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Friday, February 23, 2007

Big rise in number of young people killed by heavy drinking

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Published: 23 February 2007

The alcopops generation are drinking themselves to death, latest figures show.

Drink-related deaths among 15 to 34-year-olds have increased by almost 60 per cent since 1991. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which published the figures yesterday, said 198 men and 89 women in this age group died from alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver in 2004.

Overall, deaths from drinking have doubled in the past 13 years to 8,221 in 2004. These do not include road accidents and other injuries caused by alcohol.

At all ages the death rate among men is twice that for women and the gap between the sexes is widening. Scotland is the worst affected region with a death rate twice that for the rest of the UK.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies said the figures underlined the need to discourage young people from drinking. Director Andrew McNeill said: "Alcohol consumption is going up in Britain, and going down in countries such as France and Italy, because alcohol is cheaper and available at more outlets in this country than ever before. We live in the age of 24-hour licensing and the booze cruise. The consequence is that younger and younger people are appearing in hospital with alcohol-related illnesses."

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "Forty five Scots are now dying because of drink every single week. We need to ask what is so different about Scotland's drinking culture, compared with the rest of the UK."

The figures came as the Scottish Executive unveiled its Alcohol Action Plan to target binge-drinking. Scotland's health minister, Andy Kerr, announced that a crackdown on owners of licensed premises selling alcohol to under-age drinkers would be rolled out across Scotland.

Alcohol-related death rates were five times higher among men in the most deprived areas and three times higher among women. Mr Law said: "Much more work needs to be done to reach people in the most deprived social groups because they are most likely to die from alcohol abuse."

Glasgow had the highest alcohol-related death rate among both men and women. Fifteen of the 20 local areas with the highest death rates were in Scotland, with three in England and two in Northern Ireland. Wales was the only country to have no local areas with a very high death rate.

Surveys have shown little change in the number of men reporting drinking more than 21 units a week or women drinking more than 14 units. The ONS says it is possible that the rise in deaths is related to binge drinking or changes in the type of alcohol consumed, especially by the young.

The Government changed its guidelines on sensible drinking in 1995 from weekly to daily benchmarks - three or four units a day for men and two or three for women - to tackle binge drinking. Surveys since have shown no change in the number of binge drinkers, but researchers say they are unreliable because heavy drinkers tend to underestimate how much they drink.