HEAVY drinkers from middle class backgrounds are less likely to suffer ill-health due to excessive alcohol intake than the poorest in society, according to new research.

Researchers said that poverty itself may reduce a person's "resilience to disease" and make them more likely to die, be admitted to hospital or need medical treatment because of their drinking.

The study, led by the University of Glasgow, found that people from deprived backgrounds were not necessarily drinking more than those who are better off.

But it found a marked link between socio-economic status and the harm caused by drinking alcohol excessively, with increased alcohol consumption "disproportionately harmful" to the poorest in society.

Heavy drinkers in affluent areas were seven times more likely to be at risk of harm than light drinkers. But those living in the most deprived areas saw an eleven-fold increase in their risk of coming into harm from alcohol than light drinkers.

The authors found that moving into areas of high deprivation as a consequence of heavy drinking did not explain the findings.

Lead author of the study Dr Vittal Katikireddi said: "Our study finds that the poorest in society are at greater risk of alcohol's harmful impacts on health, but this is not because they are drinking more or more often binge drinking.

"Experiencing poverty may impact on health, not only through leading an unhealthy lifestyle but also as a direct consequence of poor material circumstances and psychosocial stresses.

"Poverty may, therefore, reduce resilience to disease, predisposing people to greater health harms of alcohol."

The research, published in The Lancet Public Health, looked at data from more than 50,000 people from the Scottish Health Surveys with electronic health records.

It suggests that even when other factors such as smoking and obesity are included, living in deprived areas was consistently associated with higher alcohol-related harms.

Researchers defined harm from alcohol consumption based on deaths, hospitalisations and prescriptions which could be attributable to alcohol.

Study co-author Dr Elise Whitley added that harm from excessive drinking was most prevalent in those least well-off.

She said: "Heavier drinking is associated with greater alcohol-related harm in all individuals.

"However, our study suggests that the harm is greater in those living in poorer areas or who have a lower income, fewer qualifications, or a manual occupation."

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, said the vast majority of people drinking alcohol within nationwide guidelines.

But he added: "The report shows that while consuming the least amount of alcohol, the poorest may suffer disproportionate levels of harm.

"It is therefore important to understand how alcohol interacts with other issues associated with lower socio-economic status.

"This will enable a sophisticated response that targets particular communities rather than heavy-handed interventions aimed at the whole population."