Epidemic of liver disease hits women drinkers

Carly Gooding knows she drinks too much. Doctors say
young females like her are now showing signs of
By Steve Bloomfield and Sophie Goodchild 
Published: 06 November 2005 


Teenage girls are suffering the kind of serious liver
damage normally found in women 20 years older because
of the growing binge-drinking crisis, one of Britain's
leading liver experts has revealed. 

In an exclusive interview with The Independent on
Sunday, Professor Ian Gilmore, liver specialist at the
Royal Liverpool University Hospital, warned of a
health "time bomb" among young women caused by soaring
levels of alcohol consumption. Doctors are treating
increasing numbers of women in their late teens and
early twenties with alcohol-induced liver problems, he

And the nation's binge-drinking crisis has become so
bad that cases of cirrhosis - once the preserve of
serious, middle-aged alcoholics - are now
"commonplace" among women in their late twenties, he

A recent study of pupils aged 11 to 15 showed that for
the first time girls were as likely as boys to have
drunk alcohol, and were drinking very similar amounts.

Health campaigners are increasingly concerned about
the amount of alcohol that young women are consuming.
A spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern, the national agency
on alcohol misuse, said: "We have seen a big increase
in the amount of alcohol that women drink over recent
years. We are now seeing the knock-on effects of that
as women are starting to experience serious health
problems at a much younger age."

Professor Gilmore, the spokesman on alcohol for the
Royal College of Physicians, said five years of
concentrated binge drinking could lead to the
development of cirrhosis. The Chief Medical Officer,
Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, said cirrhosis rates
among women aged between 35 and 44 have risen
sevenfold since the 1970s.

The British Liver Trust echoed Professor Gilmore's
warning. A spokeswoman for the trust said: "Up until
very recently we were seeing people in their forties
and fifties developing liver disease. Now it is people
in their twenties and thirties. We were not getting
30-year-olds with cirrhosis 10 years ago. It is a
growing, and very worrying, trend."

Typical of young women who drink copiously and
regularly is Carly Gooding, 25, a sales assistant from
Kent, who notches up 58 units a week - 44 more than
the maximum 14 recommended by health professionals.

"Every night when I get home I will open a bottle of
wine, but on a weekend I like to let my hair down,"
she said. "I have tried to cut down. This New Year I
am going to. My skin is disgusting."

The availability and price of alcohol are to blame for
Britain's cirrhosis rates, which are higher than
anywhere else in Europe, said Professor Gilmore.
"Alcohol has never been cheaper in real terms and it
has never been more available," he said.

Changes in licensing laws, due to come into force on
24 November, will only lead to an increase in
Britain's growing cirrhosis crisis, warned Martin
Plant, professor of addiction studies at the
University of the West of England. "The situation is
bad, and it is getting worse. The prospect of extended
liquor licensing hours is most unwelcome," he said.

At a conference in Bristol this week, Professor Plant
will present evidence that extending licensing hours
in different countries has had a damaging effect on
public health. "Even if they are extended by as little
as an hour, it drastically increases health problems,"
he said.

In Western Australia, bars that chose to open for one
extra hour experienced a doubling of alcohol-related
violence. In Iceland, the effect was so alarming the
new law was rescinded.

The Government was "opening up a can of worms" by
extending opening hours in pubs, clubs and
off-licences, warned a spokesman for the British Liver
Trust. "Young people now drink as much as possible in
as short a time as possible," she said.

The new licensing laws will allow bars, clubs,
off-licences and supermarkets to apply for a licence
to serve alcohol for 24 hours a day. Doctors and
health officials have warned that increased opening
hours could lead to increased levels of drinking, and
the Association of Chief Police Officers has called on
the Government to delay implementation of the reforms.

Ministers argue that staggered closing times will lead
to a decrease in alcohol-fuelled town-centre violence.
They also claim that longer opening hours will lead to
people taking more time over their drink rather than
trying to fit in more rounds.

Doctors are concerned about the lack of research into
alcohol-related disease. Professor Gilmore said it is
"very hard" to get funding and called on the
Government to invest in new studies. 


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