After a week at work, people like to let their hair down and have a few drinks at the weekend but there are some who can let it down a bit too much.

Binge drinking is on the increase and new research shows the number of women developing problems is rising, too.

According to research by Alcohol Concern, about 86 per cent of women over 16 report drinking alcohol, while 14 per cent claim they never drink.

This compares with 93 per cent of men drinking and seven per cent of men who never drink.

About 47 per cent of women drink at least once a week and 13 per cent drink at least five days per week.

The recommended safe levels for drinking are 14 units a week for women and 21 units for men.

A government's report, Sensible Drinking, advised changing this to recommending a daily intake of two to three units for women.

This was to draw attention to limits for daily drinking by identifying a safe level for moderate regular drinking and to help people decide how much to drink on a single occasion.

Consistently drinking more than three units per day for women is inadvisable because of the progressive health risk it carries.

Research shows drinking above the recommended levels increases the risk of incurring a variety of illnesses, including cancer, coronary heart disease, strokes, obesity linked to high blood pressure, osteoporosis and digestive problems.

The number of women in Britain drinking more than the recommended maximum amount has increased from ten per cent in 1988 to 52 per cent in 2000.

But the average weekly consumption of women aged 16 to 24 is 10.6 units, compared to 3.3 units for women over 65.

Young women tend to have heavy drinking sessions, with half consuming their alcohol over one to three days.

They are also more likely to exceed the daily benchmark, with 23 per cent drinking more than six units at least one day in a week.

But problem drinking is not restricted to this group - women between 25 and 44 tend to drink more regularly.

However, women still drink far less than men.

Women who work can often afford to drink more but heavy or frequent drinking may be linked to the difficulties of juggling work and heavy domestic responsibilities or it can be associated with patterns of socialising around the workplace.

Low self-esteem among women, particularly young women who have experienced sexual or physical abuse, may also be a trigger for heavy drinking.

Other social and psychological factors which trigger problem drinking in women include a history of drinking in the family, childhood problem behaviours, smoking from a young age and problems coping with stressful life events.

Other factors include the aftermath of separation and divorce, or depression.

Between 1995 and 1997, the number of women dying from illnesses directly attributable to alcohol ranged from 1,600 to 2,000 deaths a years, compared to male deaths, which ranged from 2,500 to 3,000.

However, the number of deaths in which alcohol is implicated is much larger.

There are no official figures but Alcohol Concern uses an estimate of 33,000 a year.

Women's physical makeup affects the way they process alcohol.

Women's bodies have ten per cent more fat than men's and they have less fluid to dilute the alcohol, so the concentration of alcohol in the body is higher.

The average woman weighs considerably less than the average man and has correspondingly less tissue to absorb alcohol.

Women appear to have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (AHD) in their stomachs, so the alcohol stays longer in the system before being metabolised and has greater effect.

Chichester-based GP Jason Martin said: "Too much alcohol is bad for both men and women, although it is true that women's bodies are less able to cope.

"There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation but if people overdo it and regularly binge they are risking permanent damage.

"A few drinks throughout the week should be fine but if you drink all the recommended weekly allowance in one night, you are asking for trouble."