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Monday, January 9, 2012

Alcohol and sex: a cocktail for poor sexual health

The impact of rising alcohol consumption on population health has become increasingly evident in recent years, with steep increases in mortality and hospital admissions arising from chronic liver disease and alcohol-related accidents. Tackling alcohol misuse has become a national priority for both government and the wider public health community.

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with a range of adverse health outcomes.While apparent links between alcohol use and poor sexual health outcomes have been recognised for some time, the evidence for this link is now much more robust. Despite this, there has been little movement towards acknowledging and tackling this problem systematically and explicitly within sexual healthcare settings.

Young people are a key risk group: 16–24 year-olds are among the highest consumers of alcohol, in terms of both prevalence and unit consumption, and have the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections. Consumption of higher strength alcoholic drinks has increased, particularly among girls, and although men still consume more alcohol than women, young women are more likely to report feeling drunk. Earlier alcohol use is associated with early onset of sexual activity and is a marker of later sexual risk-taking, including lack of condom use, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted infection and teenage pregnancy. Sexual assault is strongly correlated with alcohol use by both victim and perpetrator. Responding to the problems of alcohol use among young people requires a multi-faceted approach. Restricting the availability of alcohol through pricing and strict enforcement of laws surrounding under-age drinking are particularly effective national policy options that can reduce alcohol use amongst young people. However, community-level and school-based interventions add an important component to a multi-dimensional strategy.
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