Deaths from alcohol-related disease in young women are rising, contrary to the overall trend, a study suggests.
Experts looked at deaths in men and women of all ages in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester from 1980 to 2011.
They said the results for women born in the 1970s should be a “warning signal” about their drinking habits.
They say minimum pricing, shelved this week as a plan to tackle binge drinking by the government in England and Wales, would help address the issue.
Almost 9,000 people die from conditions related to alcohol each year in the UK.
This study, detailed in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at patterns of alcohol-related mortality in the three cities, which all have similar patterns of deprivation, poor health and industrialisation.
It compared trends in alcohol-related deaths of people born between 1910 and 1979.
Overall, men were much more likely to die from alcohol-related disease than women – and the age range most affected was people in their 40s and 50s.
But while rates have plateaued or even fallen slightly for the majority, that is not true for the youngest group of women – those born in the 1970s – for whom the death rate actually increased in all three cities.
‘Hard to dismiss’
A “snapshot” example cited by the researchers compares death rates for women born in different cohorts when they reached the age of 34.
For those born in the 1950s, it was a rate of eight per 100,000; for those born in the 1960s – 14 per 100,000, while for those born in the 1970s it rose to 20 per 100,000.
However for men, comparable figures showed a recent decrease.
For the 1950s cohort it was 22 per 100,000 rising to 38 per 100,000 in the 1960s – but falling to 30 per 100,000 for the 1970s.
Sally Marlow, from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the report was the first indicator there may be a “ticking time bomb” of alcohol problems in women.
She said women born in the 1970s would have started drinking during the rise of the “ladette culture” in the 1990s.
“We had women very out there, embracing male behaviours – one of which was excessive drinking,” she said.
She added that women suffer greater levels of harm than men at lower levels of drinking, meaning they more vulnerable to developing alcohol-related problems such as liver disease.
Writing in the journal, the team led by Dr Deborah Shipton, said it was “imperative that this early warning sign is acted upon”.
“Failure to have a policy response to this new trend may result in the effects of this increase being played out for decades to come.”
The team behind the report suggests that cheaper alcohol, which is more widely available, combined with better marketing and longer drinking hours will all have played their part in fuelling the problem.
Dr Shipton told the BBC it was “a shame” minimum pricing had been rejected in England and Wales.
She said it was one measure which would help tackle the problem, although it would not address the “deep-rooted cultural influences at play”.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the chief medical officer was currently looking at alchol unit information to see if it could be made more helpful to consumers.
He added: “DH spokesperson said: “We know that more action is needed to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol.
“That’s why we’re banning alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT to are tackle the worst cases of super cheap and harmful alcohol, meaning it will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary lager for less than around 40p.
“We’re also strengthening the ban on irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs and challenging industry to increase its efforts through the responsibility deal. ”
Scotland’s government is still committed to bringing in a minimum price of 50p per unit.
However the law will not be implemented until legal proceedings, brought by the Scotch Whisky Association, are complete.
Northern Ireland is yet to put forward a specific proposal, although it is reviewing pricing.