Cheap and easy alcohol fuels 'epidemic'
May 26, 2008
Britain has launched a £6 million ($15 million) campaign to educate the public on how many units of alcohol are in each drink but this will not combat binge drinking as long as alcohol remains cheap and easily available, doctors have warned.
The advertisements, aimed at over 25s, explain that women can reach their recommended daily limit with one glass of wine. Two pints of strong beer would push men over their limit.
More than 500 people a day were admitted to hospitals in England last year after drinking too much, according to official figures.
The campaign is being launched as the World Health Assembly meets in Geneva to discusses a possible global strategy to combat problem drinking.
The number of alcohol-related admissions to National Health Service hospitals in England rose from 193,637 in 2005-06 to 207,788 in 2006-07.
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 4888 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.
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."
The UK Government recommends that women should consume no more than two or three units a day and men no more then three or four.
But doctors expressed concern that although the campaign could make many aware of how much they drank, that would not necessarily encourage them to cut down.
Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist in Southampton General Hospital and one of the founders of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "This is a good initial first step but it is not enough. The evidence shows that you need to do a lot more than just inform people.
"What has been proven to be effective is to hit things like affordability and availability or to personalise the intervention, to have a GP tell his patients that they need to cut back for the sake of their health."