New NHS figures have revealed a surge in numbers of middle-aged patients admitted to A&E because of drug or alcohol.
More than half a million people have been hospitalised in the past three years because of drink or illicit substances.
Of those, 60,738 were aged 40 to 44 and another 60,083 were 45 to 49 – more than 20 per cent of the total.
Almost one in five people in their 40s admitted to hospital for any reason in 2012-13 were classed by the NHS as "emergency admissions due to a known drug/alcohol issue", according to figures published in the annual "Dr Foster Hospital Guide".
The statistics have prompted warnings that a generation of the early middle-aged are risking cancer and other potentially fatal health problems as a result of addiction.
Dr Martin McShane, NHS England's director for patients with long-term conditions, said the rate of admissions and high number of forty-somethings represented a "deeply worrying trend that we should all take heed of”.
He told the Guardian: “The figures clearly reflect what we see coming through the doors of our GP services and hospitals. It is so important people think about their alcohol intake – not just during the runup to Christmas but at all times of the year.”
Of the drug and alcohol admissions, 8.6 per cent were from the wealthiest 20 per cent of the population and another 11.6 per cent were from the next most well-off 20 per cent. However, the poorest were disproportionately represented, with 36 per cent coming from the most deprived income group.
"It is vital that we take more action to tackle the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on the UK's population and the NHS," a spokesman for the British Medical Association told the newspaper. "This is a problem that affects large numbers of people across all age groups and as a result places serious strain on a number of already overstretched NHS services.
It is estimated that treating patients with health problems related to alcohol and drugs cost the NHS £607m a year.
Matt Tee, chief operating officer of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals across the country, told the Guardian: "Today's news puts this myth firmly back in its place and makes it even more important that as a society we seriously examine the impact our drinking habits have on our health – and on our health service."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "There must also be more focus on prevention, not just treatment, for those with existing problems.”Reuse content