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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Britain's big booze binge
Beer pump
As a nation we're drinking more than ever...and more than is good for us
More people die in Britain today from alcohol related illness than from drug abuse. As our consumption of alcohol increases alarmingly, the costs to the health service and industry are running into billions of pounds.

As our health correpondent Karen Allen reports, pressure is building on the government to act.

Although the majority of people drink at levels which are not likely to be harmful, alcohol consumption in Britain is increasing.

There is evidence of a rise in so called binge drinking among younger people and growing alcohol consumption above the recommended daily limits ( 2-3 units for women, 3-4 units for men).

Death toll

Despite the fact that Britain lags behind France, Germany and many of the Scandinavian countries in terms of how much we drink, the past decade has seen the number of alcohol related deaths increase by two thirds.

In 1997 five thousand people died from problems associated with drinking, nearly three times the figure linked with illicit drug use.

Man raising glass
Medical professionals are worried at an increase in alcohol-related illness
There is particular concern about the numbers of women exceeding recommended drinking limits - a fifty per cent rise in the past decade.

Off limits

Now nearly one in four women aged 16 to 24 regularly drink twice the recommended daily limit. It is worrying many in the medical profession because there is evidence that health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver develop more quickly in women than in men.

Alcohol concern, the charity which compiled the latest figures, is urging the government to press ahead with its promised strategy to tackle alcohol abuse.

Two years ago ministers pledged to set out their plans to tackle alcohol misuse. But other health priorities such as meeting targets to reduce heart disease and cancer have knocked the timetable back.

The charity is among those lobbying for ministers to act quickly, arguing that excessive drinking is a contributory factor in many health problems.

Heavy price

Alcohol Concern has put the price of alcohol abuse in Britain at 3.3bn a year in sickness absence, unemployment and premature deaths. The cost to the NHS is estimated at 200 million.

Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper the public health minister is being pressed to act
Any alcohol strategy will require the co-operation of the medial profession, the drinks industry (which values the market for alcohol at 30 billion a year) and charities.

Each have submitted proposals to the government setting out their priorities. These include more investment in prevention and treatment and education and a review of breath testing powers.

However significant changes to advertising rules are not thought to be on the agenda.

With a female minister such as Yvette Cooper holding the public health portfolio at a time when women are drinking more than ever before, there is likely to be increased pressure for some clear statement of the direction the government intends to follow.

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27 Apr 00 | Health
Beer 'may be good for you'
19 Apr 00 | UK
Women get the drinks in
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