcohol-related harm, but little investment in services.

'Cultural change'
"Over the past two years, however, Scotland has shown the way within the United Kingdom and in Europe with innovative, evidence-based approaches to prevention and treatment." The Scottish Government welcomed the report, which it said showed access to alcohol treatment services were considerably better in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, but admitted there was "clearly more work to be done" in order to achieve a "long-term cultural change".

A spokesman said: "That is why we are investing a record £120m over the period 2008 to 2011 to both prevent alcohol related problems occurring and develop specialist treatment and support services. "This is an increase in funding of 230% on the previous three year period."

Labour's Cathy Jamieson said the Scottish Government must do more to ensure that those who struggle with alcohol addiction can access treatment quickly.

But critics are quick to point out, the facts speak for themselves, deaths caused by alcohol related problems have risen by 40 per cent in the last 10 years as current 'evidence-based treatments' do not work, hence why so few pople attend for treatment. Critics have called for new more effective treatments to be used which although are not evidence based, do work and have much better results.

The need is very clear as 1m Scots are drinking at danger levels. 6.8.09

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Daily alcohol limit 'unhelpful' and potentially harmful

Daily limits on alcohol consumption are meaningless and potentially harmful, experts have warned as it implies it is safe to drink every day. The government says men should drink no more than three to four units per day and women no more than two to three. Liver specialist Dr Nick Sheron, of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, says these limits were devised by civil servants with "no good evidence" for doing so. He says the advice runs the risk of people taking it to mean that it is safe to drink alcohol every day.

Dr Sheron's comments follow a report by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee which suggested public confusion about safe drinking levels was fuelling problem drinking. Dr Sheron says we should go back to using the old weekly limits, which are based on sound research.

The 1987 sensible drinking limits, which set the bar at 21 units per week for men and 14 units per week for women, remained in place until 1995.

Sensible drinking
It was then that the government decided to switch the limits from weekly to daily in a bid to curb binge drinking and emphasise the harms of saving up a week's limit to blow in one or two sessions at the weekend - a decision it stands by today. But Dr Sheron says this was a mistake: "They were turned into daily limits by a community of civil servants and the reasoning behind it is shrouded in mystery and is not largely supported by experts. "The weekly limits were based on robust studies and were set at a level at which alcohol harms outweigh any putative benefit."

Some studies show that alcohol, in moderation, can reduce the risk of heart disease. In terms of damage to the liver, the risk begins when regular weekly consumption exceeds about 30 units, said Dr Sheron. But for other conditions, like cancer, the risk starts at zero and goes up proportionately with the amount of alcohol is consumed.

Daily danger
Although the daily recommendations originally included the important caution to have some alcohol-free days, Dr Sheron this message has got lost. The advice now warns against regularly drinking over the daily limit and says drinkers should also "take a break for 48 hours after a heavy session to let your body recover." Dr Sheron said that by setting a daily limit, people might take this to mean they could drink every day.

Dr Rachel Seabrook, research manager at the Institute of Alcohol Studies , agrees. "The Royal Colleges' recommendation for two days of abstinence a week has quietly disappeared. It was probably dropped to keep the message simple. But that is not a good move. "And we are quite concerned about the use of 'daily' in the message. It implies that you can drink on every day. "There should be an explicit warning against this."

Clear advice
A Department of Health spokesman defended the current recommendations saying: "Advice on limits is based on scientific evidence from studies in populations in this country and worldwide about long-term health harms for broadly average, healthy adults. "The scientific evidence base was examined by an inter-departmental working group in 1995. This has been kept under review since then. "There are a number of public health campaigns to help people understand government guidelines around drinking alcohol. "Ongoing and future campaigns will also help people to live more healthily."

In Britain in 2007, 69% of people reported that they had heard of the government guidelines on alcohol consumption. Of these people, 40% said that they did not know what the recommendations were. Although binges are dangerous and can cause harm - largely through accidents caused by reckless behaviour - in terms of long-term health risks, it is the average amounts consumed over the weeks, months and years that count.

A person who regularly drinks 50g of alcohol a day - around 6 units or three pints of normal strength (4%) beer - has nearly double the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and pancreatitis as someone who abstains. In a snapshot survey for England in 2006, 12% of men and 7% of women reported drinking alcohol every day during the previous week. In the same year, 23% of men and 15% of women reported binge drinking. 4.8.09

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Confusion 'fuels alcohol misuse'

Widespread public confusion about how much it is safe to drink may be contributing to the growth of alcohol misuse in England , say MPs. The Commons public accounts committee said ministers needed to assess whether new guidance was needed.

It also criticised the way alcohol services were structured, claiming primary care trusts (PCTs) were failing to keep across the problem. Government officials said action was being taken to tackle alcohol misuse although alcohol related deaths have risen by 40% under this government.

The NHS recommends a limit of three to four units of alcohol per day for men, and two to three units for women but it is estimated that nearly a third of men and a fifth of women regularly drink more than this. Alcohol-related health problems cost the NHS an estimated £2.7bn a year.

In 2006-07, there were 811,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions - a 71% increase in four years. Between midnight and 5am on weekend nights, nearly three-quarters of all attendances at A&E departments are related to alcohol. Government research has shown that found 77% of people did not know how many units were contained in a typical large glass of wine (between 2.5 and 3.5 units depending on the strength).

The MPs said there was a "widespread and long-standing lack of clarity in the minds of the public" on the government's drinking guidelines. They also said health ministers should assess whether the current guidelines were fit for purpose or should be replaced with something more "readily understood".

Health damage
Edward Leigh, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "Too many people are drinking too much. "In doing so, many are on course to damaging their health and general well-being. "The burden on local health services is of course huge, with the rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions climbing sharply and accident and emergency (A&E) departments flooded on weekend nights with drink-associated injury cases."

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "Your chances of suffering from a number of diseases, such as throat, mouth and breast cancer increase if you drink above government recommended guidelines. "Yet labelling of alcohol is poor with insufficient information for consumers to make informed choices about their drinking."

Mr Shenker called for mandatory labelling of alcohol products with information about how many units they contained, and recommended safe drinking levels. The MPs' report said responsibility for tackling alcohol misuse had been handed to PCTs, but many had not drawn up strategies to tackle alcohol harm in their area, or kept across what was being spent on relevant local services. This lack of co-ordination raised the risk that dependent drinkers would relapse into their old ways following treatment.

Minimum pricing
In Scotland ministers have proposed a range of measures to tackle alcohol abuse including a ban on cut-price offers and plans for a minimum price per unit. The Westminster report calls for ministers to re-examine potential changes to the way alcohol is priced and promoted in England. An independent review for the Department of Health found that alcohol had become 69% more affordable between 1980 and 2007.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England , is among those who believe a minimum pricing policy could help tackle alcohol misuse.

The MPs' report also criticised government departments for failing to communicate effectively on matters such as licensing, taxation and glass sizes. Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the report demonstrated that the delivery of alcohol policy locally had been "unco-ordinated and muddled".

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Associaton's head of science and ethics, said: "Alcohol misuse affects health, transport and crime and more government joined-up thinking is needed. "In order to tackle alcohol misuse tough action is needed such as increasing taxes on drinks with the highest alcohol concentration, banning alcohol advertising and reducing the drink-driving limit."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: "Enough is enough and it's time to get tough. "Standardised labelling is a must. But so too is a ban on deep price cuts and giveaways. "The government should stop pussyfooting around and set a minimum price for alcohol that eliminates ultra-cheap heavy drinking without disaffecting all those who drink moderately."

Health Minister Ann Keen said the Know Your Limits campaign had specifically raised awareness of the number of units in alcoholic drinks. She said: "Action on many of the issues raised in this report is already happening - we have given the local NHS the resources, guidance and support they need to put the right services in place." 30.7.09

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Units of alcohol should be reviewed: MPs

Measuring alcoholic drinks in units should be reviewed as three quarters of people do not know how many units are in a large glass of wine, MPs said. Two fifths of people still do not know what the current recommended daily limits for units of alcohol are, the Public Accounts Committee said in a report, and the system should be assessed to see if it is still 'fit for purpose'.

The committee pointed to Government research that found 77 per cent of people did not know how many units were contained in a typical large, 250ml, glass of wine (between 2.5 and 3.5 units depending on the strength despite over £10million being spend on awarness campaigns.

"In view of this widespread and longstanding lack of clarity in the minds of the public, the Department should assess whether the current guidelines are fit for purpose or should be replaced with something more readily understood", the report said.

The report said ten million adults are currently drinking more than the recommended limits of two to three units a day for women and three to four for men with two alcohol-free days a week. Currently only three per cent of alcohol containers have full labels showing alcohol content and units, the Public Accounts Committee said.

Unless this proportion increases the Government should consider introducing a mandatory scheme, the committee said in its report: Reducing Alcohol Harm: Health Services in England for Alcohol Misuse. In general there is little co-ordination across Government on the issue of alcohol consumption with different departments dealing with licensing, taxation and glass size.

Tory MP Edward Leigh, Public Accounts Committee chair, said: "Too many people are drinking too much. In England, nearly a third of all men and a fifth of all women are regularly drinking more than the official guidelines say they should. "In doing so, many are on course to damaging their health and general well-being. "The burden on local health services is of course huge, with the rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions climbing sharply and accident and emergency (A&E) departments flooded on weekend nights with drink-associated injury cases."

The responsibility for addressing alcohol misuse had been handed to local NHS organisations, Primary Care Trusts, he said. But these organisations have done nothing about it. The Government should also look again at potential changes to the pricing and promotion of alcohol, which has become steadily cheaper in relation to income over the past few decades.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "Your chances of suffering from a number of diseases, such as throat, mouth and breast cancer, increase if you drink above Government-recommended guidelines. "Yet labelling of alcohol is poor, with insufficient information for consumers to make informed choices about their drinking. "We welcome mandatory action on labelling in the light of the drinks industry's failure to voluntarily comply with better practice."

A spokesman for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “The drinks industry has worked with Government to support the Know Your Limits campaign providing information on unit strength at point of sale because it's right to give consumers the information they need to make an informed choice. "Any alternative to current unit guidelines would have to be agreed on a pan-European basis so that all consumers and businesses face a consistent approach.”

Ann Keen, Health minister, said: "We have invested £10 million in the 'Know Your Limits campaign', which arms people with the facts about the number of units in different drinks. The campaign also targets 18-24-year-old drinkers and challenges public acceptability of drunkenness and binge drinking." But critics say 'when will this government learn that awareness campaigns don't work and are proven not to work, they simply waste money, what is actually required is more effective treatment which actually works and produces real measurable results'. 30.7.09

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Hundreds of thousands of older people 'turning to drink after retirement'

Hundreds of thousands of older people are turning to drink after they retire, a new study suggests. Many say that they use alcohol to deal with feelings of depression after they leave work. Ministers are being urged to target older people as well as younger "binge" drinkers when trying to tackle the nation's alcohol problem.

Experts warn that many people may not be aware of how much they are drinking as the strength of wine and size of glasses have increased in recent years. Pensioners accounted for 357,300 alcohol-related hospital admissions in England in 2007-8, a 75 per cent rise in just five years.

The survey found that 13 per cent of over-60s said that they had drunk more since retiring. Of these, one in five, 19 per cent, said that they used alcohol to ease feelings of depression while one in eight, 13 per cent, said that they drank because of bereavement. The results also show that one in eight, 12 per cent, said that they most often drank alone and at home.

Sally Scriminger, chief executive of Foundation66, the charity which commissioned the survey, said: "The older people we see with drink problems come from all walks of life. "Many are retired professionals, who never had issues with alcohol in the past. They don't even have to leave home to buy alcohol - supermarket delivery services will bring it straight to their door. "Because they don't fit the stereotypes people hold about alcohol misuse, and because they often keep their drinking hidden, there just aren't enough services out there to offer them the help they need.

"A huge number of people are clearly worried about their parents' or grandparents' drinking habits. Our own projects have scratched the surface of a huge unmet need among older people, and the problem will only get worse. "Without urgent intervention this will become a major issue, costing the NHS and our society a great deal." The survey also found that one in 10 adults wer concerned about the amount of alcohol drunk by a friend or family member aged over 60. 13.7.09

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Drinking deaths up 40% since Labour came to power

The number of people drinking themselves to death has soared by 40 per cent under Labour. Critics blame the relaxing of licensing laws and the availability of cheap drink in supermarkets. Worryingly the under-40 age group has seen a 24 per cent increase in deaths from alcohol-related causes. The toll among men in their 20s has risen by a staggering 41 per cent.

Tory Home Office spokesman James Brokenshire said last night: 'I am increasingly worried that the Government's decision to allow 24-hour drinking is having a real impact on antisocial behaviour in our town centres and not nearly enough is being done to tackle it. 'The impact on services like the NHS really can't go on. 'The Government seems to be completely unaware of the enormity of the problem of binge drinking in our society and its effects on our communities, and its tragic consequences.'

