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Woking doctor issues warning as figures suggest 'health threatening' levels of alcohol consumption

More than one in five people indulge in ‘increasing risk’ drinking – so called because the levels at which they consume alcohol increases their risk of alcohol-related illness.

The estimates are higher in Woking than in England as a whole, and higher than in the county of Surrey as a whole, according to Public Health England*, the Government’s own advisory group.

They are also higher than in nearby Epsom and Ewell, Tandridge, Spelthorne, Reigate and Banstead.

Dr Ian Drever, from Priory Hospital Woking, said middle-aged Woking residents were “unwittingly” taking serious risks with their health - and ending up in hospital - because they “do not realise they are drinking too much.”

His plea to Woking residents to take stock of how much they were drinking, came ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week, which begins on Monday 16th November.

Increased alcohol consumption can lead to depression

Dr Drever specialises in addictions as well as anxiety and depression, and said “chronic” over-consumption of alcohol not only led to liver disease and increased rates of cancer, heart disease and stroke but fuelled depression and highly dangerous behaviour including drink driving.

“It is the middle-aged drinkers who are taking the most serious risks with their health,” Dr Drever said.

“People do not realise that chronic drinking significantly increases their chances of suffering health problems. I often see people whose drinking levels have crept up on them over several years and who use alcohol to cope with unreasonable work pressures, or life crises such as divorce or bereavement.

“But drinking is not a coping strategy in any sense, and it is important that in the run-up to occasions like Christmas, people consider ways to avoid endless social functions where alcohol is prevalent – like going to the cinema or the gym or swimming or cycling.”

What is ‘increased risk’ alcohol drinking?

Increased risk alcohol drinking is defined as:

  • Men who regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units a day, equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer but less than the higher risk levels (more than 8 units a day or more than 50 units a week)
  • Women who regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units a day, equivalent to a 175ml glass of 13% wine, but less than the higher risk levels (more than 6 units a day or 35 units a week)

The overall prevalence of ‘increased risk’ drinking in Surrey is around 21%, above the England average of 20%. This means that more than one in five adults in Surrey drinks at these levels.

In Woking, the figure rises further to 21.2% – higher than in nearby Epsom and Ewell, Tandridge, Spelthorne, Reigate and Banstead.

Dr Drever said that many older drinkers still didn’t pause to think of the increasing risk of two pints of strong beer a day or two large glasses or more of wine a day.

Too much alcohol affects your physical and mental health

His comments come as studies show that people who are 55 or over are less receptive to traditional consumer-focused marketing which advises them to cut down on their drinking.

They tend to view themselves as 'survivors' and don’t respond to 'official' messages. However they do listen to their GP.

Dr Drever said: “My advice would be to try and get control of your drinking and make sure you have alcohol free days, and spend time with friends who don’t drink. Alcohol free days are easier than ‘drink less’ days.

“Too much alcohol is still sold at irresponsibly low prices.

“At the Priory in Woking, I regularly see the toll that too much alcohol takes, especially around depression and anxiety. Anxiety takes many forms, and affects many people. I think of it as being a scourge of modern society – we are so inundated by relentless demands and all sorts of expectations that illnesses such as anxiety seem to be inexorably on the rise, but alcohol is not the answer.”

Older drinkers are drinking at higher risk levels

Although binge drinking is often in the media, and is usually associated with young adults, it is typically older drinkers, drinking at increasing or higher risk levels for a sustained period of time, who will suffer longer-term alcohol-related illness or death, he said.

Priory Woking offers a free, no obligation addiction assessment, which involves a face-to-face assessment with a member of the addiction treatment team.

Does working long hours result in drinking more?

Drinking more is also associated with working long hours. Professionals who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. Researchers in Finland recently found that female employees on long hours were at greater risk of drinking at least two glasses of wine a night. For men, it was around three pints. Researchers studied 333,693 people in 14 countries and found that longer working hours increased the likelihood of higher alcohol use by 11%.

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