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UK's top earners are biggest drinkers, figures show

Published 08/03/2016

New NHS drinking guidelines said men and women should stick to 14 units of alcohol per week
New NHS drinking guidelines said men and women should stick to 14 units of alcohol per week

Nearly one in five of Britain's highest earners drink at least five days a week, according to new figures.

Binge drinking is also more common among people on top salaries than any other income group.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that 18% of people earning at least £40,000 a year drink frequently - more than twice as many (8%) as those earning below £10,000.

The proportion of high earners who binge drink is even higher: almost one in four.

This compares with one in eight of people on the lowest salaries.

According to the ONS, the differences can be explained partly by the ages of people in each income group.

Those in higher income bands have a smaller amount of people aged 16 to 24, who on the whole are less likely to drink.

Another factor is gender. Women are less likely to drink than men, but also make up a majority (67%) of regular drinkers in the lowest income group.

The data shows that show that almost one in 10 of all drinkers (9%) - or 2.5 million people - consume more than 14 units in a single session, with younger groups most likely to binge drink.

The data showed that 17% of 16 to 24-year-olds drink more than 14 units in a single day, while 11% of 25 to 44-year-olds do the same.

Wales had the highest number drinking 14 units or more in a single day (14%), followed by Scotland (13%).

New NHS drinking guidelines published in January said men and women should stick to 14 units of alcohol per week.

The UK's chief medical officers said no level of regular drinking is without risk to health and people should have several booze-free days a week but not "save up" their 14 units for a binge.

When drinking on a single occasion, they said people should drink more slowly, consume alcohol with food, and alternate alcoholic drinks with water.

The ONS data shows that 58% of people (28.9 million) drink at least some alcohol in a typical week.

Young people were less likely to have drunk alcohol in the previous week than those who were older, with fewer than half of 16 to 24-year-olds saying they did so, compared with 66% of 45 to 64-year-olds.

Of all those who had drunk alcohol in the previous week, 45% (12.9 million people) consumed more than 4.67 units - a third of the new weekly guideline - on their heaviest drinking day.

Sarah Toule, head of health information at World Cancer Research Fund, said: "It is very concerning that millions are Brits are exceeding their weekly drinking limit in just one day.

"Drinking alcohol increases the risk of a number of different cancers. In fact, 24,000 cancer cases could be avoided every year in the UK if everyone stopped drinking alcohol.

"When it comes to cancer prevention, people should avoid alcohol as much as possible as any amount increases the risk of cancer.

"If they are going to drink, it's important not to binge-drink and have no more than seven drinks a week spread over at least three days."

A spokesman for the Portman Group, which represents alcohol producers, said: "The vast majority of adults drink sensibly and safely; part of a decade-long improvement in our relationship with alcohol in this country.

"Under-age drinking, alcohol-related crime and drink-driving are also in sustained decline.

"ONS figures are useful in highlighting the specific regions and communities that still need support and the best way to achieve this is through targeted local partnerships between local authorities, health services, businesses and voluntary groups."

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, an expert in alcohol addiction at the Priory hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, said: "Unfortunately people are equating alcohol with reward, and having a good time is still synonymous for many with getting drunk.

"At the Priory we see people who consume alcohol in bars and pubs as if they were visiting Starbucks for a coffee. In younger people, we see them drinking alcohol like water, just to rehydrate.

"And the peer pressure for them to binge drink is often considerable. They talk about going out with the express desire of getting 'completely obliterated'.

"Or they define a good night out as one they can't remember. But binge drinking has considerable effects on physical health and relationships and leads to risky sexual behaviour, the consequences of which can be considerable."

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