Balance responds to concerns over rising number of women dying from alcohol
Balance and former dependent drinker Karen Slater today added their voices to mounting concerns about rising numbers of women dying from alcohol-related causes – and highlights the role of relentless alcohol marketing towards women in driving this trend.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of women who lost their lives to alcohol increased 37% from 2,399 to 3,293 between 2016 and 2021 – the highest level since records began. Men saw a 29 per cent increase over the same period, from 4,928 deaths to 6,348.
The rise is being blamed on the “pinking up of drinks” when women are targeted through advertising and marketing with pink drinks, glitter and promises across social media of ‘mummy wine time’ and wine O clock. Women also turned to alcohol more often than men in the first lockdown.
Around 1 in 10 breast cancers are caused by alcohol according to Cancer Research UK, while the British Liver Trust reports that death rates from liver disease are 4 times higher than they were in 1970. Other major non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and lung conditions have seen a fall in death rates over the same period.
Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Fresh and Balance, said: “Alcohol and tobacco industries have fiercely targeted women over the past half century with their advertising and products and now we are seeing the impact – rising rates of alcohol related disease for women, just as we have seen female lung cancer rates rising for tobacco.
“It is no coincidence that these huge corporations have women firmly in their sights. Women are surrounded by a culture in advertising and online where alcohol is promoted widely and celebrated as an integral part of female culture – with a constant flow of comments about ‘wine O clock’ and events specifically targeted at women, such as ‘bottomless brunches’.
“The fact is that alcohol is harming mental health, contributing to weight gain and worsening symptoms of the menopause. It is not only impacting upon quality of life but costing too many lives. As women we need to start talking more openly about these things.”
James Crosbie, Clinical Lead for Alcohol in North East and North Cumbria who works as a GP and Consultant Gastroenterologist, said in response to the latest statistics: ” Sadly these figures come as no surprise and represent a continuation of the trends we have seen over a number of years. This rising levels of liver disease means not only that the lives of many women are being tragically cut short, but there is also the significant impact of living with liver disease which typically cannot be reversed once the damage is done.
“It is also a reminder that alcohol affects all of us in other ways, potentially impacting families and relationships as well as links to life changing illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease. In this context the ongoing bombardment with targeted marketing from the alcohol industry in so many areas of life is a significant concern”.
Karen Slater, 55, is a Newcastle mum of four. She experienced alcohol harm first-hand when she grew up around alcohol in a hostile and dangerous environment. She was a victim of child abuse and domestic violence and sought solace in alcohol, drugs and self-harm.
Karen said: “You feel bombarded by the adverts of alcohol that come into your home and give out the message that alcohol is pleasurable, and it gets worse at times of the year like Christmas. You can’t move around a supermarket for piles and piles of alcohol.
“Alcohol advertising is insidious. It comes on the TV and looks really glamorous with the pink drinks – but it is a drug that can be addictive. There are millions of people trying to battle alcohol and yet we are watching it on TV. Every night there are adverts, and as soon as you’ve seen that advert you think about it. For someone having a bad day or a bad moment that could trigger a relapse.”
She added: “My reality and thousands of others is the exact opposite. If you’ve experienced alcohol problems, Christmas in the real world away from the alluring adverts of alcohol can be one of drink-fuelled isolation, domestic violence, child neglect and A&E being overrun by drunken people.
“People who are alcohol dependent live lives constantly like this. The adverts never show that struggle. My home is my haven. I’m in recovery and I feel they shouldn’t be allowed to come into my home when I’ve never gave permission.“
Caroline Tweedie is a Specialist Breast Care Nurse with Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, and said: “With breast cancer I think a lot of women will be shocked by the fact nearly 1 in 10 diagnosis that we see is down to alcohol intake. That would be 70 cancers less a year in our department alone.
“I do think that if more women knew the risks around alcohol and cancer, they wouldn’t have that peer pressure. It’s extremely difficult to say I’m not having that extra drink.
“I think if more women knew about breast cancer risk, we would unite and support and inspire one another to drink that bit less and say it’s alright if you don’t want to have another drink.”
Debbie Shawcross, a professor of hepatology and chronic liver failure at King’s College London’s Institute of Liver Studies, said liver disease is a particular problem in female patients. Quoted in The Independent, she said: “Women tend to present with more severe liver disease, particularly alcohol-related hepatitis, and do so after a shorter period of excessive drinking and at a lower daily alcohol intake than men,” she said. “This can be accounted for by differences in body size and composition – less muscle mass.”