Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Binge drinking behind sexual health 'epidemic'

Binge drinking among women is causing an epidemic of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, doctors have warned.

Research has found that almost nine in ten women who attended a sexual health clinic admitted binge drinking - an average of two and a half bottles of wine in one sitting.

Doctors blame binge drinking among women for "epidemic" in STIs and unwanted pregnancies

Three quarters said they had unprotected sex because they were drunk.

Women who were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection drank 40 per cent more than those who did not, showing a much stronger link between risky behaviour and alcohol consumption than previous thought.

The researchers, based in Southampton and Portsmouth, said the Government must tackle the issue of cheap alcohol and called for condoms to be provided for free in pubs, clubs and taxis.

Abortion clinics are already bracing themselves for a post-Christmas boom in unwanted pregnancies after one charity reported a record month in January this year.

The family planning service Marie Stopes International performed almost 6,000 abortions in January - a rise of 13% on the previous year.

The first detailed UK study carried out in sexual behaviour and alcohol questioned 520 people who attended one genito-urinary clinic in a city in the south of England.

A third of women in study (92 women), who attended the clinic reported a pregnancy and 41 of them had undergone a termination. Half said of those who were pregnant said it was unwanted and more than a quarter of those said they had been drinking before having unprotected sex.

The paper published in the International Journal of STD and AIDS said: "The UK has a specific problem with binge-drinking that is not seen elsewhere in Europe, and it seems highly likely that this binge-drinking culture is a risk factor for all forms of sexual risk, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs)."

Linda Tucker, one of the main authors of the study and a consultant nurse in sexual health and HIV, said: "The link between sexual risk and drinking too much is not the most original idea in he world but we now have clear scientific evidence of the relation ship. The Government needs to reflect this link both in their sexual health and alcohol strategy - which at present seems not to link alcohol and sexual risk behaviour.

"Politicians need to tackle the issue of cheap booze and to have properly funded early intervention and treatment programmes in place."

They also found that women who binge-drink have more sexual partners than those who don't.

For men the results were not as clear-cut but the more they had drunk the less likely they were to use a condom.

The authors argue that, as the UK moves inevitably towards a 24 hour drinking culture, it is vital that the infrastructure needed to keep these drinkers safe keeps pace and is adequately funded.

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: "These new, and much higher figures suggest that risky sexual behaviour and binge drinking are far more bound up with one another than previously thought.

"We need also to ensure that staff working in sexual health clinics are trained to identify problem drinkers and know where to refer them for specialist advice, if they want help to bring their consumption down to safer levels".

source: The Telegraph

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