Shadow Health Minister Dianne Abbot has highlighted a class divide on womens drinking habits. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show women in professional/management roles are consuming a third more alcohol in week than their other working female counterparts. On average professional women are drinking over 9 units in a week.
Referring to it as the “cocktail and business card culture” Ms Abbot commented ‘It is good that more women are out in the workforce and are enjoying social life in pubs and bars. But these disturbingly high figures reveal women’s drinking patterns have changed in a generation, reflecting a silent, middle class epidemic. The problem is not just young “ladettes”.
The chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance group Sir Ian Gilmour is concerned that women are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of balancing work and a family. He said “While alcohol may help people to reduce stress when used occasionally, if its used regularly as a stress buster there is a real risk of it leading to dependence”.
Present government guidelines are that women should not drink more that 2-3 units on a daily basis. Binge drinking is classed as consuming more than 6 units.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) say current guidelines on safe levels of alcohol consumption should be revised in order to warn against daily drinking. At present the Department of Health recommendations are that men should drink no more than four units a day and women no more than three. Doctors from the RCP are advising that three alcohol-free days a week is a safer level as this will allow the liver to recover therefore reducing the risk of liver disease.
Former president of the RCP, Sir Ian Gilmore states “There is an increased risk of liver disease for those who drink daily or near-daily, compared with those who drink periodically or intermittently.” He further added ”We recommend a safe alcohol consumption limit of between 0 and 21 units a week for men and 0 and 14 units a week for women provided the total amount is not drunk in one or two bouts, and that there are two to three alcohol-free days a week. At these levels, most individuals are unlikely to come to harm.”
The Department of Health has no plans to change its guidelines at present.
At present guidelines state men should consume no more than 3-4 units a day and women not to drink more than 2-3 units a day. These guidelines are being reviewed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Their role is to review the medical and scientific evidence behind the current guidelines.
One of the recommendations that has already come from the review is that there should be two types of limit. One should advise how much can be consumed safely consumed on average, the other to advise how many units should not be surpassed. Experts agree that guidelines need to be simplified and that there should be no increase in the limits despite the fact that other European countries have limits that are higher.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol, and chairman of Alcohol Health Alliance UK has told the committee ”As someone who still looks after people with liver disease, and with hospital admissions rising, I think that any recommendation to increase limits would add to the tide of harm that we are seeing in our hospitals every day.”