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Women binge drinking - are women drinking too much?

Published 15/06/2009

Society is squeamish about female alcoholism, preferring to see it as primarily a 'male' problem. But it's time to rethink that misconception, according to a May 2009 study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The research finds that binge drinking among women has almost doubled since 1998 and that the 'alcohol gender gap' is narrowing fast. The proportion of women who binge drink rose from 8 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2006. Among men, by contrast, binge drinking increased only slightly over the same period, from 22 per cent to 23 per cent.

Among alcohol treatment specialists, the knock-on effects of women binge drinking is all too clear. More women than ever are seeking help for problems with alcohol dependency, as a result of drinking habits that have spiralled out of control.

"More women are coming into treatment, year on year," agrees Sue Allchurch, research director of alcohol treatment specialist Linwood Group. By 2010, she predicts, the male/female patient balance will be equal. "As women increasingly compete with men for equality, they increase their drinking, too."

That's a dangerous game for women to play, she says. Once alcoholic, women are more likely than men to experience severe health problems relating to their drinking. In fact, she adds, they are between 50 per cent and 100 per cent more likely to suffer an alcohol-related death including suicide, an alcohol-related accident, heart disease, a stroke and cirrhosis of the liver.

So how can women define and identify the signs of binge drinking? In general terms, it is typically defined as consuming on at least one day a week more than twice the safe limit recommended by the government, which is three to four units of alcohol for a man and two to three units for a woman.

With the rise of female binge drinking, it's at least a positive sign that women now feel more comfortable asking for help with the disease of alcoholism. More women of all ages, however, need to take a good, hard look at how alcohol is affecting their lives.

Across Britain, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found the ­average consumption of women aged 16 to 24 rose from 7.3 units a week in 1992 to 10.8 in 2006. The biggest increase in consumption was among women over 65, rising from 2.7 units to 5.1 a week. There's clearly a long way to go in addressing - and tackling - this issue.

If you or a loved one need advice on beginning to seek professional help for binge drinking, then why not call the Linwood Group for confidential advice?   To take those first steps on the road to recovery, call Freephone 0800 066 4173 or if you are calling from a mobile phone or from overseas, call 01226 698 054.

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