Over a third of UK adults will drink more than the recommended daily alcohol allowance at least once a week despite having awareness of the dangers, new figures reveal today.
Men drink in excess more than women, but as a whole statistics show that in 2007 one in five adults consumed more than double the limit on their heaviest drinking day.
Findings from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the issue of binge drinking is still widespread and critics are calling for more action to tackle the problem.
Tory Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “These worrying figures show just how widespread binge drinking is becoming.”
“Labour have shown extraordinary complacency in failing to make it a priority to help people live healthy lives and the toll this is taking is now becoming all too clear.”
The news will increase criticism of the Government’s 24-hour drinking laws. When they were introduced the Government had hoped they would create a ‘continental café style’ drinking culture.
But according to the Local Government Association (LGA) most police authorities, hospitals and councils have found that the new laws have failed to curb alcohol-related incidents.
A survey published in July by the LGA shows that nearly one in three NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) reports an increase in alcohol-related incidents since the 2003 Licensing Act.
Half of police authorities say that far from creating the promised continental-style café culture in the UK, the new laws have simply pushed alcohol-related violence later into the evening.
Seven in ten police authorities, PCTs and councils say that 24-hour drinking has either increased or failed to change levels of alcohol-related incidents.
And councils say that £100 million in taxpayers’ money has been paid out to implement the changes.
Sir Simon Milton, Chairman of the LGA, said: “The new system was burdened with exaggerated expectations as it was never a single solution to alcohol-related disorder.
“There needs to be a wide-ranging national debate about how freely available alcohol is, how the nation views social drinking and how we can go about reducing consumption.
“It seems that we have a deep-rooted social and cultural problem in this country in the way that we view alcohol that cannot be addressed by one simple piece of legislation. It will take years, possibly decades of concerted action across the board.”
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern commenting on today’s ONS report said: “The industry’s voluntary code of practice is not working and we welcome the introduction of a mandatory code later in the year.”
A separate ONS survey about adult awareness and opinion around drinking shows a general increase in awareness about drinking limits in the last 10 years, but there is still an uncertainty about the exact amounts.
Mr Shenker comments: “While the large majority of people have heard of units, due to lack of labelling information, they are unaware of how many units they are drinking and how many units are safe.”
He added that the practice of selling alcohol at below cost prices in supermarkets had been left to grow “unfettered” for far too long.
The survey shows that 86 per cent are aware of measuring drinking units but less than half know what the exact amounts are for men and women.
Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “While people’s awareness of the health risks associated with drinking above the recommended limits is surprisingly good, knowledge of those limits is still poor, despite ten years of concerted work to raise awareness levels.
“It is vital that the government take the next step of introducing mandatory labelling on drinks so that people are in a better position to keep track of their own consumption levels.”
Public health minister, Dawn Primarolo said: “Initial tracking from our Units campaign, launched in May last year, shows more people know how much is safe to drink and know how many units are in their drinks.”
She added she expected to see an impact of the campaign on alcohol misuse in the coming months.
In July ONS released figures which suggested there had been an estimated 811,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions for 2005/6.
This would mean that six per cent of all NHS admissions are in some way caused by drinking alcohol.