Middle classes hitting the bottle to ease stress, finds Sunderland study

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MIDDLE-class boozers are risking serious health problems by using alcohol as a means of stress relief, say Sunderland University researchers.

Now the team is calling for an overhaul of health promotion messages to reflect the reality.

A study analysed drinking habits and reasons for drinking among five groups of public and private sector workers, aged between 21 and 55, discussing drinking patterns, and how much they drank at home and in professional situations, such as entertaining clients.

Researchers found middle-class workers viewed alcohol as a reward for everyday chores after work hours, such as looking after their children and cooking dinner. One respondent said drinking after the children had gone to bed “makes me feel like an adult again”.

Research fellow Dr Lyn Brierley-Jones said: “Our research showed a common perception among some middle-class groups that regularly drinking at home, particularly wine, is safe and sensible, even though such drinking regularly takes them over the recommended daily guidelines.

“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life, and a major health burden for the NHS.”

The team concluded the lack of alcohol awareness work targeted at stay-at-home drinkers was encouraging them to assume their drinking was not a problem. The report says public health messages should focus on the potential long-term health risks of drinking and not just crime or disorder among younger drinkers.

The Government advises a daily limit of three or four units of alcohol a day (equivalent to a pint and a half of four per cent beer) for men and two-three units (a 175ml glass of wine) for women.

Dr Jonathan Ling, senior lecturer in public health at Sunderland University, said: “Problem drinking is usually thought of in terms of young people binge drinking in city centres, or people with alcohol dependency.

“However, what is starting to be recognised is that regularly consuming alcohol at lower levels than would cause intoxication is likely to be harmful, and the people that drink most regularly aren’t young people, but those who live in households where someone has a managerial or professional job.”

While some of those in the study drank regularly at home, others engaged in heavy drinking sessions, usually at weekends but regarded such pre-planned sessions as more acceptable.

Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, said: “Although people think alcohol helps to relieve stress, regularly drinking above the guidelines could actually make them feel worse. Alcohol affects the quality of sleep so heavy drinkers are more likely to be tired and stressed the next day.

“Regularly drinking above the lower risk guidelines also increases chances of developing serious problems like cancer, heart and liver disease in the future. To avoid this risk, drinkers should monitor their intake and seek personalised advice to cut down. They can do so at drinkaware.co.uk.”