Britain tackles £3bn alcohol problem with £10 per drinker

The Government spends £10 a year on each person who drinks too much, despite alcohol addiction's £3bn cost to the National Health Service.

Official figures, disclosed in Commons written answers, showed that £95m a year is spent on alcohol treatment, mostly from taxpayers' money.

However, an estimated 9,836,200 people in England - 27 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women - regularly drink more than the recommended 21 and 14 units a week respectively.

Alcohol Concern estimates that treating people with alcohol addiction costs the NHS around £3bn a year, and experts insist the real figure - when accidents, liver and heart problems, and other related ailments and diseases are taken into account - is much higher.

There is also increasing evidence of alcohol-related health problems, public disorder and antisocial behaviour caused by drinking. Binge drinking among women and young people has also prompted concerns.

Critics of the Government's public health strategy - who are anxious that the long-awaited national alcohol strategy due to be published this summer will take a more radical approach to the problem - insist there is too much reliance on treatment of alcohol-related problems rather than on alcohol education and preventative measures.

Patsy Calton, the Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, called for the levels of funding for alcohol treatment to be raised to meet the growing problem.

"Alcohol addiction in England is a serious problem which is getting worse," she said. "The Government must be committed to providing effective help to those who drink excessively."

The majority of funding for alcohol treatment is spent by NHS trusts and social service departments and is distributed according to local need. It is therefore difficult to monitor exactly how much is being used and where.

But while deaths linked to alcohol-related diseases are multiplying - latest figures show they have trebled over the past 20 years - and alcohol is cited as a problem in around 40 per cent of cases of family breakdown being dealt with by social services, campaigners and opposition politicians want the Government to take more action and make available more funds.

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