Middle-aged women now drink even more than their daughters as doctors warn NHS is swamped by 'silent alcohol epidemic'
Over 45s drink the most out of any female age group, shock figures revealMany professional women said to be 'drinking to forget' unhappy livesThey are knocking back more than nine units a week on average
01:19 GMT, 30 December 2012
Middle-aged professional women are consuming more alcohol than teenage drinkers for the first time, official figures show.
They reveal that those over 45 drink more than any other age group, putting their health at risk.
At the same time, experts have warned that older women are becoming the biggest burden on the NHS because of alcohol-related conditions, including stroke, liver disease and cancer.
The news has prompted calls for GPs to give more advice on the dangers of chronic drinking or ask routine questions about how much alcohol their patients consume.
One too many: Official figures have revealed women aged 45 and over are drinking more than any other age group (picture posed by models)
The UK-wide survey found that women aged 45 to 64 drink, on average, 8.8 units of alcohol a week – the equivalent of a bottle of wine.
However, professionals in demanding jobs are more likely to unwind with alcohol at the end of the working day, drinking 9.1 units a week on average.
Although the findings appear to show older women are staying within the Government’s recommended limit of 14 units a week, experts point out that the figures include all those who are teetotal or drink relatively little – meaning many are consuming far more than indicated. The survey also found that Government campaigns warning younger women of the dangers of binge-drinking appear to be working.
Women aged 16 to 24 consumed just 8.4 units of alcohol a week – about 20 per cent less than they did several years ago, the Office for National Statistics’ annual General Lifestyle Survey found.
At the same time, men are consuming roughly twice the amount of alcohol as women.
Warning: Labour MP Diane Abbott has highlighted the pressures many middle-aged women are under, which are often overlooked by many. She says a 'drinking to forget' culture has developed among some older women
Labour’s public health spokesman Diane Abbott, who has highlighted the figures, said: ‘The stresses and pressures facing women in middle-life are often overlooked, and a “drinking to forget” culture has taken hold. We must have far better advice and screening from GPs for women in this age group, who often do not show any obvious signs of problem drinking.
‘I’m enjoying mulled wine during this holiday period like everyone else. But we do need a long-term strategy to tackle a certain type of regular and heavy drinking that’s striking right at the heart of British families. We must fight back against a silent, middle-class epidemic that is casting a dark shadow over British family life.’
Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said many professional women drank heavily because it had become ‘normal’ to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.
‘Lots of mums open a bottle of wine after they put the kids to bed and we know they rarely put the cork back in,’ he added.
‘The problem is women are doing this every night, which means their liver gets no chance to recover. Such drinking is now socially acceptable and it’s become habit-forming for both groups.
Notorious: Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) became famous for their love of a drink in Absolutely Fabulous
‘We need more aggressive labelling on bottles and GPs do have a part to play in asking the right questions about how much women are drinking.’
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘It is the unwitting, chronic middle-aged drinkers who are taking serious risks with their health. They present in hospital with conditions attributable to their alcohol consumption such as stroke, heart disease and cancer.’
Earlier this year, charity Alcohol Concern warned that the over-55s are the biggest burden on the NHS because of alcohol-related harm.
It found men and women aged 55 to 74 cost the National Health Service ten times more than those in the 16 to 24 age group.
Director of campaigns Emily Robinson said: ‘Many women don’t realise how little it takes to go over the recommended safe limits of two to three units a day which is just one glass of wine.
‘And some women aren’t aware of the whole range of diseases, including high blood pressure and breast cancer, which are linked to drinking high levels of alcohol.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘It can be easy to slip into the habit of having a few extra drinks at the end of each day – but there can be serious health risks.’