Death by drink on the rise in the UK

According to a new study Britain now has experienced the sharpest increase in death rates from liver cirrhosis in western Europe; and that not so jolly news comes just days after some of the heaviest drinking of the year.

It seems that the number of Britons dying from cirrhosis of the liver directly linked to heavy drinking is increasing at a much faster rate than in any other European country.

The researchers are calling for action from the government and say that in the 1950s, the UK had the lowest death rates of cirrhosis in western Europe, but the mortality rate for men has now increased five times in England and Wales, and six times in Scotland.

Apparently that increase has been accelerating decade by decade.

It appears that an analysis of European cirrhosis mortality rates from 1950 to 2002 shows the number of deaths increased in Britain while it fell in other European countries.

The survey used data from the World Health Organisation Mortality Database.

The researchers place the blame on increases in consumption, particularly that of wine and spirits.

Of particular concern it seems mortality in women increased by 46 percent in Scotland and 44 percent in England and Wales.

Figures show that as many as 22,000 people a year are killed by excessive drinking yet only one in 10 problem drinkers currently receives help.

The report by Leon and Jim McCambridge of London's King's College showed Austria had the highest cirrhosis mortality rate for both men and women.

The data for Scotland, England and Wales was compared against 12 European countries and whilst some still had high levels, most saw a decrease of between 20 to 30 percent from the early 1970s.

The researchers believe that the current alcohol policies in Britain need to be re-assessed and say the situation in Scotland is of particular concern.

Others have accused the British government of turning a blind eye to the problem.

In an attempt to control the growing problem of binge drinking, the government relaxed licensing laws in November 2005 in order to allow pubs and bars to stay open past the traditional 11 p.m. closing time.

It is hoped the move will encourage more civilised drinking habits such as those of France or Spain.

Meanwhile on another front the British home secretary has indicated a commitment to educating the public about the potential dangers of cannabis but will not restore the more serious B category to the drug despite new research which suggests that for a very small minority of people, cannabis might not just exacerbate a serious mental condition, but may even cause it.

The drug was downgraded from B to C in January 2004, with support from the police following a special inquiry on drug use.

The research is published in The Lancet medical journal.

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