Belfast Telegraph

We must address rise in female alcoholism

Editor's Viewpoint

The picture drawn by a local GP of middle-aged women sitting at home quietly drinking themselves to death as a result of life's disappointments should start alarm bells ringing throughout Northern Ireland and spark a demand for action from whoever will be in charge of legislating on health issues in the near future.

In just three years the number of women dying from alcohol-related illnesses in the province has risen by 84%, a startling increase that leaves us just behind Scotland in this grim set of statistics.

More men die from alcohol-specific illnesses, but the figure has remained fairly static in this gender group in recent years.

When we think of alcohol-related deaths we automatically envisage middle-aged men who have spent a lifetime binge drinking as part of the usual lads' culture.

Certainly, more women now drink to excess than was common a generation or two ago, and drinking oneself to death is a relatively slow process, except in extreme cases. This may explain to an extent why the rising number of women dying in this way has remained under the radar until now.

The reasons for the increase must be both societal and personal and involve such diverse factors as increased pressure on families, cheap drink, easy availability via supermarkets, where it is simple for women to pick up a bottle along with the weekly shop, as well as traumas such as relationship break-up, bereavement or redundancy.

What is clear is the necessity for a body of research to determine the exact factors at work, to be followed up with appropriate public health initiatives, as happened with smoking.

Many have pointed out the lack of services to treat those with alcohol dependency issues. The fact that women were often sitting at home drinking - and not causing ructions on the streets or in A&E departments like their male counterparts - has also mistakenly lulled the authorities into believing that additional services were not required.

The complacency should now be swept away and work must begin on new public health legislation.

Minimum pricing of alcohol is an oft repeated mantra, but that is passing the buck to an extent. Diagnostic and treatment services have to be greatly improved, along with more education and outreach to those women felt to be most vulnerable.

Belfast Telegraph

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