The official figures, obtained by the Tories, show that there were 7,341 deaths last year directly resulting from drinking. In 1999 the figure was 5,287. These include deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic liver disease, mental and behavioural disorders due to drink, degeneration of the nervous system, chronic hepatitis, pancreatitis, and alcohol poisoning.

Experts warn the true toll will be far higher, when deaths to which alcohol has contributed - such as cancers and heart attacks, as well as drink-fuelled accidents and violence - are taken into account. The Royal College of Physicians claimed that the true figure may be as high as 40,000 a year.

A Health Department spokesman said it estimated that around 15,000 die from alcohol every year, if secondary causes of death are included. Of particular concern for doctors is the sharp rise in younger people dying from drink. Traditionally, it has been the middle-aged and elderly who have died from alcohol - but the victims are becoming younger. Last year, 788 people in their teens, 20s or 30s died from drink, more than two every day.

The largest increases were seen among those in their 50s - up 48 per cent among women and 49 per cent among men in the past ten years.

Last night Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians, said: 'These latest figures are a stark reminder of how alcohol, when used to excess, can have a devastating effect not only on hazardous drinkers but their loved ones as well. 'Government can and should do more. A good place to start would be by ensuring that their proposed mandatory code allows local authorities to finally get a handle on irresponsible sales practices.'

Norman Lamb, the LibDem health spokesman, said: 'Ministers cannot continue to ignore the fact that thousands of people are dying because of excessive alcohol consumption. The drinking culture in this country has to be changed or the number of people dying because of alcohol will continue to soar.' 9.7.09

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High-flyer film publicist, 33, dies suddenly of liver disease after regular drinking for her job

A successful career girl died from liver disease aged 33 because of her lifestyle socialising with clients and colleagues, a coroner ruled yesterday. Emma Pycroft, a high-flying film industry publicist, collapsed at home unaware she was suffering from the illness, usually related to excessive, long-term drinking. Evidence given to the inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court showed she was not a heavy drinker.

But coroner Dr Paul Knapman warned the disease strikes unpredictably and can be brought on by simply drinking on a regular basis.

Miss Pycroft, who lived in London's Maida Vale with her partner Mark Dinning, the editor of film magazine Empire, was rushed to hospital on April 9th but could not be saved. It was initially believed she had suffered a heart attack. But a post-mortem examination revealed her death was due to alcoholic liver disease.

Dr Knapman heard that Miss Pycroft, originally from Gainsborough, Lincs., socialised often with clients and fellow professionals. She was on a career break when she died but had previously worked her way up to become head of publicity for Optimum Releasing – a respected film publishing company. There has been no criticism made of her employers.

Recording a verdict of death by misadventure, the coroner accepted that a culture of drinking existed in her industry. Speaking after her death, her partner Mr Dinning paid tribute to her ‘incredible generosity and kindness' and described her as a hugely loved part of both her own family and his. Her former boss Will Clark, added: ‘We are deeply shocked to hear of the sudden passing of Emma.

‘She was an integral part of Optimum Releasing for six years and contributed greatly to the success of the company. ‘She was a dedicated publicist and highly respected and admired by film makers and people across the industry.' Another former employer Liz Miller of Premier PR said: ‘We are all shocked and saddened to learn that our colleague has gone, so very quickly and so very young.'

A study in 2005 showed that women are more sensitive to the harmful effects of alcohol than men. And in 2007, statistics revealed alcohol-related diseases were killing twice as many women as at the beginning of the 1990s. In the 35-54 age group, about 14 women per 100,000 died from conditions such as liver failure and cirrhosis, well above the European average.

The inquest comes as a study published last month showed that binge drinking among women has more than doubled in eight years. According to the Drinking In The UK report, carried out by Dr Lesley Smith and academics from Oxford Brookes University, around 15 per cent of women regularly consume twice the state-approved safe limit of alcohol.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation researchers say the rise in consumption owed more to women's growing independence and greater spending power. Three-and-a-half million women are thought to be drinking so much that they are putting their health at risk.

The report said the rise in heavy drinking among women was linked both to greater acceptance of women in pubs and bars and to more wine being bought for consumption at home. Affluence, a good education and a professional job were also among factors associated with heavy drinking among women. 11.06.09

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One in four adults are 'hazardous' drinkers costing NHS £2.7bn a year

A quarter of adults in England are now classed as 'hazardous' drinkers, according to a report out today. A new analysis of NHS figures for 2007 found one in three men and around one in six women drink so much they are at risk of serious conditions like liver disease and depression.

The report from the NHS Information Centre found they drank 21 and 14 units per week respectively. A unit is equivalent to a 125ml glass of wine, a single measure of spirits of half a pint of lager. Alcohol related harm costs the health service £2.7billion a year putting it under incredible strain.

Drink dependence is also growing with a 31 per cent rise of alcohol treatment drugs prescribed between 2003 and 2007. In 2007 there were 134,429 prescriptions costing the NHS £2.4million. The report found a total of 9 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women are dependent on alcohol.

Binge drinking is also over-stretching accident and emergency wards. There was a 69 per cent increase in the number of alcohol related hospital admissions, with 510,200 injuries reported in 2003 compared to with 863,300 in 2007. NHS Information Centre Chief Executive Tim Straughan said: 'The report shows a significant amount of people are at risk of actual harm to themselves, which in turn results in more work for the NHS.'

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive Don Shenker said: 'The dramatic increase in admissions caused by alcohol consumption is a warning that unless action is taken, we face an escalating public health crisis and increasing pressure on the doctors and nurses working in our hospitals.

'As alcohol has become more affordable fuelled by the growth of irresponsible low cost sales, the population as a whole is drinking more and this is having a massive impact on the nation's health.

'Only 1 in 18 problem drinkers is receiving proper support. It is vital that the government starts investing more in alcohol treatment to help those with a drink problem to tackle these issues before it's too late.'

The latest hospital admission figures are thought to be a more accurate as the 2007 included data on primary and secondary diagnoses of alcohol. 20.5.09

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Alcohol 'could cause one in four cases of dementia'

Drinking may be to blame for one in four cases of dementia, doctors have warned. And women are particularly at risk because they are more susceptible to alcohol's brainwasting effects, a study found. The devastating effects of heavy drinking on the brain are too often overlooked but should be given the same priority as lifethreatening liver disease, the researchers said.

They also warn Britons' increasing thirst for alcohol could spawn an epidemic of brain damage, with young drinkers starting to experience memory problems while still in their 40s. Women are at more risk than men as their bodies are less able to deal with alcohol's toxic effects, the psychiatrists said. Writing in a special edition of the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, they say alcohol's impact on brain health may be much wider than generally thought.

Between 10 and 24 per cent of the 700,000 cases of dementia in the UK, including some cases of Alzheimer's disease, could be linked to alcohol. Dr Jane Marshall, an author of the study, said: 'People think dementia is something that happens to people over 65. 'But a lot of those under 65 have got cognitive problems and a large proportion of the problems in that group are related to alcohol.'

The binge-drinking culture means 'it is therefore likely that the prevalence rates of alcohol-related brain damage are currently underestimated and may rise in future generations'. Fellow researcher Dr Irene Guerrini, also of the Maudsley, warned that women were at greater risk than men. 'Women metabolise alcohol in a different way and alcohol seems to have more toxic effects on the brain and also on the body,' she said.

'If a woman drinks the same amount as a man, she will develop complications earlier, and they will be more severe.' And the younger someone starts drinking, the earlier they are likely to experience memory problems. Calling for teenagers to be educated on the dangers of alcohol, Dr Guerrini said: 'We are starting to see young people of 18 or 19 who are alcohol dependent after starting binge-drinking at 12 or 13.

'The message is to drink sensibly, especially if you are young and if you are female.' The researchers have written to public health minister Dawn Primarolo, to call for alcohol -related brain damage to be put on the same footing liver problems caused by heavy drinking.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the Observer: 'It is vital that we improve understanding between doctors and nurses about the links between heavy drinking and neurological damage. 'Equally important is that people understand that alcohol-related brain damage can occur at any time of life.'

But the Alzheimer's Society said that as few as three per cent of cases of dementia are directly attributable to alcohol. And other studies have suggested that a glass of wine a day could slow the onset of dementia in those starting to experience memory problems. 11.5.09

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Alarm at big rise in middle class women drinkers

Millions of middle class, middle aged women are fuelling binge-crisis Britain, with one in six now drinking more than the recommended daily amount of alcohol, research has revealed. A surge has seen the number of binge-drinking women double in recent years, with 15 per cent – more than 3 million – drinking more than three units a day. Although men binge-drink more, with nearly one in four downing twice as much as he should, the gender gap is closing.

Between 1998 and 2006, the number of binge-drinking women over 16 years old almost doubled to 15 per cent, while the number of binge-drinking men aged 16 to 24 has fallen by nine per cent since 2000. The research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity also revealed “steady increases” in alcohol consumption among middle aged and older people.

This comes just weeks after figures revealed the soaring numbers of middle class pensioners being admitted to hospital because of alcohol abuse. More elderly people are hitting the bottle because of bereavement, isolation and ill-health. Charities and campaigners have blamed the easy and increasing availability of cheap drink in bars and supermarkets.

The research's lead author Lesley Smith, from Oxford Brookes University, said: “Many people will be surprised to learn that young men's drinking, including binge-drinking, has gone down in recent years, while middle aged and older people's drinking has increased.” Women's increased independence and financial security were identified as reasons for the increase, along with the “pressure of positive advertising”.

The report found that fewer young children drink but those that do are downing much more, so that alcohol consumption among 11 to 13-year-olds stands at twice the 1990 level. A Health Department spokesman said: “We are determined to reduce the harm associated with binge-drinking and drinking by children and young people. “In the past year we have announced a package of measures to tackle excessive drinking and to reduce alcohol harm.”

Alcohol Concern's chief executive Don Shenker said: “While the attention paid to binge-drinking and town centre disorder is important, there is a crucial need to tackle the hidden harm caused by alcohol to older people, women and children.” 6.5.09

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Middle-class drinkers to be targeted with calories

Middle-class drinkers are to be shown exactly how many calories they are consuming when they drink a glass of wine or beer as part of a new Government campaign. The move comes amid concerns that the average wine drinker consumes about 2,000 calories from alcohol alone each month - the equivalent of 184 bags of crisps a year.

A glass of white wine has the same calorie content as a bag of crisps, 185 calories, while a pint of lager is the equivalent of a sausage roll, 170 calories. And women who drink two large glasses of wine a day not only drink over the recommended daily limit, but they also use up almost a fifth of their daily calorie allowance.

The latest statistics suggest that middle-aged professionals are more likely to exceed recommended daily levels of alcohol consumption than the working class, with almost one in four indulging in "heavy" drinking - double the recommended daily limit - at least once a week.

According to the research from the Department of Health, more than one in three drinkers admit they are likely to eat more than they usually would when drinking above their daily allowance, with almost a third eating crisps, nuts or pork scratchings.

Phil Hope, the Health Minister, said: "It's not only the calories in the drinks themselves that can help to pile on the pounds, we're also more likely to eat fatty foods when we've had one too many. To avoid piling on the pounds we should try to drink within the recommended limits, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly."

Heather Caswell, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "Most people would baulk at consuming a full glass of single cream, but wouldn't think twice about a couple of pints. "But the calorie content is similar and, over time, excess alcohol intake is likely to lead to weight gain.

"Sticking to sensible drinking habits and keeping to the recommended units will not only help keep off those extra pounds but will also help decrease your risk of serious health problems, such as some types of cancer and liver disease." 17.4.09

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Daily drinkers at greater risk of liver disease and bingers

People who share a bottle of wine a night with their partner are at greater risk of liver disease than binge drinkers, research has found. A study of patients with liver disease at Southampton General Hospital found 71 per cent drank on a daily basis. Half of them drank the equivalent of half a bottle of wine to one bottle of wine a night, or 35 units to 70 units a week.

None of the study subjects with liver disease were binge drinkers, lead author of the study Dr Nick Sheron said. He added: "These are people who do not think they are at risk of liver disease. They are at a lower risk of liver disease than people who drink more but because many more people drink at this level there are significant numbers at risk."

An estimated one in four adults drink at levels considered to be hazardous or harmful to health. The study is published in the journal Addiction this week and sought to answer the question if binge drinking or daily drinking was a bigger risk for liver disease. The team studied the drinking patterns of 106 people with alcohol-related liver disease out of 234 people in total with liver diease.

Other studies have shown that people who drink half a bottle of wine a day are at three to four fold the risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease than those who do not drink at all. The key message, Dr Sheron said, was that by cutting out alcohol on three or four days of the week the risk of liver disease was substantially reduced.

