‘BABY BOOMERS’, cheap booze and deprivation are said to have contributed to the North-East having the highest rate of alcohol deaths in the country – for the fifth year running.

Calls for the introduction of minimum unit pricing followed the publication of stark Government figures that show more than 7,500 people across the UK lost their lives to drink last year.

More than 400 people in our region died from drink related causes in 2018, with 143 women and 268 men paying the ultimate price for their alcohol consumption.

Three quarters of those who died nationally had alcoholic liver disease, with other leading causes of death including mental or behavioural disorders linked to alcohol use and accidental alcohol poisoning.

‘Baby boomers’ – the term popularly used to refer to those born roughly between 1946 and 1964 - account for more than half of the recorded deaths in 2018, with 3,819 people dying between the ages of 55 and 75, almost 80 per cent of them from alcoholic liver disease.

In contrast, just 589 people under 40 died, including 21 under 25, most of whom died from alcohol poisoning.

Experts in our region echoed national concerns over substance misuse in the over-50s and linked it to changes in generational attitudes toward drinking habits and the dangers of consuming alcohol to excess over a sustained period of time.

However, they warned against ‘taking our eye off the ball’ when it comes to the drinking habits of younger generations, with public health expert and Sunderland University lecturer John Mooney suggesting that the alcohol industry was already reacting to a decline in youth drinking culture and seeking to reclaim their market share with targeted products and promotions.

Mr Mooney also joined Durham Constabulary sergeant Mick Urwin – who worked in the harm reduction field for a decade – in suggesting that increased levels of deprivation and the post-industrial culture of the North-East were contributors to the high death rate locally.

He said: “There is a long-standing, hardened drinking culture here and people in more constrained economic circumstances may not drink the most but they’re most at risk of harm because they may not be able to look after themselves in other ways.

“They may not have the same capacity to eat a healthy diet or access social support and may be in precarious employment, all of which could increase stress and reduce resilience to alcohol related harms.”

Sgt Unwin joined Mr Mooney in calling for the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol – as has been introduced in Scotland and as is imminent in Wales – and said children as young as primary school age should be educated about the damage drinking can do.

He added: “People are dying and the measure we believe will have the biggest impact on hospital admissions and the death rate is a minimum price per unit.

“The culture, in years gone by, was always one of working hard and playing hard – and that attitude is still around.

“Alcohol is cheap and easily available – it might not be illegal but it is impactful and causes so many issues, we need people to be able to recognise that from an early age.

“The alcohol industry also needs to take responsibility for their products and the impact they can have.”

Colin Shevills, director of Balance – the region’s alcohol office – also said those struggling with poverty were at greater risk of harm from drinking than heavier drinkers who were better off.

He said: "It's a very complex situation but if you are quite affluent and drinking at the same level of someone who is poor, the poor person is much more likely to suffer harms than someone less deprived."

Mr Shevills called on people to consume alcohol in line with the recommended 14 units a week and warned that the majority of those with ‘risky’ drinking habits were likely to believe they were drinking moderately, despite putting themselves at greater risk of more than 200 medical conditions.

For information or support, visit drinkaware.co.uk.