Brits among biggest boozers in Europe

More than one in nine British men binge drink
More than one in nine British men binge drink

Boozy Brits are second only to the plastered Portuguese when it comes to a European table of binge drinkers.

And British men and women came second and third, respectively, for overindulgence out of 21 countries

The Portuguese topped both tables, with the inebriated Netherlands also ahead of the UK for women.

The researchers also discovered that British men drink three times as much as the average European woman.

It's the first study of its kind to compare the drinking habits of Europeans by looking at what they drink - and how often.

Professor Terje Eikemo, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said: "People from Britain, Ireland and Portugal drink most, but the richer you are, the more you drink, too.

"The Irish drink the most overall. Binge drinking is most widespread in Portugal, with Britain in second place."

He said the answer is to improve the living conditions of the British working class.

Prof Eikemo said: "While alcohol consumption generally is more frequently utilised among higher social classes, problematic drinking including binge drinking is more common in the lower social classes.

"An important reason for this is that lower classes live under poorer living conditions and work under tougher psychosocial and physical conditions.

"The most effective way of improving the drinking pattern in UK, as in other European countries, would be to improve people's conditions under which they live, work, and age.

"Banning alcohol is not the way to go. Instead, we need to help people making better choices."

Binge drinking is defined as women who have consumed more than six units, and men more than eight units a day.

Eight units is just over three pints of four per cent strength beer. Six units is just over two large glasses (175ml) of 13 per cent strength wine.

Prof Eikemo and colleagues developed a questionnaire tailored to the drinking habits in each country by using cards that illustrated alcohol units, plus information on the types and quantities of alcohol sold in different parts of Europe.

The survey responses were then converted to the number of grams of alcohol.

Prof Eikemo said: "'Our results show a huge difference in how much men and women drink on average across Europe, with men drinking twice as much - but in the UK men drink three times as much.

"We are concerned about the consequences for health."

The survey of 40,000 people including 2,000 in the UK shows almost two in five men in Britain drink alcohol more than once a week, along with a quarter of women.

British women also drank more on weekdays apart from those in Ireland and the Czech Republic - 3.6 units on average.

It also found British women drank more on weekends - 6.4 units on average on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays - than those in any other countries except Ireland and Hungary.

Overall men consumed almost twice as many units of alcohol as women.

Alcopops and pints of beer are still among our favourite tipples.

More than one in nine British men (11.2%) binge drink, behind only Portugal at 17.5 per cent.

One in 25 British women (4%) do it, behind 5.2 per cent of females in Portugal and 5.1 per cent in the Netherlands.

Women in Israel, central and Eastern Europe drink the least. The survey is part of the European Social Survey, a large population study conducted every two years in around 30 European countries.

Prof Eikemo said: "In the past, we could say that drinking alcohol and smoking affect people's health, for example. Now we can go farther back in the causal chain, and identify where measures should be taken."

He says the findings, part of the European Social Survey, confirms people who are well off drink the most.

He said: "When we compare ourselves to others, we can see what's working and countries can shape their health systems based on systems that are succeeding in other countries,."

When it came to alcohol consumption, scientists had to design questions that would be interpreted the same way in all the countries.

That posed a challenge, since people in different countries have different drinking habits - and the types and quantities of alcohol sold and served vary considerably.

His researchers solved this challenge by developing a number of "showcards" - cards that illustrate various types and amounts of alcohol.

Survey participants could use the card illustrations when they reported how much they drink during a given period.

The cards show, for example, what is considered a large and a small glass of wine, and the difference between a pint and half litre of beer and a bottle or can of beer.

Added Prof Eikemo: "We developed different cards for each country. We were able to convert people's responses about their drinking habits to the number of grams of alcohol."

The survey results have been presented to the EU health commissioner.