He said it instead of drinking a bottle of cheap wine every night, it is better is save the money and spent it on a couple of good bottles of wine for the weekend. "Most of the health problems from binge drinking are related to being drunk, they are car crashes, accidents and fights and they tend to be associated with young people. As you get older and drink more frequently the health harms tend to be from the chronic effects of alcohol rather than getting drunk," he said.

Dr Sheron added: "The process of getting liver disease is completely symptomless. Often the first thing you know about it coming into hospital with a big internal bleed or turning yellow. One quarter of our patients die before they get a chance to stop drinking."

Dr Nick Sheron who is also a senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, said: "If we are to turn the tide of liver deaths, then along with an overall reduction in alcohol consumption - which means tackling cheap booze and unregulated marketing - we need to find a way to identify those people who are most likely to develop alcohol-related illnesses at a much earlier stage, and perhaps we need to pay as much attention to the frequency of drinking occasions as we do to binge drinking."

Earlier this week Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, called for England to follow Scotland in proposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol. 19.3.09

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Middle-class OAPs spend their pensions on binge-drinking as hospital admissions soar

New  figures today reveal the scale of alcohol abuse among middle class pensioners in Britain. The number of over-65s admitted to hospital because of alcohol has risen by more than 100,000 in four years, according to new government figures. According to Department of Health statistics, there were more than 320,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2006-07, compared with just under 200,000 in 2002-03.

The increase was described by the Liberal Democrats as 'deeply worrying.' The party had obtained the figures in response to a Parliamentary question. Tom Brake, Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, said: 'While newspaper headlines have focused on binge-drinking teenagers, the number of elderly people being hospitalised due to alcohol have been soaring unnoticed. 'These figures are deeply worrying, and ministers must take action to tackle this new and disturbing trend.

'The Government has massively under-funded alcohol treatment services, while this problem has been allowed to escalate.' The NHS estimates that one in 13 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol (an alcoholic), with several millions drinking excessively. Heavy drinking can increase your chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver, and is associated with many different types of cancer, including breast and mouth cancer.  It also increases your risk of developing depression, fertility problems, heart disease and brain damage.

The Department of Health admitted that the figures were 'unacceptable' and pledged to tackle the latest surge. A Government spokesman said: 'The level of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime, and even deaths are unacceptable. Tackling this culture is a Government priority.

'We want to tackle these problems in a way that doesn't unfairly punish the majority who drink responsibly. 'The £6million Know Your Limits units campaign, launched in May last year, raises awareness about the number of units in different drink' but critics argue 'it's just not working'. 5.3.09

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Middle class over 45-year-olds now the most frequent drinkers

The middle class people over the age of 45 are now the most frequent drinkers in England, new NHS figures show. Middle class over 45s drink more than any other group, figures show. Middle aged people who are on high incomes are the most likely to drink five or more nights a week, according to the statistics. The findings add to growing concern over middle class drinkers and the damage their habits are doing to their bodies.

Earlier this year a report by the National Audit Office, the Government watchdog, warned that 10 million Britons were now drinking to "hazardous" levels. A survey conducted by the NHS Information Centre shows that 30 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women in the highest earning bracket admitted that they had drunk alcohol five nights or more in the previous week, twice as much as in the lowest wage bracket.

The middle aged were also much more likely than young people or thirtysomethings to drink frequently. The highest rate was among men aged 55 to 64, 33 per cent of whom said that they had drunk five or more days out of the last seven. Among women, 19 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds admitted that they drank that often. By contrast just 12 per cent of male and 5 per cent of female 16 to 24-year-olds said that they drank that frequently. And overall 22 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women said that they had gone without alcohol for two days or less in the previous week.

While previous studies have concentrated on younger binge drinkers this is the first to suggest so starkly that middle class over 45-year-olds top the league table for frequent drinking. The survey also found that levels of obesity have almost doubled in 14 years, from 16 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women in 1993 to 24 per cent of both sexes in 1997.

The breakdown of the figures on alcohol contained in the annual Health Survey for England report also show that almost one third of men and more than one quarter of women admit they drank excessively at least one day in the previous week. It also discloses that few people know the recommended daily alcohol limits.

Men are advised to drink no more than three to four units a day, the equivalent of two pints of beer, and women two to three glasses of wine, the amount contained in one and a half standard glasses of wine. Less than a third of people knew their safe limits, the study shows.

The survey also showed that while most knew that they should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, only 14 per cent of men and 11 per went of women knew how much should be contained in a portion, the survey also found. Dr Mark Davies, medical director of the NHS Information Centre and a practising GP, said it was of "concern" that messages of safe alcohol intake, as well as those on exercise levels and healthy eating, did not seem to be getting through to all sections of the population.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: "Labour's neglect over issues like obesity and alcohol abuse will leave a terrible legacy for the next Government to try and fix" and called for urgent action on public health problems. 17.12.08

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Insurers target middle-class drinkers with higher premiums

People who drink more than the recommended alcohol limits are being hammered with huge hikes in life insurance premiums. Firms are getting tough on the rising tide of binge drinking, and many clients are seeing their premiums double. With the Christmas season in full swing, revellers will be shocked to learn that even those with moderate drinking habits are caught up in the new rules, with women particularly affected.

Ministers say one of the largest groups likely to be affected are middle-aged, middle class people, who often drink more than they should by, for example, having a couple of glasses of wine every day after work or with meals. A woman who drinks 21 units a week, not far above the Government's guidelines, could end up paying an extra £50 a year. A man drinking 35 units - two and a half pints of lager a night - could find himself facing extra premiums of up to £100 a year.

And a man who admitted consuming 50 units a week could see his premiums double from £150 to £300 because his drinking would be categorised as 'harmful'. Very heavy drinkers may be refused cover completely.

Guidelines state that women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, rising to 21 for men. One unit equals half a pint of beer, a shot of whisky or a small glass of wine. But in reality many consume far more, with official figures showing that 10million adults - one in five men and one in three women - drink at a level which is 'hazardous' to their health.

Many people underestimate the number of units they consume due to the large sizes of wine glasses and double shots of spirits that are put into many cocktails. Insurers say they are reacting to increases in health-related problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart problems and certain cancers.

But critics say they are simply cashing in on drinking after raising premiums on smokers. To ensure claimants are not lying about their drinking habits, most life insurance firms are now checking with doctors' notes for signs of alcohol use.

The insurers strongly advise customers to tell the truth about how much they drink. Several companies admitted to refusing to pay out claims if they had evidence that they were drink-related. Companies including the AA, Norwich Union, Legal and General and Direct Line said they would increase premiums for drinkers.

A spokesman for the AA said: 'Heavy drinkers are more likely to suffer from liver disease, high blood pressure and strokes. They are also more likely to have an accident, possibly fall into the road, and they are more likely to be involved in a fight.' Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers said: 'Insurance companies are simply making a normal judgment of risk.'  26.12.08

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Awareness campaings & binge drinking ads don't work say researchers

Health campaigns to curb binge drinking do not work because they demonise young people, say researchers. A study by the universities of Bath and Birmingham found that adverts like the Government's latest £4 million anti-binge-drinking campaign are viewed as unrealistic in the way they portray binge drinking. The TV advert broadcast this year showed young drinkers injuring themselves, being violent and smearing vomit in their hair.

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, concluded that young people do not recognise their own drinking patterns in adverts which take a negative stance. But they do identify with adverts that promote alcohol as fun and sociable.

The researchers interviewed 89 people in England aged between 18 and 25 over three years and focused on 216 alcohol adverts, both in print and broadcast. Professor Christine Griffin, from the University of Bath, led the project and urged the Government to reconsider their health campaigns.

She said: 'Top of my list would have to be to stop demonising and making generalisations about young people and their drinking. 'We also need to listen and incorporate their views and perspectives.'

Professor Chris Hackley from Royal Holloway College, University of London, who was also involved in the research said: 'The study suggests a radical re-thinking of national alcohol policy is required which takes into account the social character of alcohol consumption and the identity implications for young people.' 29.12.08

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10 million adults drink too much and wine drinkers are the worst, watchdog warns

One in four English adults drinks too much, research by a government watchdog has found. Some 10 million people are consuming alcohol at 'hazardous' levels, with stronger drinks and larger glasses - especially among wine drinkers - contributing to the drinking 'epidemic'.

Middle-class wine drinkers are most at risk, with seven million exceeding medical recommendations and another three million considered problem drinkers. Experts warn the burden of dealing with the problem will cripple the NHS if an effective solution is not found. The report from the National Audit Office (NAO) yesterday warned the NHS is failing to deal with the scale of the problem. It says that GPs ought to be tripling the number of patients they advise on how to cut down drinking.

The official number of deaths from alcohol-related causes doubled between 1991 and 2006 from 4,100 to 8,800, official figures show. But if all related illnesses, such as cancer, are included, the figure tops 15,000. Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said many people did not realise how much they were drinking or did not know the official guidelines. 'Even where people know, it is not easy to translate quantities of drink of varying degrees of strength into "units of alcohol",' he said. 'England is suffering an epidemic of drinking. Many drinkers are endangering their health and well-being and placing a huge burden on the health service.'

Glasses of wine in bars now regularly come in 250ml glasses, twice the traditional 125ml size, while the wines themselves have also become stronger in recent years. The Government recommends a limit of 14 units a week for women and 21 for men, but 31 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women now regularly drink above this level.

'Hazardous' drinkers are women who regularly drink between 14 and 35 units a week and men who drink between 21 and 50 units. Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister, insisted that the Government was doing 'more than ever' to tackle the harm caused by alcohol, including a £10million campaign warning people about the dangers of drinking too much. 29.10.08

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Alcohol-related hospital admissions double under Labour

Alcohol-related hospital admissions have more than doubled since Labour came to power. A damning report says minsters not taking responsibility for binge drinking are to blame. The number going to hospital because of drink soared to 207,788 in 2006/07 - up from 93,459 in the year before Tony Blair took office. These include people suffering alcohol-related liver disease, mental health disorders linked to alcohol, and people with 'acute' intoxication.

But the figures are likely to be the tip of an iceberg, because they do not include those people who injure themselves while drunk - or those who are injured by other drunks. The report by the National Audit Office, the government spending watchdog, also found that the number of alcohol-related deaths had more than doubled in 15 years, to 8,100.

It said the reason for this was that the Department of Health and NHS organisations were guilty of passing the buck on responsibility for dealing with binge drinking. The DoH does not provide enough leadership to primary care trusts, meaning local services to tackle drinking are not well-planned.

Around a quarter of PCTs have not fully assessed the extent of alcohol problems in their areas, and many cannot even say how much money they are devoting to reducing drinking. Instead, PCTs leave everything to local 'drug and alcohol action teams' - but these bodies focus mainly on specialist services for people with severe alcohol addiction, and do nothing to help people who drink too much and are endangering their health.

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office, said: 'Alcohol misuse constitutes a heavy and increasing burden on the NHS. If services to tackle alcohol misuse are going to make a bigger difference, PCTs need to understand better the scale of the problem in their local communities.

'With its increased focus on the prevention of lifestyle-related illness, the Department of Health could, for example, do more to convince trusts about the value of timely advice to help people develop safer drinking patterns.' Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: 'England is suffering from an epidemic of drinking. Many drinkers are endangering their health and wellbeing and placing a huge burden on the health service.

'The Department of Health has completely handed over the task of addressing alcohol harm to the primary care trusts. And the trusts have in turn looked to another set of bodies to take the lead in commissioning services. 'Like many drinkers, the PCTs have difficulty focusing on the issues. The Department of Health can no longer remain on the sidelines. It must provide leadership to trusts by setting a framework on how they should approach alcohol misuse.'

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the report made 'sobering' reading. 'It is clear that the NHS needs to urgently up its game both in investing in alcohol services and in having sensible strategies across primary and secondary care to make sure the investment is well spent,' he said. Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: 'People with alcohol problems still face a postcode lottery of access to alcohol services.' 29.10.08

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The metals in your daily glass of wine that have been linked to cancer and Parkinson's

Having just one glass of wine a day could expose the drinker to potentially dangerous levels of metals linked to cancer, heart attacks and Parkinson's disease, scientists warn. A study claims that some wines contain dangerously high levels of naturally occurring metals such as copper, zinc and nickel. The highest levels of contamination were found in wines from Hungary and Slovakia. French wines were third on the list.

However, the wine industry and Britain's food watchdog urged drinkers not to panic, saying that the levels of metals were within recognised safety levels. The study looked at the reported levels of metal ions  -  or charged atoms  -  in around 100 bottles of wines from 16 countries. The metals naturally occur in the soil and are absorbed by growing vines. Researchers at Kingston University in London used a new technique developed by American experts to measure the risk to regular drinkers over many years.

