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NHS feeling the burden as binge drinking becomes a British affliction

When the Government published its alcohol strategy in 2004, it concluded that drink was a problem for a “small minority” in Britain. The repeated warnings from health professionals, the statistics on alcohol-related ill health and hospital treatment, and the calculations of cost to the NHS tell a very different story.

The annual number of hospital admissions involving people with an alcohol-related disorder — from drunken injuries to liver disease — stands at more than 860,000, up by 69 per cent since 2003. As shocking, though less documented, is the two-thirds increase in cases involving pensioners.

Mortality from liver disease, regarded as one of the best barometers of the health consequences of drink, shows a fivefold increase in the under-65s in the past 30 years. Every other major cause of death — cancer, heart attacks, stroke or road accidents — has dropped over the same period. More striking still is the decline of cirrhosis rates over the same period in the traditionally high-consuming wine-drinking countries of Southern Europe. In 2004 Britain overtook Spain, Italy and France.

Alcohol trends among females and young teenagers have been particularly marked. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published last year found that the proportion of women who binge-drink rose from 8 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2006. Over the same period, binge drinking among men increased only slightly, from 22 to 23 per cent.

The costs are £2.7 billion a year to the NHS, and, according to a 2007 report by the National Social Market Centre, £55.1 billion when crime and public disorder, damage to families, criminal justice, social services, employers and many factors are added.

Ten million adults drink more than the recommended limit every week. Modern Britain may see itself as a world away from the 18th-century drunkenness of Hogarth’s Gin Lane, but if anything the average high street is more booze-sodden than it has ever been.

source: Times Online

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