By SOPHIE BORLAND
Soaring numbers of women are drinking hazardous amounts of alcohol, figures show.
The proportion consuming more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week has grown by a fifth in a decade.
Almost one in five women drinks in excess of this amount, with one in 20 downing more than 35 units a week – the equivalent of four bottles of wine.
By contrast, men’s drinking habits have remained constant over the ten years, with a quarter – 26 per cent – consuming more than their recommended limit of 21 units a week.
The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, will add to concerns that women are fast catching up with the opposite sex in the drinking stakes.
Although men’s average weekly intake is twice as high – 16 units compared to eight units – recent figures have pointed to a surge in binge drinking among females, particularly young girls.
Experts claim that British women are happy to be seen to be drinking as much as men on nights out, unlike in other countries where it would be frowned upon.
Campaigners have blamed the alcohol industry for targeting drinks at women and warn there is now a casual acceptance of drunkenness.
The latest ONS figures, for 2009, show that 18 per cent of women drink more than 14 units a week, up from 15 per cent in 1998.
Rates are highest among the 16 to 24 age group, of which almost a quarter (23 per cent) drink more than the recommended limit.
Since 1998 the number of women drinking more than 35 units a week has doubled, up from 2 per cent to 4 per cent.
On average women drink eight units a week. But this is higher for those aged 16 to 24, who consume an average of 10.3 units.
The findings back up recent figures showing young women are drinking just as much as men, and are far more likely to end up in hospital.
An NHS Information Centre report found that teenage girls drink an average of 11.3 units a week – the equivalent of six medium glasses of wine or five pints of beer.
This compares with 11.9 units for the average boy drinker, aged 11 to 15.
The figures also showed that in 2009, a total of 3,661 girls were admitted to hospital with ‘alcohol-specific conditions’ – such as liver damage or ethanol poisoning – compared with 2,751 boys.
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said of the NHS figures: ‘Under-age drinking is an issue that we should all be concerned about.
‘Young girls are saturated by images, messages and role models, including the way adults drink, which creates a casual acceptance of drunkenness.
‘But this culture is taking a toll on young people’s health, with high levels of hospital admissions and all too frequent trips to A&E. The next generation of binge-drinkers are being created through access to cheap booze in supermarkets and irresponsible marketing by multi-million-pound retailers and producers.’
Earlier this year a separate report by Alcohol Concern warned that, by 2015, the equivalent of three Britons will be taken to hospital every minute as a direct result of alcohol