Irish women drink their way to death

Women are slowly drinking themselves to death in the comfort of their own homes -- sipping bottles of extra-strong wines as they sit in front of the television.

"My colleagues and I are seeing more women with serious liver damage than ever before," says a leading Irish medical expert who is worried at the latest drinking trend among Irish women.

Part of the problem is that women's favourite "tipple" is being made dramatically stronger in recent years.

A Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown IMS poll found that 30 per cent of people now prefer to drink at home rather than in the pub. The figure is even higher among women with 34 per cent preferring the comfort of their own home as they settle down for "a few drinks" in front of the telly.

The poll also revealed that 20 per cent of Irish people would like to cut down on the amount of alcohol they drink.

Another finding suggests that the traditional Irish pub is struggling with 48 per cent of people agreeing that the enforcement of drink driving laws has made the pub a less attractive option than before.

The smoking ban is accepted by the vast majority of people as a good thing with just 27 per cent believing that the ban has made the pub a less enjoyable place to go.

In the UK, which has a similar drinking culture to Ireland, death rates for women in the 35 to 54 age group have doubled from 7.2 to 14.8 per 100,000, a larger increase for these women than any other age group.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, said the increase in women's drinking was causing serious concern.

"The new figures are deeply worrying as women seem to be more susceptible to the damaging physical effects of alcohol. This may be due to their smaller size and different fat distribution, but there are almost certainly other factors at play, possibly genetic and biochemical differences.

"Liver disease is often symptomless until it becomes very serious so people often have no warning that they are destroying their liver until it's too late."

The statistics show that women are drinking twice as much alcohol as they think they are. Some are consuming up to 80 units a week but believe they are drinking 40 units. That's nearly six times more than the "safe" limit and the equivalent of eight bottles of wine.

Many are dramatically underestimating their consumption because of bigger glass sizes and stronger wines.

The official health guidelines say women should drink no more than 14 units a week but many are drinking double that amount.

The British government is preparing to target middle-class wine drinkers with a £10m drive against alcohol abuse. The campaign will focus on unit size while highlighting health risks of excessive drinking.

In Ireland a recent seminar on Australian wines was dominated by talk of the urgent need to reduce alcohol strength.

"It is a major worry for the industry," according to expert Ernie Whalley.

Wine has increased in strength because of factors like global warming, more efficient yeasts and fashion, according to the Sunday Independent columnist.

"Of course one of the things which we can all do is not to finish the bottle. I have been living in this country for 20 years and I've come to the conclusion that it is part of the Irish psyche that they have to finish the bottle.

"You can buy one of the vacuum systems to keep a open bottle of wine fresh for a few euros and leave a couple of glasses in the bottle for the following night.

"Sadly it's something which we don't do in this country," he said.

Women are more in danger than male drinkers because their bodies are less able to cope with long-term alcohol abuse.

Meanwhile, a new type of "liver-friendly wine" being launched by Marks and Spencer is made using conventional wine-making techniques and boasts a naturally lower alcohol content of 9.5 per cent ABV. This contrasts with many wines enjoyed by Irish drinkers which can come in at 14 per cent alcohol and some are as high as 16 per cent.