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Drinking to death, one glass at a time

Middle-Aged drinkers are consuming alcohol at unprecedented levels, with many unaware their “social” drinking is killing them.

Using increased stress as a justification for a tipple, many are downing more than three standard (100ml wine, 280ml beer) drinks each day, which can more than double their risk of diseases such as liver cirrhosis and heart failure.

Common cancers such as breast, bowel and prostate have now been directly linked to risky drinking.

So chronic and widespread is the problem that leading alcohol researchers say a new syndrome has developed among heavy drinkers known as “Monday morning heart” – a reference to statistics that show an increased number of people aged 40 and older are having heart attacks on Monday after a big weekend.

Although public health messages mostly have been focused on harm from binge drinking among young people, experts say there is a hidden addiction to “sustained and excessive” alcohol intake among drinkers aged 40 to 60 in nearly all communities across the state.

Many are doing it in the privacy of their own homes – with women now often matching their partners glass-for-glass as they down up to a bottle of wine or more each evening.

Experts say many people do not realise there are 7.5 standard drinks in a bottle of wine because they often use large glasses – holding more than two standard drinks each.

Other evidence supports the belief of an increase in binge drinking at home by many mums and dads.

Last week Woolworths and Coles, which own 45 per cent of Australia’s alcohol retail outlets, reported their alcohol and food sales had risen by 17.4 per cent in the past year.

A national survey in 2007 revealed that 5.1 per cent of Australians in the 50-59 age group were drinking at very high-risk levels (second only to the 20-29 age group). But researchers suspect the figure is low because many didn’t answer the survey honestly.

A survey published last month in the US by Duke University found binge-drinking was now at crisis point among the middle-aged. The poll of 11,000 people in the 50-to-64 age group found 22 per cent of men and 9 per cent of woman had participated in binge drinking (five or more drinks at a time) in the past month.

University of Queensland addiction expert Professor Wayne Hall said there were different patterns of drinking between the young and the old.

“While young people drink to intoxication, mature age people drink steadily on a daily basis,” he said.

The rise in middle-aged women binge drinking has been most alarming, some doctors say.

Those aged 50 and older are in the first generation for whom it was socially acceptable to drink in public after turning 21. Many who learned to drink heavily in their youth are now at a stage when they have the leisure to return to previous drinking patterns.

“We are starting to see heavier drinking patterns in middle-aged women,” said Dr Jeremy Davey of the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety.

“Now their kids are older and they have much more financial stability, many women who learned to drink when they were younger are coming back into the drinking culture.”

And women across the board, from all socio-economic levels, are over-indulging.

One affluent 58-year-old Brisbane woman, who preferred not to be named, was recently diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and diabetes.

“I had been feeling lethargic and I thought I was anaemic so I went to the doctor,” she said.

“He found I had an enlarged liver, type-2 diabetes and cirrhosis. He said if I didn’t quit drinking I would be dead in a year.

“I used to drink most days with my friends, probably a bottle of wine each at lunch or at dinner.

“It wasn’t binge drinking but it was too much. It has been a wake-up call.”

All middle-aged drinkers need to realise the damage alcohol can have on their health, medical experts say.

The National Drug and Research Institute recently presented research showing:

Men who drink more than 2.5 standard drinks a day at age 60 or younger are 20 per cent more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Women who drink more than one standard drink each day have five times the risk of developing bowel cancer than men.

Alcohol has recently been classified as a class-one carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver said the listing made public health messages on alcohol more urgent.

“People need to know about the cancer risk with alcohol – it changes the risk profile,” he said.

“And with cancer the risk starts at zero, not after you have had a couple (of drinks).”

source: The Courier-Mail

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