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'BINGE DRINKING' - EVIDENCE OF SOME SERIOUS AND WORSENING HARMS

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Many people gain health and social benefits from moderate drinking ...
Many people gain health and social benefits from moderate drinking

levels and alcohol plays an important role in the success of the

leisure and tourist industry. However, there is evidence that

patterns of heavy and binge drinking may be particularly serious in

the UK, leading to an increasing toll of premature deaths and health

problems, and alcohol-related disorders and injuries.

That's the message in an interim analytical report published today by

the prime minister's Strategy Unit. The report has been produced as

part of its work to produce an alcohol harm reduction strategy for

England - which is aimed at tackling these problems.

The report also points out that up to 40% of men's drinking sessions

now technically qualify as binge drinking as defined by reference to

the government's sensible drinking guidelines. That means men

drinking in excess of the equivalent of four pints of beer (three for

women) or eight measures of spirits (six for women) often in short

periods of time. Over a typical 'Saturday night out' this can see

them drinking three or four times the recommended guidelines. The

consequences of drinking will differ from individual to individual

and many people understand 'bingeing' to mean deliberately drinking

to excess. However, this evidence suggests that many may be causing

themselves potentially serious harm.

The report says that this pattern of drinking is responsible for a

range of alcohol-related problems, is linked to up to 22,000

premature deaths each year, and is costing the country up to #20

billion a year.

It puts the cost to the NHS of alcohol-related injuries and illnesses

at up to £1.7bn a year. The unit's research also shows that

alcohol-related crime, assaults and disorder is costing a further

£7.3bn, while the cost to the economy of lost productivity through

absences and illness is estimated at up to £6.4bn. Some of the human

and social costs are est imated at £4.7bn.

Hazel Blears, minister of state at the Home Office, is sponsor

minister for the Strategy Unit project.

She said: 'The large majority of people who drink, do so without

causing themselves or others harm and it is an integral part of their

social life. In fact, for some there are even health benefits from

moderate drinking.

'But this study shows that increasing numbers of people - especially

the young - are drinking well above the safe limits. For example,

under-16s who now drink twice as much as they did 10 years ago.

'This is bringing with it health risks and a range of other social

problems. Not least of these problems is the nuisance and disorder

that are all too often a feature of our town and city centres.

'We want everyone to be able to enjoy a drink in safety. That is why

I am pleased to be visiting the pioneering City Safe scheme in

Manchester. This scheme shows that a partnership of police, local

councils and the industry, can succeed in creating a better and safer

city centre for everyone.

'The Strategy Unit team can build upon schemes like this when working

with partners across Government - and outside - to find ways to

reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse.'

The report says that chronic drinking is also taking an increasing

toll on society. Chronic drinkers are often adept at hiding their

addiction and this can put their families at risk of domestic abuse.

Children are doubly vulnerable as the report's research shows that

they can pick up their parent's drinking habits in later life.

Public health minister Melanie Johnson said:

'This report gives a full picture of the effects of alcohol

consumption on society, and on the health of individuals. While

alcohol can have positive effects, the cost to the NHS of 150,000

alcohol-related hospital admissions each year are clear to see. And

we also need to recognise the devastating effects, particularly on

families, of the 15,000 - 22,000 deaths each year, which can be

attributed to alcohol misuse.

'Identifying these problems will ensure that the Department of Health

can work with the Strategy Unit and other key stakeholders to develop

long-term, effective solutions over the coming months leading up to

the publication of the government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy.'

Key points from the report include:

- Regular heavy drinkers are having more health problems and dying

younger - for example, deaths by liver cirrhosis have nearly doubled

over the past decade.

- Alcohol-related accidents and illnesses land around 150,000 people

a year in hospital.

- Around 40% of A&E admissions are alcohol-related, and as many as

70% between midnight and 5am.

- Alcohol is associated with between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths every

year.

- Up to 1.3million children in the UK are affected by parental

alcohol problems.

- Young people have not been receptive to the 'sensible drinking'

message.

- Under-16s who do drink are drinking twice as much today as they

did 10 years ago, although overall numbers have changed little.

- Around 50% of rough sleepers are reliant on alcohol.

- In 2001-02, there were 1.2m incidents of alcohol-related violence.

- Almost half the victims of violent crime say their attacker was

under the influence of drink; and 45% of victims of domestic violence

said their attacker had been drinking.

- There is no such thing as a typical heavy drinker - though young

white unemployed men are disproportionately likely to misuse alcohol.

- Skilled women drink more than other women and unskilled men drink

the most heavily of all men.

- The average UK drinker consumed the equivalent of 8.6 litres of

pure alcohol in 2001 - that's an increase of 151% since 1951

- Alcohol taxes raise £7bn a year. The value of the drinks market is

estimated at £ ;30bn to the UK economy and the trade employs more than

half a million people.

- Moderate drinking can lower the risk of coronary heart disease -

especially for the over- 40s

- There is already a lot of good practice in tackling alcohol

misuse, examples include: the Manchester City Safe scheme; an Alcohol

Arrest Referral Scheme in Gloucestershire; and the appointment of an

alcohol co-ordinator by Hammersmith and Fulham's crime-cutting

initiative.

Notes

1. The interim analytical report is available online.

2. The Home Office today published 'Alcohol-related assault: findings

from the British Crime Survey'. The online report can be found here.

3. Binge drinking is defined as drinking twice the recommended

guidelines in one day, i.e. six units for a woman and eight for a man

- equivalent to four pints of beer. Many regular drinkers may notice

little effect from these amounts, but their risk of harm is

substantially higher. And many, particularly the young, drink well

above these guidelines.

4. Douglas Alexander, minister of state for the Cabinet Office,

announced the project on 19 July 2002, in response to a parliamentary

question.

5. The project team has been working closely with officials in the

Department of Health who have been working on an Alcohol harm

reduction strategy, as well as other key stakeholders, including Home

Office, Department of Culture Media and Sport, ODPM, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural

Affairs in Government, the industry, key academics, and

representatives of user groups in the voluntary sector.

6. The project team has undertaken an extensive process of

consultation with stakeholders and relevant groups. A consultation

paper and responses to the consultation are available on the Strategy

Unit w ebsite (www.strategy.gov.uk). A paper setting out the costings

underlying the analysis will also be available on the unit's website.

7. An alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England is expected to be

published later this year.

The Strategy Unit provides the prime minister and government

departments with a capacity to analyse strategic policy issues and to

design long-term solutions to problems. It was formed by a merger of

the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), the Forward Strategy Unit

(FSU) and parts of the Policy Studies Directorate of the Centre for

Management and Policy Studies (CMPS) in June 2002.

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