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Monday, November 2, 1998 Published at 10:12 GMT


One in 20 Britons 'are alcoholic'

Alcohol causes 33,000 deaths a year, according to Alcohol Concern

One in 20 people in Britain are alcoholic - twice as many as are addicted to drugs, according to a new report.

Alcohol is killing thousands, says Alcohol Concern
Alcohol Concern says 33,000 deaths a year are related to alcohol, with one in four emergency male admissions to hospital linked to drink.

Based on figures from the General Household Survey, it calculates that two million Britons are drinking to harmful levels - above 50 units a week for men and over 35 for women.

One unit is equivalent to half a pint of beer, a shot of spirits and a glass of wine.

Recommended levels

A further seven million are said to be drinking over recommended levels of three to four daily units for men and two to three for women.

Some 25% of Britons are estimated to have problems getting through the day without a drink.

Of the one in 20 estimated to be dependent on alcohol, addiction was defined by loss of control of drinking, symptomatic behaviour such as skipping regular meals while drinking and binge drinking.

Men aged 20 to 24 were most likely to be dependent on alcohol - around 18% showed signs of dependency.

For women, the highest risk group was 16- to 19-year-olds, with 7% of women in this age group thought to be addicted.

Northern men

The report, State of the Nation, says men living in the North are the most likely to drink.

Around 10% drink to harmful levels compared with one in 17 men in London and the South East. East Anglian men are the least likely to drink.

For women, those in the North West are the most likely to drink and Scottish women are the least likely.

Men are three times as likely to be alcoholic as women.

However, the number of women with a drink problem has been rising over the last decade, while the figure for men has remained stable.

Drink is thought to be a factor in 39% of deaths in fires, 26% of drownings and 15% of road accidents.

The report says 28,000 hospital admissions are due to alcohol, with the total annual cost to the NHS of drink-related health problems estimated at £150m.

National strategy

State of the Nation is being discussed at a debate on Monday as part of the government's plan for a National Alcohol Strategy.

[ image: Tessa Jowell is to address Monday's debate on a national alcohol strategy]
Tessa Jowell is to address Monday's debate on a national alcohol strategy
The strategy was outlined in the government's Green Paper on public health where treatment programmes for people who drink excessively were outlined.

Public health minister Tessa Jowell is expected to attend the debate at Alcohol Concern's annual conference.

Eric Appelby, director of Alcohol Concern, said: "Currently the attack on alcohol misuse is being mounted in a scatter-gun manner, with, for example, different government departments responsible for various aspects of alcohol policy.

"The aim of the National Alcohol Strategy will be to pull together these disaparate efforts."


The Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry, accused the report of using "scaremongering statistics", but said it supported moves to encourage "sensible drinking".

But a spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern said the statistics were "not surprising" and were consistent with previous research.

She added: "What is surprising is that more is not being done to establish a coordinated way forward."

She said different government departments had different strategies for handling the problem and some, such as the Department of Industry, faced conflicts of interest between the money it received from the alcohol industry and the cost to the industry of sickness due to alcohol.

Other statistics included in The State of the Nation report include:

  • that 65% of suicides are linked to heavy drinking
  • that alcohol is a factor in 40% of domestic abuse cases
  • that 14m working days a year are lost through alcohol-related health problems.

    The report also says heavy drinking is the most common cause of high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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