The tool  -  called a target hazard quotient (THQ)  -  gives an indication of risk based on the known safe upper dose for each metal and the likely long-term exposure of someone drinking one glass of wine a day. Professor Declan Naughton, who reports the findings in Chemistry Central Journal, said the only wines that posed no risk to health were from Argentina, Brazil and Italy.

'If you have a THQ of more than one then you should be concerned,' said Professor Naughton. 'In the past we have seen seafood contaminated with mercury with a THQ level of 20. But here we were seeing levels up to 300. It was astonishing and it gives cause for concern.'

Critics of THQs say the technique exaggerates the risk by assuming that all pollutants in food or drink enter the bloodstream. However, Professor Naughton said they actually underestimated the risk to older or infirm drinkers who were more vulnerable to contaminants.

The study found high levels of a host of metals including copper, nickel, zinc, chromium, manganese and vanadium in both red and white wine. Levels of lead were below the dangerous levels. Professor Naughton called for more, urgent, research into the risk to health. 'Excess intake of metal ions is credited with pathological events such as Parkinson's disease,' he said. 'In addition to neurological problems, these ions are also believed to enhance oxidative damage, a key component of chronic inflammatory disease which is a suggested initiator cancer'.

He said the wine industry should take 'urgent steps' to remove hazardous metals during production, and that regulatory authorities should consider putting the levels of metals on the labels of wine. But The Wine and Spirit Trade Association urged drinkers not to panic.

A spokesman said: 'All wine sold in the UK has to comply with European legislation governing ingredients and the wine-making process and UK food safety legislation. 'There is strong scientific evidence testifying to the health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol.'

The Food Standards Agency said: 'From the information the agency has it would appear that the researchers have used a method that is not widely used in Europe. 'When carrying out research in this area the Agency looks at actual exposure levels and based on previous research into dietary exposure to metals there is no reason for consumers to be concerned.' 30.10.08

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In detail: Nine Types of Heavy Drinker

The Department of Health has identified nine personality types of heavy drinkers who are at risk of liver damage and other alcohol-related illnesses. They are:

De-stress drinkers
Use alcohol to regain control of life and calm down. This group includes middle-class women and men. The researchers said: "They typically have a pressurised job or stressful home life, which leads them to feel burdened with responsibility. Partners often supported or reinforced their behaviour by preparing drinks to help relieve stress";

Conformist drinkers
A are driven by the need to belong and they seek a structure to their lives. They are typically men aged 45-59 in clerical or manual jobs. "They tend to have traditional values and attitudes, with regularly going to the pub being a core part of their weekly, habitual behaviour";

Boredom drinkers
Consume alcohol to pass the time, seeking stimulation to relieve the monotony of life. Alcohol helps them to feel comforted and secure. "They are typically in the 35-50 age bracket and come from both genders, although the bias is towards women";

Depressed drinkers
May be of any age, gender or social/economic group. They crave comfort, safety and security. "Their lives are in a state of crisis and their drinking tends to increase steadily over the period of their depression. They tend to drink very heavily, often at home and alone, over extended periods";

Re-Bonding drinkers
Are driven by a need to keep in touch with people who are close to them. They include men and women of all ages and social classes, who "drink most evenings as they catch up with different sets of people in their lives, including friends, family and partners";

Community drinkers
Are motivated by the need to belong. They are usually lower middle class men and women, who drink in large social friendship groups, seeking stimulation and release from everyday life in the company of others. "If their friends are not in the pub in a particular evening, they would not stay on drinking";

Hedonistic drinkers
Crave stimulation and want to abandon control. They are often divorced people with grown-up children, who want to stand out from the crowd. "They frequently drink to get drunk and could be doing this three or four times a week";

Macho drinkers
Spend most of their spare time in pubs. They are mostly men of all ages who want to stand out from the crowd. But, unlike the hedonistic drinkers, they "want to control and be in control, albeit of others rather than themselves";

Border dependents
Regard the pub as a home from home. They visit it during the day and and the evening, on weekdays and at weekends, drinking fast and often. "They have a combination of motives, including boredom, the need to conform and a general sense of malaise in their lives," the researchers said.

The worring fact is that an individual can belong to many of the personality types and not just one. The NHS has also launched self-help packs, available online and in printed form, telling drinkers how to calculate the medical risks associated with different levels of alcohol intake. DrinkCheck is available at nhs.uk/units 19.9.08

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Coroner warns binge drinkers after 10-pint spree kills barman

A coroner has issued a warning to Britain's binge drinkers after a barman died during a 10-pint bender. Michael Hill, just 23, drank the equivalent of 20 units of alcohol with a friend on leave from the Army, the inquest heard. He passed out on a friend's sofa and never came round. John Gittins, the deputy coroner for central North Wales, said Mr Hill's death should serve as a lesson to others who often drank that amount at weekends.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, he said: 'It is a real indication of the dangers of binge drinking. 'Twenty units is a level that many people have to drink at weekends but I hope his death will provide valuable evidence of the risk of drinking to excess in this fashion.' Mr Hill, of seaside Rhyl, Denbighshire, who was 6ft 5ins tall and known to his friends as 'Ginge', worked in the Long Bar at nearby Towyn and also helped on a stall at Tir Prince market.

His mother, Eileen Harpin, of Rhyl, told the hearing in Prestatyn that she had seen him drunk a couple of times but he could generally hold his liquor. In a statement read at the inquest Mr Hill's 'best mate' Matthew Johnson, who is serving in the Welsh Guards, said he returned to Rhyl on leave on April 17 and the following evening they went out drinking together before going to a party in Mr Johnson's girlfriend's flat.

He said Mr Hill drank vodka and eventually 'crashed out'. The soldier's care worker girlfriend Stacey Whiles told the inquest she was at work when he rang her at 4am to say he was worried about Mr Hill, who was vomiting. 'I told him to put Ginge in the recovery position and to put something under him for him to vomit into, so that he wouldn't choke on his own vomit,' she said. She said that over the phone she could hear Mr Hill breathing heavily. 'I had seen him passing out but not vomiting before,' she said.

When Miss Whiles returned home after 8am she found her boyfriend asleep on the floor and Mr Hill dead on the sofa. She called an ambulance while Mr Johnson tried to resuscitate Mr Hill, but paramedics certified he was dead. Miss Whiles said Mr Hill drank a certain amount every day and had heavy sessions about twice a month. He also used recreational drugs occasionally.

Toxicology tests showed he had 403 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood - five times the legal limit for driving.

Last night friends paid tribute to someone they described as 'an amazing young man'. Sarah Unwin, 19, said: 'Michael was a very special boy. We used to go dancing to a club in Wigan and you could guarantee he'd be the last one dancing. 'He had a lust for life and was an amazing young man.' Hairdresser Kelly Wilson, 19, said she had known Mr Hill since he moved to Rhyl from Wolverhampton about nine years ago. 'He had a lot of friends and if he wasn't working he'd be out having a good time.' 10.9.08

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A quarter of adults drinks excessively as doctors warn of 'tsunami of alcohol-related harm'

A quarter of UK adults are damaging their health through excessive drinking, it was revealed yesterday. Some ten million regularly flout advice on how much to drink, egged on by a licensing industry ignoring its own voluntary code on social responsibility.There is also clear evidence that cheaper booze is to blame for a massive rise in alcohol consumption, as drink prices have halved in 30 years, relative to earnings.

A blizzard of new figures included:
The harm caused by excess drinking is costing the UK £25billion a year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity.
Aound 800,000 hospital admissions a year are due to alcohol-related conditions, 70 per cent more than in 2002-2003.
Heavy drinking is killing 15,000 people a year - including a quarter of all deaths among young men aged 16 to 24.

Ministers were accused of 'dithering' as they hinted they may bring in laws to replace the failed voluntary code and outlaw aggressive discounting, but said they would wait for more evidence before making any decision. Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians warned: 'The Government are understandably anxious about being seen as a nanny state, but unless they take action their own figures suggest we are moving towards a tsunami of health-related harm.'

Alcohol industry leaders hit back, questioning the findings and accusing the Government of failing to enforce existing laws.
The Home Office commissioned consultants KPMG to assess the voluntary code, which was agreed three years ago and is supposed to stop drinks companies, pubs and bars cashing in on binge drinking. In particular it is meant to stop the trade glamorising heavy drinking, marketing products to youngsters or encouraging rapid boozing through cutprice promotions in bars. Another code is meant to ensure drinks containers are clearly labelled with the units of alcohol they contain. The codes were at the heart of the Government's strategy as it brought in 24-hour drinking.

But researchers uncovered a catalogue of blatant abuses, describing scantily-clad women selling shots of spirits to drunken men in clubs by flirting with them, club DJs urging punters to drink more so they can 'get laid' and bar staff selling alcopops to young customers too drunk to count their change.

In 726 visits they saw only three cases where staff refused to serve a drunken customer. The worst excesses were in 'vertical drinking' venues - the large town centre pubs with no seats where young customers are crammed in. Researchers also voiced concern over cheap supermarket alcohol.KPMG concludes that the voluntary code has failed totally. It blames 'overriding commercial interests' to sell more alcohol, and the lack of enforcement. A separate study at Sheffield University highlighted close links between alcohol prices and consumption levels, while Department of Health figures detailed the level of harm.

The British Beer and Pub Association called for 'a renewed focus on individual responsibility and accountability, not just pointing the finger at business'. A spokesman said: 'The Government should address the underlying culture. Legislation is a sledgehammer that will not crack the nut.'
The drinks industry first agreed to include alcohol unit information on all bottles and cans ten years ago. Labels should display the number of units inside and remind drinkers of the Government's 'safe' guidelines. These are three to four units a day for men and two to three for women.

But a decade later, independent monitoring say they found that only just over half of all packaging - 57 per cent - contains such labelling.
Just 3 per cent carried all the information ministers want, including a warning to pregnant women to avoid alcohol. The Department of Health admitted: 'There is now real doubt as to whether the agreement can be implemented to the extent that was originally expected'.

The introduction of round-the-clock drinking almost three years ago was one of Labour's most controversial moves. The Licensing Act swept away longstanding laws on closing times, letting thousands of pubs and clubs stay open into the early hours. Police and hospitals have since complained of dramatic increases in their workload late into the night. In the worst-affected areas, alcohol-related cases in hospital have more than doubled.

Public Health minister Dawn Primarolo played down the impact of the changes yesterday, insisting the upward trends in alcohol consumption and harm were already well established and there is no evidence they have become worse. But hopes of creating a 'Mediterranean-style' cafe culture appear to have come to nothing. 23.7.08

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Alcohol-linked hospital admissions rise 7% in a year - double in 10 years

Hospital admissions linked to alcohol rose by 7 per cent in 2006-07 and have more than doubled since 1995-96, a report from the NHS says. Opposition politicians claimed the increase showed the failure of the Government's policies on public health and alcohol abuse, with “soaring” numbers of heavy drinkers needing hospital treatment.

The data, from the NHS Information Centre for health and social care, showed there were 207,788 NHS hospital admissions in England in 2006-07 with a primary or secondary diagnosis related to alcohol, more than double the 93,459 recorded in 1995-96, and 7 per cent up on the 193,637 recorded in 2005-06. The results cover the first complete year after the introduction of more relaxed licensing laws in November 2005.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, said: “These figures show that the Government's policies on tackling alcohol abuse have completely failed. “The resources invested in services available to help alcoholics is shamefully far behind those for drug addicts. As well as causing chaos in A&E on Friday nights and fuelling anti-social behaviour, excessive drinking results in serious long-term health problems.”

For the Conservatives, Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Helping people to live healthily hasn't been a priority for Labour and these figures show the consequences. “These cases put enormous pressure on an already over-stretched NHS. It is particularly worrying that so many under-18s are ending up in hospital because they've had too much to drink.

“Tackling issues like excessive drinking is a social responsibility in which we all have a part to play. But Labour have raided budgets for the promotion of healthy living to meet deficits in the NHS. The Government has failed to show the leadership and cultural change we need.”

Detailed breakdown of the figures shows that 4,900 teenagers under the age of 18 were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis related to alcohol, such as mental or behavioural disorders or alcoholic liver disease. The drug bill for treating alcohol dependency is also rising sharply. In 2007, 112,267 prescription items for drugs for treating alcohol dependency were also prescribed by doctors, an increase of 20 per cent since 2003.

While more than two thirds of people had heard of the Government guidelines on alcohol consumption, 40 per cent admitted that they did now know what the recommendations were. A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: “The new figures showing a rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions confirm everything we've heard from the frontline staff who deal with the after-effects of heavy drinking.

“What is however particularly dispiriting is the news that the number of people who aren't familiar with the recommended limits has actually gone up. “The Government needs to shape a response that meets the challenges thrown up by this bulletin. Information campaigns are a great first step, but we also need urgent investment in treatment systems that help steer problem drinkers away from harmful behaviour before they develop chronic conditions.”

