The rise of the ‘bottomless brunch’ where unlimited alcohol is served, is fuelling dangerous levels of drinking among working professionals, says Dr Omair Ahmed, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham.
Dr Ahmed explains the introduction of the ‘bottomless brunch’ – where ‘unlimited’ quantities of cava, prosecco or mimosas are often on offer - risks encouraging binge drinking, and fuelling drink driving, at a time when the human cost of alcoholism is stark.
Liver disease is one of the few major causes of premature mortality on the rise. The last decade has seen a 117% rise in alcoholic liver disease admissions in England amongst the under 30 age group, rising to 400% in the north east of England, according to Alcohol Concern.
The trend of the ‘bottomless brunch’ comes as a new report shows that UK household spending on alcohol nearly doubled to £17.2 billion in 2015, from £8.9 billion in 1985, with almost one in five (18%) higher earners, those taking home £40,000 a year or more, drinking alcohol at least five days a week.
The report on alcohol misuse in England – published in June by the Health and Care Social Information Centre – found that just under half (47%) of people who had drunk alcohol in the week before being interviewed, chose to drink wine (including champagne) on their heaviest drinking day, and some 2.5 million people drank more than 14 units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day. The consumption of wine is significant in that wine has considerably higher alcohol content than most beers.
This comes although the price of alcohol has increased by 36% in a decade.
The cost to the health service, meanwhile, is massive.
There were 1.1 million estimated hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption in England, according to latest figures, nearly double the level in 2004/05; Salford had the highest rate at 3,570 per 100,000 population, Wokingham the lowest at 1,270.
The number of alcohol-related prescription items dispensed in England in 2015 was 196,000, nearly double the level 10 years ago. The North of England dispensed almost half the prescription items, with 84,000. This is similar to the combined total of 87,000 for the Midlands and East of England and South of England. London dispensed the lowest number of items, at 17,000.
Dr Ahmed explains that the alcohol industry is constantly finding new ways of marketing itself to consumers - and brunches are its latest ploy. The trend for bottomless brunches started in Manhattan, but more and more places in the UK have become involved, alarming experts who fear they could become a city staple.
Restaurants, cafes and bars offer two hours of ‘unlimited’ mimosas (a cocktail of equal parts champagne and fruit juice) and bellinis (prosecco with peach purée).
Customers can have their last boozy top-up two hours from their order.
Others advertise unlimited Bloody Marys or Bucks Fizz, or breakfast martinis and rum soaked milkshakes.
Some bars say they reserve the right to refuse service at their discretion if customers become too intoxicated.
“In our cities, we are being bombarded with messages about wine or are being invited to take part in events like a ‘bottomless brunch’, but there is no mention of the other, very real side of alcohol consumption for drinkers, especially younger ones” says Dr Ahmed.
“Brunch is one of those meals that people think justifies alcohol before midday. It is inextricably tied to the drinking culture.
“And restaurant brunches are communal experiences which appeal very much to working professionals. In busy cities, sometimes the weekend mornings are the only time groups of friends can manage to get together.
“Customers ‘upgrade’ their brunch to ‘bottomless’, which unlocks a world of unlimited drinks to accompany your meal. Many of the cocktails are rum-based.”
A typical bottle of prosecco contains more than eight alcohol units, so just half a bottle is double the recommended daily limit for women.
And there are often several measures of spirits in cocktails even if they don’t taste particularly strong.
Fourteen units a week is the level below which men and women will keep their risk of alcohol related liver disease and cancer low, according to latest guidance from Britain’s chief medical officer.
One in five women graduates regularly drink ‘hazardously’ compared with one in 10 for those with lower levels of education. 'Hazardous' is defined as consuming at least twice the safe limit of 14 units a week. The NHS estimates that around 9% of adult men in the UK and 4% of UK adult women show signs of alcohol dependence.
An NHS report found that alcohol misuse was costing Birmingham, Britain’s second city, alone, around £200 million a year – which included 170,000 working days lost through alcohol-related absence. A National Alcohol Strategy report on Birmingham said the cost of drink driving there was £10 million.