Alcohol kills record number of women

A RECORD number of women died from alcohol abuse in Scotland last year, new figures have revealed.

Experts said the increasing death toll was being fuelled by a generation of women whose attitude towards drinking was formed by the liberal values of the 1960s and 70s.

Statistics from the Registrar General for Scotland, published yesterday, showed 492 women died of alcohol-related diseases last year, compared with 441 in 2004. The increase was highest among women aged 30 to 60.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Public health experts were also dismayed by the number of women dying from smoking-related diseases, which also reached a record high of 1,814 last year - up from 1,772.

By contrast, the number of alcohol- and smoking-related deaths among men dropped over the same period.

Duncan Macniven, the Registrar General for Scotland who compiled the figures, described the increased death toll from alcohol-related diseases - such as alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver and mental disorders - as "extremely worrying".

He said that the change was due to a shift in social attitudes and the liberalisation of licensing laws in the 1960s and 70s that led to more people drinking - and to alcohol-related diseases 20 years on.

Gillian Bell, of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "Scotland's heavy-drinking culture is hitting home. People are drinking more because alcohol is more available and cheaper than ever, but there is a real lack of awareness of the damage drinking to excess causes."

Ms Bell said women started drinking more as it became more socially acceptable, bars became more woman-friendly and the drinks industry targeted the female market.

"Women need to realise their drinking limits are lower. Their bodies cannot handle it and their livers are more damaged if they drink too much," she said.

Alex Crawford, chief executive of counselling service the RCA Trust, said teenage girls have caught up with boys in drinking alcohol.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The growth of the 'ladette' culture is well-documented. So it is of little surprise that more women are reporting alcohol problems," he said.

He added that women have a higher risk than men for certain serious medical consequences of alcohol use, including liver, brain and heart damage.

The new figures in the Registrar General's Annual Review were calculated using a new definition of alcohol-related deaths drawn up by the Office of National Statistics. They showed alcohol-related deaths had increased in every age group except the under-30s.

Yesterday's figures showed that lung cancer in men - almost exclusively caused by smoking - has fallen since a peak in the early 1970s to 2,195 last year . But the number of women with the disease is at an all-time high, at 1,814 last year.

It is now hoped the death rate will fall dramatically following on from the smoking ban.

"Undoubtedly, the smoking ban will have a positive effect," Mr Macniven added.

Shona Robison, health spokeswoman for the SNP, said: "Prevention is better than a cure, which is why the Labour and Lib Dem government must do more to ensure their health message gets through to young girls so they are fully aware of the risks of smoking and drinking at an earlier age."

Dr Nanette Milne, Tory health spokeswoman, added: "Education is clearly required and we have to take action to curb underage drinking, because this is the root of the issue. The law on this should be seriously enforced at all times and the consequences for underage drinking health-wise must be made plain to the parents of children who indulge in this, as well as the children themselves."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A spokesman for the Executive said: "Scotland has a well-known culture of drinking that dates back centuries and has a massive human and financial cost to our society.

"Government will always have a role to play in tackling this, but each and every one of us has a responsibility to respect alcohol and drink sensibly, and producers, retailers and the licensed trade have responsibilities too."

Yesterday's report showed that the three main killers in Scotland remain cancer, heart disease and stroke. Cancer is the biggest killer at 27 per cent, largely because people are living longer and more elderly people die of the disease, followed by coronary heart disease at 19 per cent. However, Mr Macniven said good progress is being made in reducing mortality for all of Scotland's big killers.