The figures come after Government ministers launched a new campaign to highlight how many units of alcohol there are pints of lager and glasses of wine as it is feared many are drinking more than they realise. But experts say educational campaigns do not work and prices should be increased instead to curb the growing epidemic of liver disease which is now striking younger drinkers in their 20s and 30s.

The British Liver Trust said 120 people a day were being admitted with alcoholic liver disease. Alison Rogers, the trust's chief executive, said: “Measures taken to curb this worrying trend just aren't working so far, according to these statistics. “This is set to hit England hard over the following years because liver disease can take up to 10 years to develop.

“We need action now to protect people's health, to stop health harm from alcohol spiralling out of control. We seem to be getting on top of cardiovascular disease and cancer, but liver disease is the only one out of the big five on the rise. “Piecemeal action to tackle liver disease just isn't working. We need a coherent Government strategy to tackle liver disease that looks at the complex and inter-related factors behind it, from alcohol and viral hepatitis to obesity and treatment services.”

Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister, said: “We are working harder than ever to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions, and to help those who regularly drink too much or are dependent on alcohol. “The NHS spends £217 million a year on specialist alcohol treatment and I have just launched a £6 million campaign to make sure people know their units and know how much they're drinking.” 22.5.08

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Tantrums, violence and useless, the £12,000 therapy: what REALLY goes on inside rehab

A beautiful, sunny morning in high summer, but the weather is doing little to lift my spirits. I'm sitting in a group counselling session at Clouds House, the rehab centre in Wiltshire where addicts from all walks of life come in the hope of being 'cured' of their addiction. Deborah, 44, a "recovering" heroin addict is having another tirade. Jumping to her feet, she grabs her plastic chair and repeatedly slams it against the wall. Shrieking, her face is bursting with rage and her fists are pounding the air. No one dares to challenge her. She's frequently shared fantasies about stabbing her parents and isn't one to walk away from a fight.

The group counsellor looks at her blankly and says: "Why don't you sit down and tell the group how you feel?" Deborah curses and storms out while the rest of us breathe a collective sigh of relief. She's discharged days later for abusing the nurses.

I knew rehab would never be easy but I had no idea how common such dramas would be when I checked into Clouds in August 2005 for six weeks to recover from my drink problem. Before entering, I'd had fantasies of healing counselling sessions and inspiring lectures to help me overcome my addiction. I thought it would give me the opportunity to evaluate my life in a calm and supportive environment. Instead, by the time I left, I wasn't even sure who or what I was. Was I an alcoholic, or, an over privileged young woman who partied too hard? And did rehab actually work? I was very doubtful.

The fact is, I was never a classic alcoholic - the sort who had to swallow a stiff vodka in the morning to get out of bed. I started drinking in 1995 when I was 22. At the time I was working for a national newspaper in Canary Wharf, London, and trying to make my mark in a somewhat cut-throat environment. The competition was fierce and as a trainee reporter I struggled to make any impact. As story after story I filed ended up being dropped, I felt like a failure and I found that after a few glasses of white wine in the evening my anxieties dissipated.

It helped that drinking was part of the work culture and it was considered perfectly acceptable to head down to one of the thriving bars on any given night. Several of my colleagues were hardened drinkers with cocaine habits. The more time I spent with them, the more I embraced the party lifestyle. After work I could drink anything up to two bottles of wine in three hours, and at the weekend I'd go clubbing and put away anything up to five bottles of wine with a few cocktails thrown in.

I finally bottomed out in July 2005 when I had a panic attack. I'd been drinking for three days, virtually nonstop, having gone to a wild party at someone's house and slept on the floor for two nights. My hands were shaking and I started hyperventilating and had to go to hospital where I was given Valium. It was an utterly terrifying experience and it signalled a turning point. My body was clearly telling me it couldn't cope any more and I decided to tell my parents my secret - that I had a drink problem.

My parents were utterly shocked and worried sick. I'd been so careful to hide the extent of my drinking from them that they honestly had no idea. Anyway, how could I possibly have a drink problem? I had a high-flying career, good friends, and even a Prada handbag! I looked healthy and ate a reasonable diet. But I knew I needed help and I asked my father if he'd pay for me to go to rehab.

He generously agreed to do so at a huge cost of £12,000 for six weeks' treatment. I confessed all to my boss who was very kind, telling me to take a chunk of unpaid leave and simply concentrate on getting well. My entire family were very much behind me and when my mother dropped me off at Clouds one afternoon I had to walk away from her quickly, so she didn't see my tears of shame.

The large manor house where Clouds is based overlooks rolling green fields with dormitories that house up to six patients. Bizarrely, it reminded me of my old boarding school in West Somerset. I was full of trepidation, as I'd been warned by a former patient and friend that I was going to be housed with drug addicts and alcoholics from all walks of life, some of whom would be coming in to Clouds going through physical "withdrawal" and in grave emotional torment. But I didn't know what to expect. I just knew Clouds was somewhere people battling addictions went to get help.

Ironically, there was a whiff of glamour about it - wasn't it the prerogative of any self-respecting celebrity to go to rehab at some point? Kate Moss, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Britney Spears are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rehab. I was intrigued to learn that the late Paula Yates had been to Clouds (she was thrown out for bedding a fellow patient) and Robbie Williams wrote the song Angels while being treated there. Only last week, singer Pete Doherty was admitted for his ongoing problem with drugs.

But the reality of Clouds was far grimmer than I'd imagined. There were no celebrities except an incorrigible party boy who'd been on the TV show Love Island. Many of the patients were in their 20s and had been pressured into rehab by despairing parents or a court order. Local authorities paid for their treatment. Initially, I felt intimidated because I was afraid they might bully me. Actually, to their credit, they didn't - although one or two patients dubbed me "the duchess" because they said I had a "posh accent".

Their stories were much sadder than mine. So many never stood a chance of having stable lives. After the nurse went through my luggage to make sure I hadn't smuggled in any drugs or alcohol, I was shown to my dormitory. There were beds for up to six women and the decor was basic with a thin carpet, solitary washbasin and large windows overlooking the garden. I felt lost during the first night, I kept thinking, "How did I get here? Where did it all go so wrong?" and I wept silent tears on my pillow.

I shared the dormitory with a painfully shy young woman who had been living rough in a multistorey car park for weeks and using heroin; a middle-aged woman who confessed she was prone to cutting herself with a razor if she got too anxious; a depressed mother of two in her 40s, and a vivacious young Cockney girl who cheered us all up with singing.

The routine at Clouds was much the same each day. We'd wake up and go to breakfast at 8am. Next, we'd be allocated chores such as vacuuming, cleaning or washing up. Then, there would be around an hour-and-a-half of group counselling, for which we'd be divided into regular groups of up to eight people. A counsellor would sit on each session but would say very little - it was up to the patients to counsel each other. We were encouraged to offer one another guidance, confront each others' demons and talk about our addictions. The idea was that we could help each other recognise our common problems. But in reality it often descended into chaos and tears as patients criticised and belittled each other.

I soon learnt to avoid being confronted by staring vacantly at the carpet. Eventually, I was singled out by my peers and told I was fake, stuck-up and hiding my true self behind a mask of denial. One day a young recovering addict called James rounded on me for being too polite. "You're always saying hello to everyone and asking them how they are. It's just a false act you put on," he said.

"I'm not going to apologise for being middle-class," I replied. Of course, my comment triggered a group argument with people from opposing backgrounds criticising each other until the counsellor finally told us all to be quiet. We'd spend the rest of the day lounging around in a big common room. The boredom was excruciating. We barely had any one-on-one counselling - I often had less than two hours a week in which we never explored anything deeper than how I was feeling about my fellow patients.

My father was effectively paying £2,000 a week for me to sit around doing nothing. The staff claimed that it was important we learnt to "sit with our feelings" and gain insight from the "therapeutic atmosphere". But there was nothing therapeutic about listening to addicts boast about the times they'd flat-lined - taken so many drugs they'd almost died - and alcoholics weeping because their children were being taken into care.

Television was banned and books were limited, although a friend smuggled in Jane Austen novels for me. In the evening we'd have "group workshops", which involved making notes about various aspects of our addictions and asking fellow patients to evaluate our work. Most of the time we simply went through the motions quickly and then went back to playing Blackjack with Monopoly money and listening to our iPods.

The work assignments occasionally handed out were far too simple. For example, we were asked to write about our worst drinking experiences - but we'd already covered this in group therapy. When we actually had lectures they were over simplistic, and patronising to anyone with half a brain. We were asked to perform mimes showing each other how we could enjoy ourselves without resorting to drink and drugs on a given day. I mimed country-dancing.

On the plus side there was a great sense of camaraderie at Clouds. I formed close bonds with people from all walks of life, including a man in his 70s (he claimed he wasn't really a drunk, he'd been set up by another man), a one-time violent thief and a charismatic male addict who had lived rough for years in North London - and who tragically died last summer after taking an overdose. Unfortunately, living in close confinement also meant Clouds was a breeding ground for hot crushes and illicit relationships. I knew of at least two pairs of patients who secretly had sex in the clinic's sprawling grounds and in the dormitories.

What's more, I'm ashamed to admit that I developed an inappropriate crush on a married fellow patient. When I shyly confessed my feelings to him he started slipping me poems across the dining room table and grabbing me for stolen kisses when no one was looking. I wasn't sure what to do; I felt torn between my attraction to him and my conscience telling me to behave, and so I seemed to be in a constant state of anxiety. Although men and women were in separate sleeping quarters it was still possible to creep into each other's rooms after lights-out. At one stage I did cross that line, although I never went beyond a quick kiss and a cuddle - it was too dangerous because if a couple were caught they were immediately thrown out - I know of two couples who met this fate.

Another major problem was exhaustion. It was not unusual to be woken at night by addicts going cold turkey, sweating, thrashing about and screaming into the darkness. Severe alcoholics just hours away from their last drink suffered, too, having hallucinations, tremors and acute anxiety. I didn't understand why patients at this traumatic stage of early detox couldn't be put in separate dormitories until they stabilised. What amazed me more was that these same individuals were expected to attend group counselling. They were so ill it was pitiful and often fell asleep slumped in their chairs.

On the last day as I packed my bags I felt rather tearful about saying so many goodbyes to people for whom I felt genuine affection. But, in truth, I felt I'd have gained more by spending two weeks relaxing at a health spa. I'm sorry to say that within two months I went back to drinking. The problem was my experience actually made me doubt I had a drink problem at all.

My drinking was hardly as serious as that of many of the other patients, one or two of them had even laughed when I told them about my drinking history, as if to suggest it was no cause for concern. I felt that stress and depression had been at the root of my addiction and once I was feeling better in myself I'd be able to drink like other people. I was wrong. Just a few sips of wine were enough to set up an insatiable craving to binge until I was ready to drop.

Rehab may work for some. But it wasn't for me. I found it isolating and ineffective. The counsellors expected all the answers to come from within patients themselves - but if we knew what to do, why would we check in in the first place? 12.11.07

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Wine is worse for brain than beer, scientists reveal in blow for women drinkers

Drinking wine damages the brain more than beer or spirits, scientists claim. They say it particularly affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and spatial awareness, and one of the first areas to be affected by Alzheimer's disease. It could explain why millions forget what they are doing mid-task, or arrive in a room only to forget why they went there in the first place.

The findings will come as a particular blow to middle-class drinkers – many of whom drink wine for its supposed health benefits. Women, who tend to drink more wine than beer, are also more likely to be affected. Recent figures show 36 per cent of women in pubs drink wine, compared to only 21 per cent of men.

Writing in the medical journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, the psychiatrists behind the study compared brain scans from diagnosed alcoholics with those from healthy adults. They found the hippocampus, which is located deep within the brain's temporal lobes, was up to 10 per cent smaller in those who drank. The team of psychiatrists behind the study said: "This is the first study investigating the impact of the type of preferred beverage on brain-volume shrinkage in patients with alcohol dependence."

The study compared brain scans from diagnosed alcoholics with those from healthy adults. In non-alcoholics the hippocampus was 3.85ml. In beer drinkers it was 3.4ml, in spirit drinkers 2.9ml and for wine drinkers it was the smallest, just 2.8ml. The hippocampus is located deep within the brain's temporal lobes and is also one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer's disease. Memory, navigation and spatial awareness can all be affected, and it can also cause feelings of disorientation.

The researchers at Germany's Göttingen University found that beer drinkers also had the lowest levels of a compound in the blood called homocysteine. Other studies have shown the compound is linked to higher rates of heart disease, strokes, brain atrophy and dementia. One theory is that two of the ingredients in beer, B vitamins and folate, may help to break down homocysteine.

Moderate wine drinking has been linked to a host of health benefits, including reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure. Resveratol, a molecule found in the skin of red grapes, has been associated with health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, strokes and some cancers.

