Britain these days seems to top the list in Europe for obesity and now it’s for the large number of very high risk drinkers, a shocking study reveals. Nearly 1.2 million, or just below 3% of those aged 15 – 64, are drinking at levels that are threatening to knock up to three decades off their lives.

A very high level of drinking was defined as consuming the equivalent of 1.2 -1.5 bottles of wine every day. Researchers describe this group – around a fifth of problem drinkers – as the most severely affected population of alcohol users, chronically intoxicated to the extent that their organs are being poisoned and their perception is impaired on a daily basis.

A Canadian team looked at the highest risk drinkers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The 2.78% of the UK population classed as being very high risk was the highest of all the 13 EU countries studied.

The Irish Republic had the second highest proportion of problem drinkers at 2.72%, while Sweden (0.02%) and Hungary (0.03%) had the lowest. The threshold of very high risk drinking for men is 100g. (12.5 units) of pure alcohol each day, which is equivalent to six 175ml. glasses of wine at 12% strength. For women it is 60g. (7.5 units) or three and a half 175ml. glasses of wine at 12% strength. On average, the very high-risk drinkers drank 122g. of pure alcohol -the daily equivalent of more than one and a half bottles of wine.

The Researchers said that drinking at such levels could shorten their lives by between two and three decades. They also noted that it imposed an enormous burden on the Health Service with alcohol abuse estimated to cost it 3.5 billion pounds every year. In the UK, three-quarters of all cases of cirrhosis of the liver are caused by very high risk drinkers the study said. It also estimated that they represent 61% of oral and throat cancer cases; 31% of colon cancer cases; 40% of esophageal cancer cases; and 19.6% of hemorrhagic strokes.

Dr Jürgen Rehm, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who led the study, said: ‘Not enough was being done to deal with the heaviest drinkers. Public health seems to have overwhelmed people with very high drinking levels and seen them primarily as a small minority who should be helped clinically in the health care system. However, a more systematic analysis shows that a marked burden of disease is associated with this drinking pattern in Europe and more comprehensive policies should be considered.’

Dr Rehm added: ‘The reason that the UK had the highest proportion of problem drinkers may be the fact that alcohol is sold relatively cheaply in supermarkets’.
Professor Ian Gilmore, an alcohol expert at Liverpool University, said: ‘The figures underline the huge burden of alcohol abuse on the NHS,’ adding, ‘the majority of cases of cirrhosis occur in these very heavy drinkers and the authors are quite right that we should be targeting these people early and offering proper treatment services. But many diseases including cancer, accidents and harm to others are linked to drinking at more modest levels and it is important to tackle our unhealthy relationship with alcohol by encouraging us all to drink less.’

The research is published in Addiction Biology. In my view the authorities should take more notice of alcohol abuse so as to curb its consequences. Drink is deadly if its uses are not properly monitored.

In my view the authorities should take more notice of alcohol abuse in order to curb it spreading.

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