But now experts are warning that thousands of people are becoming hooked on alcohol as a form of "self-medication" instead of seeking professional help for their problems. A report published this Tuesday by the Mental Health Foundation is expected to say there is a direct link between the fact that alcohol use has more than doubled over the past 50 years and the rise in anxiety, anti-social behaviour and addictive behaviour.

They blame ministers for failing to do enough to highlight the impact drink has on mental well-being and are calling on the Government to issue new guidance stressing the dangers of using drink as a pick-me-up and to mask deep-rooted insecurities about relationships or work.

This comes as ministers plan new health warnings that will be carried on drink cans, bottles of alcohol and beer mats in an effort to curb the nation's escalating binge-drinking habit. An official announcement will be made later this year but among the safe-drinking messages being discussed between the Department of Health and the drinks industry is "Don't do drunk".

Alcohol abuse costs the country as much as £20bn a year, a large proportion of which is borne by the NHS. Of particular concern is the rise in the number of women and younger drinkers. Recent figures published by the Government have shown that 20 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women binge drink, consuming more than eight units for a man and six units for a woman, at least once a week. Campaigners have lobbied for more money to be spent on sensible drinking messages and education about safe drinking levels.

The Government has already published an alcohol strategy to curb binge drinking, which has focused on the health dangers such as liver disease.

But the Mental Health Foundation report will say that this places too much emphasis on the medical risks and not enough on how alcohol can alter the brain chemistry and lead to increasing vulnerability to depression and anxiety.

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