But research in the International Journal of Cancer last year claimed just one glass of wine a day could increase the risk of bowel cancer by 10 per cent, and over-consumption of any alcohol can lead to increased risk of kidney and liver disease, long-term brain damage and organ failure.

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Just two glasses of wine a day 'can double blood pressure'

A glass or two of wine a day could more than double the risk of high blood pressure, research shows. An analysis of eight studies involving thousands of men and women found that even moderate amounts of alcohol can send blood pressure soaring.

Only three units a day - the equivalent of two small glasses of wine or a pint and a half of lager - more than doubled the risk of the condition, which is nicknamed "the silent killer" because it is often symptomless until it is too late. Blood pressure is a fact of life for 16million Britons - more than one in four of the population - and is the leading cause of death by heart disease and stroke. It can also lead to fatal kidney disease and raises the risk of developing dementia.

The latest research, carried out at the University of Bristol, shows that alcohol intake may play a major role in determining blood pressure. The researchers combined data from eight previous studies involving almost 12,000 men and women. Instead of simply asking individuals to cut back on their alcohol intake and looking at how this affected blood pressure, they took into account the person's genes.

Many of those studied had rogue copies of a gene which has a key role in determining how well the body gets rid of alcohol. Those with the genetic flaw, which is most common among Asian populations, are intolerant to alcohol, and experience facial flushing, nausea, drowsiness and other unpleasant side effects when they drink. As a result, they tend to drink much less than other people. By comparing the blood pressure of those with and without the flaw, the researchers effectively pitted non-drinkers against drinkers.

The analysis showed that men who drank three units of alcohol a day were 2.42 times more likely to have high blood pressure than the non-drinkers. The same is likely to be true for women. However, the researchers were unable to confirm this as most of the work was carried out in Japan, where women drink little, the journal PLoS Medicine reports.

"This study shows that alcohol intake may increase blood pressure to a much greater extent, even among moderate drinkers, than previously thought," said researcher Dr Sarah Lewis. Although further research was needed to firm up the link, she said her analysis was likely to be more accurate than studies which rely on monitoring blood pressure as drinkers cut their alcohol intake. Their results can be affected by factors such as diet and exercise.

However, the finding appears to conflict with studies which have suggested small amounts of alcohol - around two units a day - cut the risk of heart disease. 4.3.08

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Middle-aged binge drinkers dying in record numbers

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. 26.1.08

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Alcohol-related deaths double, report shows

The number of people dying in the UK because of alcohol problems has doubled over the past 15 years, the government said today. The number of alcohol-related deaths rose from 4,144 in 1991 to 8,758 in 2006, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.

The alcohol death rate almost doubled over the same period, rising from 6.9 deaths per 100,000 to 13.4. Between 2005 and 2006, the death rate rose by 0.5 deaths per 100,000. The study found that far more men are dying from alcohol-related causes than women. In 2006, the alcohol-related death rate in men was 18.3 deaths per 100,000. It was more than double the rate for women, which stood at 8.8 deaths per 100,000. Men also accounted for two-thirds of the total number of deaths that year.

The largest rise in deaths in both sexes over the past 15 years has been among the middle-aged.

The death rate in men aged 35 to 54 more than doubled over the past 15 years from 13.4 to 31.1 deaths per 100,000. A similar rise was seen in women of the same age group, rising from 7.2 to 14.8 deaths per 100,000. Although death rates in men and women of all ages rose between 1991 and 2006, the rate for those aged 15 to 34 between 2005 and 2006 remained the same. The death rates for the over-75s also fell: 8% for men, 6% for women.

A spokesman for the charity Alcohol Concern said: "We are particularly concerned that, for the second year in a row, the biggest rise in deaths has been among men aged 35 to 54. And that female mortality has virtually doubled.

"It appears that for a number of younger people who came of age at a time when heavy drinking became increasingly common, the negative consequences are emerging at ever-earlier stages. "Beyond labelling issues and information campaigns, it is vital that the government finally starts investing more in alcohol treatment to help problem drinkers address these issues before the situation becomes irretrievable."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "The new figures are deeply worrying as women seem to be more susceptible to the damaging physical effects of alcohol. "My colleagues and I are certainly seeing more women with serious liver damage than ever before in our clinics. The increase in deaths from liver disease in women from 35 to 54 is a consequence of heavy or binge drinking earlier in life in their twenties and thirties. "As a nation, we need a properly funded and coordinated national strategy to deal with the problem, including increasing the price of alcohol and reducing its availability."

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: "These figures are concerning, particularly when combined with the rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions. Alcohol is cheap, readily available and glamorised by celebrities."

"The government desperately needs to take a tougher approach with the alcohol and retail industry, clamping down on cheap promotions and irresponsible advertising, particularly before the 9pm watershed. "Clear and effective health warnings on alcohol like 'alcohol kills' would also help in raising awareness of the damage that alcohol can have."

The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, accused the government of failing to tackle problem drinking. "The doubling of people dying from causes linked to alcohol is a stark reminder of the government's failed alcohol strategy," he said. "Urgent action is needed to tackle the binge drinking culture among young people, which can leave them with health problems for life."

Critics have again called for more effective treatments to be used instead of the failed 12 step disease model of addiction, which is obviously not working. 25.1.08

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Teens as young as 15 are drinking 177 pints of beer a year, report reveals

Youngsters aged 15 and 16 are each drinking the equivalent of 44 bottles of wine or 177 pints of beer a year, research suggests. Up to a third are regular binge drinkers, downing five drinks or more at a time according to the survey. Almost 10,000 15 and 16-year-olds in the North-West of England were questioned for the report.

Professor Mark Bellis, its co-author, accepted the region probably suffers from a bigger alcohol problem than many other parts of the UK. But he said all regions now contain areas where youngsters are drinking too much. An alarming 84 per cent of those surveyed were consuming alcohol, often in public places such as bars, clubs, streets and parks. Of these, 30 per cent were downing five drinks or more during sessions that occur at least once a week - the definition of binge drinking.

Professor Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health, said: "These figures highlight the sheer quantity of alcohol being consumed by underage drinkers across the North-West. "Sadly, there is still practically no information publicly available on what is a safe amount of alcohol for children to consume or on how parents can best moderate their children's drinking.

"Without a clear message that underage drunkenness will not be tolerated, we will continue to see the high levels of alcohol bingeing and related violence identified in this study. "All too often such bingeing and violence not only damages children's lives but also results in whole communities feeling threatened by gangs of drunk teenagers."

The study was carried out by Liverpool John Moores University, Trading Standards North-West and the Home Office (North-West). Across the region, just under half of 15 and 16-year-olds surveyed drank at least once a week. Of these, 40 per cent of females and 42 per cent of males had been involved in violence following drinking.

The report "conservatively estimates that 15-16-year-olds in the North-West drink around 84million units of alcohol a year in total. It says: "This is equivalent to 44 bottles of wine (or 177 pints of beer) per year for every 15 and 16-year-old in the region, or 67 bottles of wine (269 pints of beer) per year for each 15 and 16-year-old who drinks at least once a month." More than a third of those surveyed admitted buying their own alcohol. 28.3.08

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Millions of women drinking more than they realise because of larger wine glasses

Millions of women are drinking far more alcohol than they thought, according to official figures revealed. The surge has been revealed after the Government was forced to revise consumption calculations because of the trend towards larger wine glasses. It means up to a third of women are drinking beyond safe limits every week - much higher than previous estimates.

The shock statistics also reveal the more you earn, the more you drink - with those in higher income groups consuming 30 per cent more alcohol than the working classes. mOverall, the report by the Office for National Statistics shows that millions of drinkers - men and women - who thought they were sticking within safe limits are exceeding them and leaving themselves at higher risk of liver disease and certain types of cancer.

It confirmsthe warning by Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo last year when she said the most serious drinking problem was from middleclass, middle-aged people. She told MPs: "That is where the serious and dramatic harm is increasing." The ONS found that those in managerial and professional jobs drink 15.1 units a week, against 11.6 for those in routine and manual occupations. Those in the very highest income brackets have even more.

Under the old calculation system, a glass of wine was one unit. Now it counts as two units and the change means professionals are drinking up to 50 per cent more than the old figures showed. It confirmsthe warning by Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo last year when she said the most serious drinking problem was from middleclass, middle-aged people. She told MPs: "That is where the serious and dramatic harm is increasing."

The ONS found that those in managerial and professional jobs drink 15.1 units a week, against 11.6 for those in routine and manual occupations.

Those in the very highest income brackets have even more. Under the old calculation system, a glass of wine was one unit. Now it counts as two units and the change means professionals are drinking up to 50 per cent more than the old figures showed. 23.1.08

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1,000 victims of binge-drink Britain hospitalised every day

Hospitals are treating more than a thousand cases of serious alcohol-related conditions every day of the year, it was revealed last night. Rates of admissions to accident and emergency for problem drinking and the number of patients seen by consultants for alcohol-related illnesses have both doubled in seven years. The scale of the problem - and the burden it puts on the Health Service - will pile pressure on Gordon Brown to radically overhaul the controversial Licensing Act.

It means that in a NHS hospital wards today alone, there are expected to be 1,222 separate cases of alcoholic liver disease, intoxication, drink related mental or behavioral disorders or drink-related injury. Among under-18s, there was a rise of 40 per cent in those seen by doctors in casualty or in the consulting room over the last seven years. The figures underline the dramatic failure of the Government to combat binge drinking.

A dramatic rise in both admissions to casualty and appointments with consultants occurred in 2005, the year that 24-hour drinking came into force - suggesting that the relaxation of licensing laws is to blame. However, Mr Brown is expected to keep the Licensing Act in place and implement only minor safeguards following a review of the 24-hour laws.

The figures - uncovered by Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley in parliamentary questions to Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo - will be published today."These figures reveal the human cost of the Government's failure to make public health a priority," he said. "These cases are largely preventable and put enormous pressure on an already over-stretched NHS. "It is particularly scandalous that so many teenagers are ending up in hospital. "Labour's plundering of public health budgets to meet deficits has meant we haven't had the leadership and cultural change we need on public health."

According to the Department of Health figures, the number of people admitted to accident and emergency for alcohol-related conditions last year was 160,815, or 440 a day. They include young people having their stomachs pumped, serious liver conditions, and being injured in a drunken brawl. The figure has soared by 99 per cent since 2000, when it was 82,073 per year, or 224 per day. Patients seen by consultants for alcohol-related diseases numbered 284,373 last year, or 779 a day - a 95 per cent increase since 2000 when the figure was 144,563, or 396 a day.

The problem among the young has risen sharply - including a dramatic increase following the implementation of the Licensing Act in November 2005 - showing the scale of the problem the Prime Minister faces over under-age drinking. Last year 8,245 under-18s were admitted to hospital via accident and emergency for alcohol misuse, or 22 a day, compared with 6,445 in 2000. Under-age drinkers seen by consultants rose from 6,962 in 2000 to 8,902 last year, a rate of 24 a day.

Alcohol-related diagnoses are defined as alcoholic liver disease, mental and behavioural disorders, and the toxic effect of alcohol. A review by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, due next month, is expected to say the relaxation of opening hours has not increased problem drinking. However, the figures cast serious doubt over the department's conclusions - which they have allowed to be leaked into the public domain.

Instead of a radical overhaul of 24-hour drinking, the Government is said to be preparing to target under-age drinkers, including encouraging parents to warn their children of the dangers of alcohol, cutting cheap supermarket offers and curbing drinking on the street. The 2003 Licensing Act, which came into force in November 2005, was forced through despite heavy opposition, including a campaign by the Daily Mail.

Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern, said last night: "This is a shocking indictment of the Government's failed alcohol strategy. "The figures provide ample evidence for the need for a very serious look at the price and affordability of alcohol, including the way supermarkets are allowed to sell alcohol more cheaply than water. "The number of off licences still selling alcohol to under age drinkers shows that a much stiffer penalty regime is required."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a liver specialist, said the figures "fit in with other evidence that measures to stem the tide of alcohol-related health damage are not showing signs of working". "That is why we have been looking for real evidence-based ways of reducing the burden of health damage for alcohol misuse, namely tackling price and availability." 11.01.08

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The ladette effect puts 40% more children in rehab for alcohol abuse

The number of under-18s being treated for alcohol abuse has soared by 40 per cent in a year. Children as young as ten are receiving treatments of up to three years, ranging from residential rehabilitation to specialist counselling. More than half are female, and experts are increasingly concerned about the influence of "ladette" celebrities such as Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen on impressionable girls.

Figures from the National Treatment Agency show that the total number of under-18s in alcohol treatment programmes has risen from 4,781 in 2006 to 6,707 in 2007. The highest rise was among those aged 12 to 14 - up 62 per cent to 953. Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, has called for alcohol advertising to be banned to stem the tide of binge drinking.

