Excessive weekly drinking in Northern Ireland could be down to the peace process, a new report claimed today.
The rapid growth in pubs and clubs as well as changes in the licensing laws has led to higher levels drinking compared to the rest of the UK where there has been a slight overall decline, according to research.
The number of people consuming alcohol in Northern Ireland is also rising, especially among those in the 16-24 age group.
A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said one possible explanation for the increased drinking since 1986 was the introduction of new laws 13 years ago and the development of the leisure industry since the start of the peace process.
It claimed: "The peace process has led to increased investment, employment, urbanisation, improved financial status and independence amongst the population and among young people generally.
"The social and economic emancipation, when set against a historic low baseline of alcohol use because of religious and cultural norms, may have led to increases in alcohol drinking over recent years towards the levels in the rest of the UK."
Meanwhile the report claimed that across the UK almost one woman in six now drinks more than double the recommended daily amount of three units.
Men still binge drink more, with nearly one in four (23%) consuming twice as much as they should, but the "gender gap" is closing. Between 1998 and 2006 the number of women drinking "binge" amounts almost doubled to 15%, or more than 4.5 million.
But the number of young men aged 16-24 binge drinking has fallen by 9% since 2000. The research also revealed steady increases in alcohol consumption among middle aged and older people.
Lead author Lesley Smith from Oxford Brookes University said: "An examination of trends over the last 15 to 20 years indicates that it is generally the behaviour of women that has increased towards that of men, at least in the UK where the gender gap in drinking at excessive and harmful levels has decreased over recent years."
She added: "Much concern has been expressed in recent years about young people's drinking - and young people binge-drinking in particular.
"Many people will be surprised to learn that young men's drinking, including binge-drinking, has gone down in recent years, while middle age and older people's drinking has increased."
Women's increased independence and financial security were identified as reasons for the increase, along with the "pressure of positive advertising".
The report found fewer young children drink, but those that do are consuming much more.
Alcohol consumption among 11 to 13 year-olds is twice 1990 levels, they found.