Study urges action on women drinkers

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Health professionals must do more to tackle problem drinking among women, experts have said.

Alcohol use and related disorders have historically been "viewed as a male phenomenon", researchers said. But a new study says women are catching up with men in terms of alcohol consumption.

The research, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined 68 studies on alcohol consumption among people born throughout the 20th century.

They found that among those born in the early 1900s, men were 2.2 times more likely than women to consume alcohol, three times more likely to drink in ways "suggestive of problematic use" and 3.6 times more likely to experience alcohol-related harms.

But when the authors examined data concerning people born in the late 1900s, men were 1.1 times more likely than women to consume alcohol, 1.2 times more likely to drink problematically and 1.3 times more likely to experience alcohol-related harms.

The authors concluded: "Alcohol use and alcohol use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms."

Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, said: "Since the 1950s we've seen women's drinking continue to rise. 

"Drinking at home has continued to increase and, because alcohol is so cheap and easily available, it's become an everyday grocery item. 

"We've also seen a concerted effort from the alcohol industry to market products and brands specifically to women.

"Drinking too much, too often can store up future health problems, both mental and physical, with people not realising just how easy it is to go over recommended limits.

"This is why we need mandatory health warnings on alcohol products and a mass media campaign to make sure the Chief Medical Officer's guidelines are widely known and understood."

A spokesman for the Portman Group said: "The idea that women are now 'catching up' with men's alcohol consumption does not reflect the real-life evidence of how women drink in the UK today. 

"Official government data shows significant declines in women's alcohol consumption, frequency of drinking and binge-drinking rates over the last decade and today 84% of women do not exceed low-risk guidelines. 

"In Britain, alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns among both men and women are declining, but the greatest reductions are among women.

"Whilst it is important that we identify those individuals and communities that still need support to reduce alcohol-related harms, we must also recognise the encouraging social changes that are taking place."

Dr John Larsen, director of evidence and impact at alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: "We know that drinking patterns among different ages and genders are changing over time, reflecting wider societal changes, but it is important to remember the harm that heavy drinking can inflict on our physical and mental health.

"The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that both men and women do not regularly drink more than 14 units a week, which is six pints of 4% beer, to keep health risks at a low level. The risk of developing a range of health problems, including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast, increases the more you drink on a regular basis."