UK and Republic top European binge-drinking list


SOME 80 per cent of drinking takes place around a meal table in Italy, Spain and France, while in Britain and Ireland 80 per cent of drinking happens away from the meal table, the first North-South conference on alcohol heard yesterday.

Keynote speaker and chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance and the European Alcohol and Health Forum Science Group, Prof Ian Gilmore, called for minimum prices on drinks to be imposed to try to restrict alcohol abuse.

He told the conference in Armagh how the UK was at the top of the European binge-drinking table, with Finland second and Ireland third.

Prof Gilmore said there was a huge difference in drinking culture as exemplified by the French, Italian and Spanish tendency to take their alcohol socially with food, in contrast to the British, Irish and Finnish “drinking to get drunk”.

He said women were a particularly worrying group in terms of alcohol abuse. “The new kids on the block are women; there has been a huge cultural shift. If you go back 40 years it was unacceptable for women to be seen in a pub. It’s now not only acceptable for women to be seen in a pub, it’s acceptable for them to be lying on the ground on a Saturday night after drinking heroically with their male counterparts.”

Prof Gilmore said example was a significant factor in young people drinking to excess. “It’s not what you tell your children that matters; it’s what you do that matters . . . And we know again that the UK and Ireland are way up to the top of the league of children – 15- and 16-year-olds – binge-drinking.”

He complained about Heineken being the official beer of the forthcoming London Olympics, suggesting a link to “sporting prowess”.

He said one in 10 deaths in men in Europe is related to alcohol, compared with one in 30 in women. This was not necessarily related to drinking beyond the recommended weekly limit of 21 units for men and 14 for women, he said. “Even a woman drinking a couple of units a week actually raises risk of breast cancer,” he said.

He added that while it was generally taken that a bottle of wine was about six units, the stronger wines of up to 14 per cent volume would be about 10 units.

Prof Gilmore said the peak ages for deaths in men due to alcohol was 40-60 in the UK. “If everybody drinks a bit less, the health gain will be maximised.”

Former deputy head of the North’s policing board Denis Bradley, who for more than 30 years has been working with the Northlands alcohol and drugs treatment centre in Derry, said a minimum price on alcohol was necessary so “that the supermarkets can’t sell it as loss leaders and enable people to drink in the dangerous fashion that they are doing at home”.

“Drinking to excess is never good. Drinking to excess at home is even worse, because there are no controls. There is no community there, and it becomes quite often a lonely and lonesome place,” he said.