Record numbers are treated in hospital for alcohol problems

Almost 5,000 young people under 18, received emergency treatment for alcohol abuse last year as hospitals admitted record numbers of patients with drink-related problems.

Alarm over levels of binge drinking were reinforced by figures showing twice as many people were suffering mental illness caused by alcohol or liver damage than a decade ago.

As the National Health Service warned that it faced an "increasing burden" from the effects of alcohol, the Government faced calls to take fresh action against problem drinking.

The number of alcohol-related admissions to NHS hospitals in England rose from 193,637 in 2005-06 to 207,788 in 2006-07, an increase of 7 per cent in just one year. Last year's total was more than double the 93,459 figure for 1995-96, according to the report from the NHS Information Centre for health and social care. More than two-thirds of patients were male and 4,888 of them were under the age of 18.

A total of 57,142 people were admitted with a condition primarily caused by drink. The largest group of 40,872 was suffering mental and behavioural disorders, including acute intoxication. There were 14,668 cases of alcoholic liver disease.

Doctors also prescribed 112,267 prescription items for drugs for treating dependency on drink in 2007, an increase of 20 per cent in four years. The report found that 69 per cent of people were aware there were guidelines on alcohol consumption, but 40 per cent of them did not know what they were.

Professor Ian Gilmore, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the "epidemic" was being driven by the cut-price alcohol on sale in supermarkets and off-licences.

He said: "We are drinking more as a nation year on year and we are seeing the health damage from that. It is costing the NHS literally billions of pounds of precious resources. It is not just those that are drunk rolling into A and E. We are talking about patients with complex liver disease, where cirrhosis deaths have doubled over the same period of time." He told Radio 4's PM programme: "It's not just a trend, it's a tsunami."

Tim Straughan, the chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: "These rises paint a worrying picture about the relationship between the population and the bottle."

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: "[These figures] confirm everything we have heard from the frontline staff who deal with the after effects of heavy drinking." He said he was worried by the public ignorance over recommended limits and called on ministers to "shape a response to tackle the problem".

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