A new report from the NHS shows that alcohol-related admissions to hospitals in England have more than doubled since the mid 1990s from 93,500 in 1995/6 to 207,800 in 2006/7.

The report, titled “Statistics on Alcohol: England 2008”, produced by the NHS Information Centre, also shows that GP prescriptions for alcohol dependency have gone up by 20 per cent in the last four years.

The figures cover hospital admissions where alcohol is the main reason, for instance in liver disease, and also where alcohol is the contributory but not the main reason for the admission, for instance as in injuries caused by drunkenness.

Deaths linked to alcohol have also risen substantially to 6,500 in 2006, representing a 19 per cent climb from 2001.

NHS Information Centre chief executive, Tim Straughan said that alcohol was increasing the burden on the NHS.

In 2006, a survey showed that 72 per cent of men and 57 of women said they had drunk alcohol on at least one day in the previous week, and 12 per cent of men and 7 per cent of women said they had consumed it every day of the previous week.

Over 30 per cent of men also admitted regularly drinking more than the government’s recommended 21 units a week and 20 per cent of women said they drank more than the recommended 14 units a week.

What is particularly worrying is the trend toward younger heavy drinkers in the report, which for 2006/7 showed that nearly 1 in 10 of the admissions due directly to alcohol were for youngsters under 18 years of age.

In contrast to this however, it appears that fewer young teenagers are drinking alcohol. The report shows the results of a survey of 8,000 schoolchildren aged 11 to 15, of which 45 per cent said in 2006 that they had never had an alcoholic drink, which compares with only 39 per cent who said this 2001.

However, those who said they did drink, are drinking more than those who admitted it in the past. The average drinking teenager now consumes an average of 11.4 units a week, the highest recorded since the report started in the mid 90s. And nearly one third of 15 year olds said it was OK to get drunk once a week.

A liver specialist at Kings College Hospital, Dr Varuna Aluvihare, told the BBC:

“These rises paint a worrying picture about the relationship between the population and the bottle.”

He said his hospital was seeing more and more younger people drinking sometimes huge amounts of alcohol.

“We are seeing people in their 20s and 30s. When I started practising, we saw people in their 50s,” said Aluvihare.

Perhaps one reason for these worrying trends is that alcohol is considerably more affordable now than it was 25 years ago. The NHS Information Centre estimates that it was nearly 70 per cent more affordable in 2007 than it was in 1980.

The region with the lowest alcohol-related admissions was the east of England, with 72 per 100,000, while the region with the highest was the north west, with over twice as many at 170 per 100,000 hospital admissions being alcohol related.

The report follows the launch of a new government campaign to highlight how many units of alcohol are in a pint of beer and a glass of wine, because it’s likely many people don’t know they could be drinking more than they realize.

But, as the Telegraph reports, many experts suggest awareness campaigns don’t work and raising prices was a more effective way to reduce the growing numbers of people who are developing liver disease, which is starting to affect younger people.

The NHS Information Centre report shows that cases of alcohol-related liver disease have trebled in the 12 years leading up to 2006/7, to reach over 43,500.

The Telegraph also reported chief executive of the British Liver Trust, Alison Rogers, saying that the government’s measures to curb the trend aren’t working and that the problem was:

“Set to hit England hard over the following years because liver disease can take up to 10 years to develop.”

Click here to download the report “Statistics on Alcohol: England 2008” from the NHS Information Centre (registration required).

Sources: BBC, Telegraph, NHS Information Centre.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD