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Ladettes 'risking death' for a drink

By Lisa Smyth

Published 26/07/2011

Some of Northern Ireland's top doctors have warned that women here are risking death as more of them become addicted to drink and drugs at a young age.

Health professionals have blamed the 'ladette' culture and the low price of alcohol for more women falling seriously ill - and even dying in their 20s - as a result of drink and drugs.

Concerns have been heightened following the death of singer Amy Winehouse - who famously battled drug and drink addictions - at the age of 27.

Most recent government statistics reveal 1,602 women in Northern Ireland were receiving help for alcohol or drug addictions as of March 1 last year. Of these, 130 were aged under 18.

Dr Tom Black, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Northern Ireland GP committee, said he has seen a marked increase in the number of women coming to his Londonderry surgery suffering with liver failure.

"A major part of my work is related to alcohol abuse and over the past decade there has been a huge increase of alcohol abuse in young women," he said. "Alcohol abuse is the biggest destroyer of lives. The physical problems are mostly liver failure and we have had young women die as a result.

"Quite often, we would see young women with a couple of children and their families are reaching the end of their tether because a drink problem is very difficult to deal with.

"There are psychological consequences because alcohol is a depressant as well. Women can come in to us because they have reached crisis point, they have lost their family and their job because of their addiction and they are looking for help."

The comments come as the Health Minister revealed alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland could be costing the health service as much as £160m each year.

Edwin Poots said setting minimum prices for alcohol could help cut the near £700m spent by the police, social services, courts and health service every year.

"Clearly these funds that could be spent providing key frontline services to our local communities," he said.

Dr Michael McKenna, a member of the BMA (NI) GP committee with a practice in west Belfast, said increasing the price of alcohol would dramatically cut the number of young women becoming dependent on drink.

"More women are coming into the surgery with problems arising out of alcohol abuse and I know my colleagues in A&E departments would say the same.

"I am seeing women in their late teens as a result of alcohol abuse and in the long term they are not just damaging their mental health but also their livers.

"There is an increased number of women presenting with alcohol-related liver disease, or cirrhosis of the liver."

Dr McKenna also said more women are coming to his practice seeking medical help to deal with a drug addiction.

"Young women, in their late teens and early 20s, are taking a range of drugs, from cannabis, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and diazepam.

"They come in because they have developed a mental health problem or have to pay for their habit, perhaps they have lost their job and have become homeless. They want to try and get off the drug or sometimes they are looking for more drugs because their source has dried up."

However, he said waiting times for addiction services are too long in the Belfast area. "You have to wait six to eight weeks for the community addiction team which means someone comes in looking for help and you have to send them home," he said.

Factfile

  • 1,602 women in Northern Ireland were receiving help for alcohol or drug addictions on March 1 last year - 130 of them were under 18.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, there was a 68% increase in the number of women presenting at A&Es with alcohol-related conditions.
  • Alcohol was 66% more affordable in 2009 than 1987.


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