Professor Roger Williams: Health consequences are too serious to be ignored

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People who drink their youth away as teenagers are coming to clinics like mine by the time they are in their late twenties and early thirties. I am seeing young people suffering from jaundice and hepatitis from alcohol abuse. Some have to be admitted to hospital for treatment to damaged livers.

George Best used to say to me how awful it was to see young people drinking. He was concerned that teenagers were drinking and having their lives affected as a result. We need more alcohol treatment facilities in this country and a greater awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking.

Too many people still don't believe that they are running a risk. It is not just the liver that can be damaged by alcohol. This is a drug that is also toxic to the brain, pancreas and reproductive organs. It can lead to diabetes through alcohol-induced weight gain.

Many young people say that they drink and feel perfectly fine, but they need to realise that the damage done by drinking is progressive. The number of under-18s admitted to hospital has gone up 15 per cent in the past decade. Deaths from cirrhosis are rising in younger age groups, with people in their twenties and thirties now being treated for liver failure.

Young women are tending to drink the equivalent amount of alcohol as men but are more vulnerable to its effects. They are drinking heavily and we are seeing more young women in our clinic now than men.

The Government needs to take a tough line with the drinks industry, raise taxation on alcohol and increase the legal age at which people can drink from 18 to 21. Alcohol should be subject to the same restrictions on advertising and promotion as cigarettes.

Drinking is just as deadly as smoking. Alcohol is too cheap and too widely available. It should be seen as a luxury, not something teenagers can buy with their pocket money.

A failure to curb the amount that some young people are drinking will almost certainly result in more alcohol-related illnesses and deaths in the years ahead. This is a problem that needs to be faced up to. The health consequences are simply too serious to be ignored.

Professor Roger Williams is director of the Institute of Hepatology, University College London, and was physician to the late George Best

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