Last call at any British pub can be like a contact sport, with a crush of drunken customers suddenly heaving toward the bar in search of one last round.
It's a hallowed British tradition, and doctors say an increasingly dangerous one.
Britain's taste for binge drinking, driven by a pub culture in which a good night out means packing in as many pints as possible before the traditional 11 p.m. closing time, could lead to a liver disease epidemic within two decades unless Britons learn to drink more responsibly, experts warn.
"There's been a frightening increase in alcoholic liver disease in recent years," said Dr. Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians.
Deaths from cirrhosis in Britain increased dramatically over the past two decades, while they fell steadily everywhere else in the Western world, according to government statistics.
In England and Wales, 17.5 deaths of every 100,000 men were due to cirrhosis in 2002, up from 8.3 in 1987. And in Scotland, the increase was even more dramatic: 16.9 cirrhosis deaths per every 100,000 men in 1987 to 45.2 per 100,000 in 2002.
By comparison, the overall U.S. cirrhosis rate has fallen from 15 deaths per 100,000 in 1973 to nine per 100,000 in 2004. In the European Union, the rate in the early 1980s was about 20 per 100,000 deaths; by 2004, it had fallen to 13 per 100,000. Neither provided a breakdown between men and women.
"Deaths from cirrhosis (in Britain) are increasing out of proportion with anywhere else in the world," said Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a consultant hepatologist at London's University College Hospital.
Cheaper, more accessible alcohol are partly to blame.
Binge drinking in the European Union is highest in Ireland, Finland, Britain and Denmark, according to an EU survey published in March. The survey also found that almost one in five Europeans between the ages of 15 and 24 drinks more than five alcoholic drinks in one sitting.
Nearly one-third of 15- to 16-year-old British students reported having gone binge drinking at least three times during the last month, according to a 2003 European-wide alcohol survey. The legal drinking age in Britain is 18.
source: Associated Press
author: Maria Cheng