He said: "Clearly it's inappropriate for young pop stars, looked upon as role models for young people, to be celebrating or boasting about their misuse of alcohol, and the 'Amy Winehouse factor' isn't helping the situation. "We know girls' bodies are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than boys. "Unless we can stop this heavy drinking culture among young girls, we're more likely to see women with serious liver disease at a younger age in the future."

Frank Soodeen of Alcohol Concern said the figures were the tip of the iceberg. "There are more than 800,000 children below the age of 15 drinking regularly in the UK," he said. "Many of the young people who drink at hazardous levels require a depth of support that is simply not available in the current system." He said fewer than 150 residential detox beds were available for under-18s.

"We are sleepwalking into a public health crisis if young people drink from an earlier age and start to drink more. The problem clearly starts from a very young age and we need to start focusing on these children. Otherwise we will see more and more older children sprawled on street corners." Mr Soodeen added that alcohol consumption affects school performance - and is the cause of 14 per cent of school exclusions.

Professor Mark Bellis, the Government's lead adviser on alcohol, said: "Of 15-year-olds, nearly two thirds have drunk in the past four weeks, and around one in seven of those drinkers consumed enough to vomit. "The reality is that about 30 per cent of all 15-year-olds think it is OK to get drunk once a week. "We need to tackle a youth culture in which drunkenness is commonplace, underage access to alcohol relatively easy and alternatives to drinking far too scarce." Earlier this year, a report found that young girls are drinking nearly twice as much alcohol as they were seven years ago.

It showed that female drinkers aged between 11 and 13 consumed an average of eight units a week, equivalent to four large glasses of wine - more than a bottle. This is 83 per cent more than they were drinking in 2000. Male drinkers of the same age consume an average of 12 units a week, or six pints of beer - a rise of 43 per cent. And a study last year found that 29 per cent of under-18s could buy alcohol in pubs and 21 per cent in off-licences.

The average British adult now gets through the equivalent of 37 bottles of whisky a year, European figures showed recently. But the growing ladette culture means young women who work in offices are twice as likely to drink themselves to death as the rest of the population, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have invested significantly in young people's substance misuse services and we are determined to go further by reducing the harm caused to young people by alcohol and educating young people and their parents on the very real harm it causes." 5.11.07

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'I'm a middle-class drinker and it's slowly killing me'

My name is Lauren Booth and I'm a middleclass drinker. There, I've said it. According to research into the type of person most likely to be damaging themselves with alcohol, it's people like you and me who are drinking ourselves into an early grave. Spa towns and villages with golf clubs have up to 26.4 per cent of inhabitants drinking at hazardous levels - between 22 and 50 units a week for men; 15 to 35 for women. Not only is it bad for the liver long term, but it's bad for your blood pressure, brain and fertility.

In recent months - particularly since my 40th birthday - I've noticed it's not just my husband and me, but all the couples we know, who feel the need to 'justify' the amount we drink. There was a time when we could just about get away with a hangover on a Sunday morning, but a thumping head and nausea on the school run? That's a little harder to justify. Naomi, a social worker, talks about 'cutting down' as she pours us giant glasses of red wine - you know, the ones that hold half a bottle.

Suzanne, a sculptor, who's been feeling woozy for months, drinks vodka shots 'because it's the weekend'. As for me, three bottles of wine in seven days is a quiet week. Every time I open a bottle, I say: "Next week, that's it - no alcohol for a month!" But I always put it off until the following week. The longest I've gone without a drink (excluding pregnancy) is six days. And that was in the Middle East.

To find out what effect years of social drinking have had on my body, I went to Harley Street for a pioneering new test. Dr Rajiv Jalan is a hepatologist - a specialist in diseases of the liver - at University College Hospital and the Royal Free in London. First, I am given a straightforward blood test. This is the conventional method, available at any GP's surgery, for checking the liver is functioning well. The result? Completely normal. I feel like jumping up and down and shouting: "In your face, government goody-goodies!"

Then it's time for the fibroscan, available only privately. A handheld device the size of an orange sends a mechanical pulse through the surface of the skin. In turn, it sends an elastic wave (a bit like a sound wave) through the liver. This is tracked to see how easily it travels through the organ - one reading takes just ten seconds. A healthy liver is floppy, but if it is injured, damaged or infected, it becomes scarred, making it stiffen.

The stiffer your liver, the more difficult for the wave to travel through the organ - and therefore the more damaged it is likely to be. "If there's fibrosis (scarring), your liver is telling you 'I'm not right' and you need to do something about it," says Dr Jalan. A reading above five is deemed abnormal and may indicate signs of early liver damage.

Anything over ten could indicate serious problems, such as cirrhosis or liver disease. With a reading of 8.8, my liver is 'abnormal'. When Dr Jalan asks if I've been experiencing increased fatigue, irritability and problems sleeping - all things I've put down to the stress of everyday life - alarm bells start ringing. I panic. Why didn't the blood test pick up on anything? Dr Jalan explained that the blood test measures the amount of enzymes that have spilled out into the blood, and this only happens when liver damage is extensive. "We've picked up on things before that, when your liver is merely stressed," he says.

"A low score doesn't mean you don't drink; nor does a high score mean you drink excessively. What it does do is give us an idea of injury to the liver, which can be caused by anything from drinking to hepatitis. "Up to five is normal and wouldn't require any further investigation. Between five and seven could indicate early scarring due to minor infection. Between seven and ten, the liver scarring is moderate. Over ten, it's severe.

"A high score for one person may not be as serious as a high score for someone else. The person's lifestyle, habits and what conditions they suffer from need to be taken into account. "A score of 8.8 may seem slightly elevated, but don't panic, it's not irreversible. "It simply means you need to do something to change your lifestyle - reduce your alcohol intake or, if possible, stop drinking altogether. Then have the test repeated in three months." Hopefully with a lower result. 30.10.07

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Now the DIY liver test kit that tells you when you've had enough

A do-it-yourself test has been created to show drinkers if their livers are damaged. The home kit, which is due to be launched next week, provides a quick and accurate diagnosis. It includes a syringe with which users take a sample of their own blood and send it away to be analysed, with the results being returned within ten days. A similar test on the NHS takes two weeks to turn around.

Patients using the new kit receive a colour-coded reading, ranging from green - classified as "normal" - through to amber and red, which indicates extensive liver damage. The test cannot, however, reveal whether alcohol abuse, hepatitis or obesity is to blame. Further, more specific analysis is then advised. Last night, doctors hailed the £99 kit as a potential life-saver in the battle against alcohol-related liver disease, which costs the NHS £1.7billion a year. Having the test done privately costs £400, with the result available immediately.

A report published this month found more than a quarter of adults in the most prosperous parts of the country are drinking at "hazardous" levels. Since 1999 there has been a 62 per cent increase in alcohol-related liver disease in the UK , it warned, with middle-class "vinos" - those who regularly drink wine at home - particularly at risk.

Dr Rajiv Jalan, a liver consultant at London 's University College Hospital and one of the creators of the LiverCheck kit, said: "A lot of people want to stick their head in the sand and not admit they have a problem. "Being able to do a test at home might persuade more of them to get themselves checked out. The liver has great powers of recovery, but it is possible to develop quite advanced damage without realising what's happening. "It's clear many people are drinking to excess believing they can get away with it. Hopefully, by taking this test they will see the damage they are doing to their livers and stop drinking." 28.10.07

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Epidemic of middle-class drinkers damaging health with 'hazardous' levels of alcohol

More than a quarter of adults in the most prosperous parts of the country are drinking at "hazardous" levels, a report warns today. The alarming snapshot shows how the middle-classes in well-heeled towns are damaging their health through regular drinking.

A league table of local authority areas ranked by how many people consume alcohol at "hazardous" levels is dominated by leafy towns boasting the highest house prices in the country. Seven of the top ten areas are in Surrey. Also at the top of the table is the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. The danger level is defined as regularly drinking between 22 to 50 units a week for men and 15 to 35 for women.

The report shows that this routine lifestyle - which many will see as totally harmless - is a real danger to their health. The study also identifies a more dangerous category of "harmful" drinking, where people directly damage their bodies through their alcoholic habits. This particular league table is dominated by big urban areas such as Manchester, Liverpool and Salford, where more than 8 per cent of adults are "harmful" drinkers.

But it is the analysis of the "everyday" drinking of the middle classes that is a more surprising cause for concern. At the top of the league table of "hazardous" drinking is Runnymede, an area of Surrey that includes affluent commuter-belt towns such as Chertsey and Virginia Water, alongside Harrogate. Both areas had 26.4 per cent of adults drinking at hazardous levels - a rate of more than one in four. The lowest percentage of hazardous drinkers was found in deprived boroughs of east London.

The alcohol profiles for every local authority in England are published online today by the North West Public Health Observatory, part of the Centre for Public Health at Hazardous drinking levels were calculated by building statistical models using mortality rates, hospital admissions rates and other information. Last night Dr Karen Tocque, director of science and strategy for the observatory, said the figures should be a "wake-up call" to older drinkers who don't binge drink, but instead regularly come home after work and open a bottle of wine.

"It's people who drink regularly, but not necessarily in huge quantities, who accumulate quite a lot over a week," she said. "It's not hard to do - wine glass sizes are bigger and alcohol content is higher and I think some people are consuming more without really realising it."

Both hazardous and harmful drinking patterns are contributing to increasing levels of alcohol-related ill-health and pressures on health services across the whole country, the researchers said. Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health, said much attention had been paid to binge drinking but less discussion has focused on the damage associated with routinely consuming too much alcohol. He said: "Across England around one in five adults are drinking enough to put their health at significant risk and one in 20 enough to make disease related to alcohol consumption practically inevitable. "We need to tackle binge drinking, but we must also reverse the tolerance that most communities have built up by simply consuming too much alcohol on a weekly basis."

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: "Most of these are not young people, they are 'everyday' drinkers who have drunk too much for too long. This has to change." The report follows a Government bid earlier this year to target "middle class wine drinkers" who knock back too much at home. Figures compiled by the NHS showed that hospital admissions caused by alcohol had more than doubled in ten years. In June, health ministers announced plans to tackle drinking amid fears that eight million people cannot control their habit. The £10million alcohol strategy aims to flush out "middle class" drinkers who consume twice as much as they should. 16.10.07

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Binge-drinking epidemic increases as alcohol related A&E admissions soar

Emergency hospital admissions caused by binge-drinking and booze-fuelled violence have soared dramatically in the past five years, shocking figures have revealed. Two years after the Government's bitterly controversial licensing reforms ushered in late-night drinking in pubs and clubs, data from hundreds of hospitals across the country show A&E departments are dealing with huge numbers of patients who fall victim to drunken fights or who binge-drink until they are seriously ill.

Health experts warned that people of all ages were 'simply drinking too much', while opposition critics accused Labour ministers of being 'in denial' over the impact of their new laws. The stark figures, drawn from the NHS Hospital Episodes Survey to be published this week, will add to the growing pressure on the Government to rethink its strategy on the harm caused by alcohol. Gordon Brown has already paved the way for a humiliating U-turn, ordering a full review and claiming he would 'not hesitate' to change the law if it was found to be encouraging excessive drinking and lawlessness.

The statistics are drawn from patient records, and reveal the numbers admitted to hospital as emergency cases as a direct result of their own or someone else's drinking. They include victims of drunken attacks, cases of liver cirrhosis or alcohol poisoning and those hurt in alcohol-related accidents including car crashes. The number of men admitted nationwide rose from 714 per 100,000 in 2001-02 to 909 per 100,000 in 2005-06 - up more than a quarter. For women the numbers rose from 396 to 510 per 100,000, a jump of 29 per cent over the same period.

Across England the figures are equivalent to more than a third of a million people being taken to hospital each year because of excessive drinking. The statistics also reveal a stark north-south divide, with the worst problems in the hard-drinking north-east where 1,232 men and 689 women per 100,000 were admitted to hospital in 2005-6. Nine of the 10 worst regions were in the north, with Manchester, Liverpool and Middlesbrough all in the top five. Eastern England was at the other end of the scale, with admissions figures of 743 for men and 425 for women per 100,000.

Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, which compiled the information, said: 'The figures show an increase in alcohol problems in the population. "A lot of attention is paid towards binge drinking in younger people, but large numbers of people of all ages are simply drinking too much. "High levels of excessive drinking are contributing to significant ill-health, which has immediate consequences for individuals and also puts pressure on the NHS, the police and the courts."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, called the figures 'very worrying', particularly the fact that the problem has grown steadily year-on-year rise since 2001 in each region. He called for significant increases in drink prices and a review of availability and rules governing promotions, adding: "These data show that we have a serious alcohol problem in this country and measures to date haven't had any discernible effect."

Last month the Mail revealed that late-night serious violence around pubs and clubs had risen almost 130 per cent in once year since licensing laws were relaxed. The figures - originally omitted from Home Office crime bulletins - cover the most serious types of crimes including murder and manslaughter. But this week's hospital statistics point to a much broader problem. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "This is yet more evidence of our broken society. "As well as the real harm alcohol abuse does to young people, it is a major cause of crime. "Yet Labour are in denial about these problems. When it comes to mending our broken society, they are part of the problem, not the solution." A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said almost two million people were now drinking at levels known to be harmful.

