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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Wealthy areas head alcohol table
Teenage drinker
Many people drink too much alcohol

Drinking at levels which are hazardous to health is rife in affluent middle class areas in England, research shows.

Richer areas dominated the list of areas with the highest proportion of men drinking 22-50 units a week, and women drinking 15-35 units a week.

However, Liverpool John Moores University found the proportion of those who drank to real excess was highest in poorer areas.

Manchester topped this table followed by Liverpool.

Runnymede: 26.4
Harrogate: 26.4
Surrey Heath: 26.0
Guildford: 25.5
Mid Sussex: 25.5
Mole Valley: 25.5
Leeds: 25.3
Elmbridge: 25.3
Waverley: 25.2
Woking: 25.0
Percentage of adults aged over 16 regularly drinking between 22 to 50 units/week (men) and 15-35 units/week (women)

Harmful drinking - when people binge on alcohol - was defined as more than 50 units/week for men, and more than 35 units/week for women.

The study found the proportion of people drinking at this level ranged from 3.2% to 8.8% of the adult population.

The lowest rates were found in more affluent areas, with the wealthy town of Winchester recording the lowest rate of all.

But richer areas fared much worse when it came to hazardous levels of drinking - for instance more than one large glass of wine every evening.

In Runnymede, Surrey, more than one in four of the adult population were defined as drinking in this way.

Headed for hospital

The team at the university's North West Public Health Observatory have collated and published the alcohol profiles for every local authority in England.

Manchester: 8.8
Liverpool: 8.1
Salford: 7.5
Knowsley: 7.4
Rochdale: 7.2
Tameside: 7.2
Leeds: 7.1
Oldham: 7.1
City of Kingston upon Hull: 7.1
Halton: 7.1
Percentage of adults aged over 16 regularly drinking over 50 units/week (men) and over 35 units/week (women)

They also include figures for alcohol-related hospital admissions, alcohol-related recorded crimes and death rates from conditions related to alcohol.

Liverpool had the highest rate per 100,000 for alcohol attributable hospital admissions for men and women, according to the figures.

"In order to stop further increases in alcohol-related deaths and admission to hospital, we must also reverse the tolerance that most communities have built up by simply consuming too much alcohol on a weekly basis," said Professor Mark Bellis, the observatory's director.

Frank Soodeen, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said drinking too much - but not excessively - could damage health over the long-term.

He said: "When you are drinking quite quietly at homes with friends and family it does not seem particularly dangerous, but it does add up."

Dr Carl Gray is medical director at Harrogate District Hospital, which serves an area with one of the highest levels of hazardous drinking in the country.

He said: "There are increased rates of various illness in people who are drinking in this hazardous category.

"The biggest risk to your health is chronic liver disease, followed by heart disease."

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said the government was working hard to change attitudes.

Alcohol is relatively cheap, readily available and up to a point socially acceptable
David T, London

"We launched a new cross-government alcohol strategy in June, and the Chancellor announced that a new national priority for the NHS will be to reduce the rate of hospital admissions of alcohol-related conditions, as part of the spending review announcement last week.

  • One large glass of wine - 250ml at 12% alcohol - contains three units. A pint of standard strength beer contains two units.

    Percentage of adults aged over 16 regularly drinking between 22 to 50 units/week (men) and 15-35 units/week (women)

    People in Harrogate talk about their drinking habits

    Are the middle classes drinking too much?
    16 Oct 07 |  Have Your Say

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