Belfast Telegraph

Death rate of Northern Ireland women from too much alcohol nearly doubles in three years

GP warns many over 55 are 'quietly drinking into oblivion'

by mark edwards

The rate of women here drinking themselves to death almost doubled in three years, new figures reveal.

Experts say older females are particularly troubled by alcohol issues.

One GP said there was a wave of over-55s "quietly drinking themselves into oblivion".

It comes as statistics show a rise in local women dying from alcohol abuse.

In 2013, 6.4 alcohol-specific deaths per 100,000 females were recorded in Northern Ireland - but by 2016 the rate was 11.8.

This represents an increase of around 84%, according to a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) yesterday.

Among women, the UK rate was highest in Scotland (12.1 deaths), with Northern Ireland close behind.

Across the UK the death rate among men in 2016 was more than double that for women, 16.2 deaths per 100,000 population for males, compared with 7.5 for females.

Scotland recorded the highest rate among men for anywhere in the UK, with 30.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

This was significantly higher than the equivalent figures for England (14.5), Wales (17.4) and Northern Ireland - again in second place (22.2).

Scotland has seen the steepest drop in rates since the early 2000s, however.

Unlike the figures for women, the alcohol death rate for men here has remained fairly static in recent years.

Dr George O'Neill, GP and chair of Addiction NI, said figures he had seen suggested many older women were drinking themselves to death at home.

"What we have found is that the over-55s are quietly drinking themselves into oblivion," he said. "This was never identified before, and lots of them are female. This is to do with redundancy, bereavement, break-up of relationships, and they sit quietly at home drinking and they are not disturbing anyone. They are not on the streets fighting and they don't attract a great deal of interest or attention, until now.

"It is reflected in the figures of those who are dying from drinking alcohol."

Dr O'Neill said the price of alcohol and its availability in supermarkets was one cause.

He added: "It is a social problem as well as a medical problem. Loneliness, social isolation and people lacking the coping skills to deal with the ups and downs of life, so they turn to alcohol. It is an increasing problem and it does not come as a surprise, given the figures we have noted at Addiction NI."

Across the UK, death rates among 60 to 74-year-old men caused wholly by alcohol abuse have "increased significantly" since 2001, new figures show.

The rise is particularly steep among men aged between 70 and 74, where it has surged by around a half from 18.7 per 100,000 population in 2001 to 28.0 per 100,000 in 2016.

In the UK, 7,327 people died last year as a direct result of abusing alcohol.

This equates to a rate of 11.7 deaths per 100,000 population, "significantly higher" than the figure for 2001 (10.6 per 100,000), the ONS statistics indicate.

The figures also show that rates among 60 to 64-year-old females have jumped by over a third (35%) in the same period.

The increase in rates among older age groups may be attributable to the misuse of alcohol that began years or decades previously, the ONS said.

Dr Tony Rao, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "The latest statistics are a wake-up call to the rising problem of alcohol misuse in a generation of baby boomers that need urgent consideration by our public health and clinical services.

"It should also serve to highlight the current deficiency in specialist alcohol services for people with more severe alcohol problems."

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "Alcohol-related deaths are preventable, and councils would be able to do more if Government reverses the cuts to the public health grant in the autumn Budget.

"However, it is disappointing that Government has not acted on our call for a public health objective to be included within the Licensing Act.

"This would give councils the power to limit the opening of late-night premises in areas where there are particular concerns about the cumulative impact of alcohol on public health."

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