Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Heavy drinkers 'lie to doctors'

Man drinking
Alcohol misuse is a major problem for the NHS

Almost two in five people who drink to excess are lying to their doctors about how much alcohol they really consume, suggests a survey.

Men and women drinking double the daily limit also admitted concealing it from partners, friends and colleagues.

The government poll of nearly 2,000 people found men more likely to lie than women.

Experts recommend the equivalent of two pints of beer for men or one large glass of wine for women per day.

I know people find it difficult to be honest about their consumption of alcohol, but as GPs we are here to help
Professor Steve Field
Royal College of General Practitioners

The majority of people who stick to this limit did not underplay their consumption to their doctors, but 39% of the "high risk" drinkers gave a lower figure.

The poll suggested that 19% of heavy drinkers were even fooling themselves about how much they actually drank each day.

Exceeding daily limits can increase the risk of alcohol-related diseases such as liver disease, and other forms of cancer, high blood pressure and stroke.

A spokesman for the Know Your Limits campaign said that it was understandable that some people felt a "little embarrassed" and might want to "put a gloss" on their drinking habits when talking to their doctor.

But he added: "But it's important people talk honestly if they think they may be drinking too much or even if they're not sure.

"If they are drinking at higher-risk levels, their GP or practice nurse will be able to advise on the health risks, and may be able to help reduce their consumption to a lower-risk level."

The survey suggested that 12% of heavy drinkers were hiding it from their partners, with similar percentages concealing their intake from friends and work colleagues.

Honesty call

The safer drinking campaign is being supported by the Royal College of GPs.

Its chairman, Professor Steve Field, urged people to be as frank as possible.

"I know people find it difficult to be honest about their consumption of alcohol, but as GPs we are here to help," he said.

"We are able to support and help people to keep to safe levels."

The Department of Health has now commissioned a research programme into the best ways of identifying heavy drinkers who have come before the courts, or who are receiving NHS treatment.

The aim is to give drinkers on-the-spot advice about the potential dangers of alcohol abuse.

The department has already announced a 7m project to put "regional alcohol managers" in place across England in a bid to tackle the problem.

Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said that the survey findings suggested that nationally-gathered statistics about alcohol use could be misleading.

"As GP codes for patients' alcohol consumption are used to research drinking levels, this survey shows that the problem is far bigger than existing evidence suggests," he said.

"Recent claims about decreasing levels of consumption are dubious."

Harry Walker of Turning Point, which works with people with addiction problems, said: "Doctors need support to identify dependent drinkers, and to identify them early.

"All too often, people are ending up in A&E, hospital departments and GP surgeries because of their undiagnosed problematic alcohol use. "

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