She said: "Reducing the harm caused by alcohol misuse is a top Government priority. "We are working hard to help people take personal responsibility for their drinking and its impact on their health." 15.10.07

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A third of GCSE pupils get drunk - and many are using drugs as well

More than a third of GCSE pupils get drunk at least once a month, a survey by school inspectors reveals today. And more than a fifth of young teens abuse drugs or solvents every month. The first poll of its kind - covering more than 111,000 pupils - prompted warnings that alcohol and drug misuse threatens the health and prospects of a generation.

Experts said there was evidence children from middle-class families were more likely to drink heavily and experiment with drugs than youngsters from the inner cities.Many drink regularly with their parents' approval while their greater spending power means they can more easily indulge their curiosity about drink and drugs.

Ofsted inspectors uncovered the scale of the problem in a survey which questioned pupils of 10 to 15 about their attitudes to school, experiences and worries. Among 14 and 15-year-olds, in the first year of two-year GCSE courses, the proportion admitting to getting drunk at least once in the past four weeks was 37 per cent, although the survey offered no definition of "drunk" and some may have exaggerated.

A further seven per cent declined to answer. One in five 10 and 11-year-olds said they had had an least one whole alcoholic drink, while 13 per cent would "prefer not to say". Across all 10 to 15-year-olds, one in five had indulged in under-age drinking at least once in the past month. A similar proportion admitted smoking. One in seven secondary pupils had taken drugs or solvents in the past month. Among 14 and 15-year-olds, the figure rose to more than a fifth. The most common drug was cannabis, but a hard core had tried cocaine, LSD and ecstasy.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a liver specialist, said he was particularly concerned that children appear to be getting drunk regularly. He said: "Getting drunk is a risky behaviour in terms of accidents, unwanted pregnancies, rape and STIs and there is evidence that young people who start drinking heavily are more likely to become dependent on alcohol and have alcohol problems in later life."

He called for a ban on alcohol advertising before 9pm and a crackdown on sales to under-age drinkers. Dr David Regis, of Exeter University's Schools Health Education Unit, said his own studies had shown that middle-class pupils were just as likely, if not more so, to experiment with drink and drugs. He said: "We need to get away from this idea that the inner cities are the dark heart of our society and in the leafy shires nothing bad ever happens. In the affluent shires, there's a lot of money spent on drink and youngsters are jumping in with gusto."

He added that parents who believe they are acting responsibly in giving their children controlled exposure to drink may not be getting the right messages across. The TellUs2 survey, produced jointly with the Government and Ipsos Mori, also provided a more positive picture. The vast majority of children considered themselves healthy and said they exercised at least three times a week. Nearly three-quarters said they had never smoked a cigarette and 80 per cent of older children said they had never tried illegal drugs.

The study found that children's biggest worry was their exams. Many were also concerned about classroom indiscipline. Forty per cent wanted quieter and better-behaved classmates while 30 per cent said they had been bullied at least twice in the last four weeks. Fourteen per cent said they did not feel safe at school.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "This survey shows that the majority of children and young people feel happy, safe, enjoy life and are doing well at school. "But there are challenges and pressures that we need to address with decisive action." Ministers will be set performance targets based on the survey, including bringing down the figures on substance misuse and bullying. 16.11.07

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Number of alcohol-related cases doubles in a decade

Alcohol-related hospital admissions doubled in the past decade, according to figures released today. The news comes as doctors prepare to debate measures aimed at tackling what they say is the "worrying" rise in deaths and disease related to drinking. Figures out today showed the number of under-16s admitted to hospital owing to alcohol has risen by more than a third in the past 10 years.

There were 5,280 NHS hospital admissions in under-16s in 2005/06 - a rise of just over a third on the 3,870 figure for 1995/96. There were also 187,640 NHS hospital admissions in 2005/06 among adults aged 16 and over related to alcohol. This is almost double the 89,280 admissions in 1995/96. The Information Centre for health and social care released the figures. The figures released today relate to England. They showed that alcohol is "more affordable than ever", according to the centre.

In 2006, alcohol was 65 per cent more affordable than it was in 1980 and household spend on alcohol has increased steadily since 1980, the figures showed. However, expenditure on alcohol as a proportion of total household spend has been decreasing steadily - from 7.5 per cent in 1980 to 5.2 per cent in 2006. In 2005, 73 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women said they drank an alcoholic drink on at least one day in the week before they were interviewed. A total of 13 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women said they had drunk every day in the previous week. And 34 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women had drunk more than the recommended number of units on at least one day in the previous week.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) of men and one in 10 (8 per cent) of women had drunk more than twice the recommended daily intake. The Government recommends men do not regularly exceed three or four units a day and women do not exceed two or three units a day. One unit is equivalent to a small glass of wine, half a pint of beer or one pub measure of spirits.

In May, the Government announced that alcoholic drinks would get new warning labels in a voluntary agreement between ministers and the industry. All drinks will be expected to carry details of units and recommended safe drinking levels on their labels by the end of 2008. At present, bottles and cans carry percentage details of alcohol and most carry unit information.

But the Government also wants safety advice for pregnant women - that they should avoid alcohol altogether - on labels as well as the recommendations for safe drinking. Older people were more likely to drink regularly, the figures showed. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of men and 18 per cent of women aged 45 to 64 drank on five or more days in the previous week compared with 10 per cent men and 5 per cent of women aged 16 to 24.

However, younger people were more likely to drink heavily - so-called "binge drinking" - with 42 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 drinking above the daily recommendations. This compared with 16 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women aged 65 and over. The recommended weekly limits set by the Government are 21 units for men and 14 for women.

The figures showed that 24 per cent of men drank more than their recommended limit in an average week as did 13% of women. In 2005, 6,570 people died from causes directly linked to alcohol - 4,160 from alcoholic liver disease, of which 67 per cent were men. Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released in February for the whole of the UK showed there were 8,386 such deaths.

But charities have put the real figure at more than 22,000 premature deaths a year and, three years ago, Government estimates ran at 16,000 to 22,000 deaths a year. The charity Alcohol Concern estimates 60 people die every day from drink. Today's report from the Information Centre found that while 69 per cent of people had heard of Government guidelines on how much to drink, more than a third of those did not know what the recommendations were. Almost a third (32 per cent) had seen units of alcohol displayed on drink labels compared with 2 per cent in 2000.

In 2005, 45 per cent of pregnant women did not drink at all during pregnancy, while 39 per cent drank less than one unit a week and 8 per cent drank one to two units. Professor Denise Lievesley, the centre's chief executive, said: "These figures show some worrying trends about the effects on society of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. "The doubling of alcohol-related hospital admissions and increases in serious illness and death caused by alcohol gives cause for concern. "We hope Government and other policy makers will use these figures to inform the development and implementation of policies to help reduce the harm that excessive alcohol consumption can cause."

Doctors voted in favour of a motion calling for a reduction in the drink drive limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg per 100ml. 26.06.07

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Alcohol-induced illnesses soar

Alcohol-related illness in England has soared over the past 10 years, an analysis of medical data showed on Friday. The figures will add to concerns over binge-drinking and alcohol-fuelled crime following the government's relaxation of drinking hours last November.

Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease more than doubled to 35,400 in 2004-5 from 14,400 in 1995-6, according to a report from the National Health Service. Admissions for alcohol poisoning rose to 21,700 cases from 13,600 over the same period. In-patient hospital care for individuals with mental health or behavioural disorders from alcohol abuse jumped to 126,300 cases from 72,500, a rise of 75 percent over 10 years. "It shows we cannot underestimate the effect of alcohol on health," said Denise Lievesley, chief executive of The Information Centre, the NHS special health authority which compiled the report. "By presenting this data, we hope that health professionals will be better equipped to put their work in context and to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol misuse."

The Department of Health said it was launching a joint campaign with the Home Office later this year to promote sensible drinking among young people. "We know that alcohol misuse has a devastating effect on millions of lives each year," a health department spokeswoman said.

"That is why we are working with the drinks industry, police and health professionals to increase awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking and make the sensible drinking message easier to understand." Earlier this month, the ambulance service said emergency calls had doubled following England's opening 1-0 World Cup victory over Paraguay after drunken fans injured themselves fighting or falling over. 1.7.06

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Government crackdown on middle class drinkers

Middle-class drinkers who enjoy wine at home are to be targeted in a government crackdown on drunkenness. The government wants to highlight the health related problems caused by alcohol abuse to ease pressure on the NHS. Plans to be revealed by the Home Office today will show that older drinkers who enjoy wine in the home are seen as part of the problem as well as under-age drinkers and binge drinkers. Reports also suggested that binge drinkers could be made to pay for any damage they cause and treatment they need for injuries.

The Home Office expect the strategy to raise public awareness and help reduce the £20billion a year spent on crime and health costs associated with alcohol abuse. Doctors' leaders have also called for warnings to be displayed in pubs and restaurants detailing how many units are contained in each drink served by the glass.

It is thought that older drinkers are at risk of severe health problems because they often unknowingly exceeding the safe levels of alcohol drinking in the home. "We want to target the older drinkers, those that are maybe drinking one or two bottles of wine at home each evening," a Whitehall source told The Times. "They do not realise the damage they are doing to their health and that they risk developing liver disease.''

A Home Office spokesman said that older people needed to be made aware of the dangers just as much as younger drinkers. "There will be three key points addressed - under-age drinkers, binge drinkers and older-drinkers. "It's all about public awareness. Young people will be a big focus. But some adults don't realise they are doing harm to themselves," he said. "Some adults are drinking dangerously but don't know it."

The British Medical Association will investigate measures used in other countries such as United States and Sweden as they look to try and cut excessive alcohol consumption. Last night Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians revealed his support for the focus that is being placed on the drink - related problems. "We really need the spotlight more on health. While crime and anti-social behaviour is important it's too easy to concentrate on that because it's somebody else causing the trouble. "When you look at health it's more uncomfortable because there is a very significant percentage of the population already drinking at hazardous levels."

Professor Gilmore also called for higher alcohol taxes to make drink less available to curb consumption. "We know from international evidence that it's measures that tackle price and availablity where one can really make a difference. "There is a very clear link between price and consumption. It's never been cheaper in real terms than it is now." Plans have already been unveiled to make sure all alcoholic drinks carry labels detailing the amount of units contained by the end of next year.

But the British Medical Association said that information on how many units of alcohol are contained indrinks should be clearly displayed in pubs and bars. "Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA said: "It is not the nanny state. It is about informed choices It is hard for the average person to work out how many units are in a drink these days." 5.7.07

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Mothers-to-be who have one glass of wine a day need help, says doctors

Pregnant women who drink as little as a small glass of wine a day should be counselled over their consumption and urged to stop, senior doctors said yesterday. The British Medical Association says all women with a "confirmed or suspected" history of "low-to-moderate" alcohol consumption should be helped to cut down on their drinking once they try to start a family.

But last night some doctors described the advice, sent out to all GPs, as heavy-handed in the absence of clear evidence that low levels of alcohol can harm unborn babies. Critics also said the numbers of women involved could be astronomical - and that the advice sessions could be costly.

Evidence that heavy drinking can cause defects in children is more conclusive. Around 100 babies a year are born with foetal alcohol syndrome, which causes low birth weight, flattened features, heart and kidney abnormalities, deafness and brain damage. In addition, as many as 7,000 British babies a year may be born with the less serious foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and poor co-ordination.

The BMA says any woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy, and who has a suspected or confirmed history of alcohol consumption at low-to-moderate levels - 1.5 units a day - should be offered brief counselling to help them stop drinking. The one-to-one sessions, which would be carried out by GPs or midwives, would cover the dangers of drinking on unborn babies. Women would be encouraged to set daily targets for drinking and handed leaflets.

For those drinking more heavily, such as those having six units (three glasses of wine) on a night out, GPs should suggest they attend a specialist organisation. BMA head of science and ethics Vivienne Nathanson said: "If someone is drinking moderate levels, then brief interventions can help.

"The cost of treating a child with foetal alcohol syndrome is £1 million over a lifetime so the cost of a few thousand to provide these interventions is well worth it." But Professor Andrew Shennan, an obstetrician with the baby charity Tommy's, said: "If GPs follow this rule there will be an awful lot of people requiring intervention. "At first sight the potential cost looks quite staggering. Maybe it would be better to target help at those who really need it.

"There is no evidence that low amounts of alcohol are harmful and it is not unreasonable to have the occasional drink." Last month, the Government revised its guidelines to mothers-to-be, telling them it would be safer to stop drinking altogether. Failing this, they should limit themselves to one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week. 5.7.07

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