The number of hospital admissions for alcohol-related liver disease in people under 30 has risen dramatically in the last decade, according to figures from Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.
There was a 117 per cent increase in admissions for under 30s in England between 2002 and 2012, with 115 people under the age of 30 admitted to hospital last year compared to just 23 in 2002/03. The North East, however, saw an increase of 400 per cent over the same period.
The total number of admissions across all ages rose from 25,706 in 2002/03 to 49,456 in 2011/12 – an increase of 92 per cent. Admissions for women have increased by 91 per cent in England, rising to 114 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said the figures were ‘terrifying’, showing an increase in alcohol-related liver disease ‘across both sexes, in every age group, in every region of the country. It’s particularly sad to see the number of young people with this awful disease more than doubling. We have to start taking this seriously – if this was any other illness immediate action would be taken to halt this, so we call on the Department of Health to outline what action it intends to take.’
There have also been steep rises in hospital admissions for alcohol-related cancers, as well as in admissions for over-60s with alcohol-related mental health problems.
The number of over-60s requiring hospital admission for alcohol-related mental health issues rose by 150 per cent in the decade to 2012, according to research by Dr Tony Rao, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Admissions in people aged 60-74 for mental and behavioural disorders related to alcohol rose from 3,247 to 8,120, and there was also a 140 per cent increase in the number admitted for Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome, a form of alcohol-related brain damage.
‘More people are waking up to the devastating impact alcohol can have on their liver but we rarely talk about the mental health problems it causes,’ said Dr Rao. ‘Increasing numbers of older people are living with alcohol-related dementia, anxiety and depression – and it’s their loved ones, carers and the rest of society who are left picking up the pieces.’
Meanwhile, hospital admissions for alcohol-related cancer have increased by 28 per cent in eight years, according to a report from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA). Admissions rose from 29,400 in 2002/03 to 37,600 in 2010/11, says AHA, and although alcohol can cause cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, pharynx, bowel, breast and liver, four out of ten people are still unaware that it is a risk factor.
‘There’s strong scientific evidence that alcohol increases the risk of a range of different cancers, but this still comes as a surprise to many drinkers,’ said Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, Sarah Woolnough. ‘It’s not just heavier drinkers who are at risk – the more you can cut down on alcohol, the better.’
AHA is among the organisations urging the government to stand firm on its commitment to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, following indications that it may abandon the idea. ‘The only opposing force that has emerged against MUP [minimum unit pricing] in recent times has been a high profile, well-funded campaign led by the global alcohol producers,’ said AHA chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘This is a group with a clear interest in prioritising profits over public health.’
However, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people reporting that they drank heavily – categorised as drinking on five or more days a week – fell in the five years to 2011, but the report cautions that surveys record lower levels of consumption than could be expected from alcohol sales data and that ‘obtaining reliable information about drinking behaviour is difficult.’
• Liver disease figures at www.balancenortheast.co.uk
• Trends in alcohol related admissions for older people with mental health problems: 2002 to 2012 at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
• Alcohol and cancer at www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/alcohol-health-alliance-uk
• Drinking (general lifestyle survey overview – a report on the 2011 general lifestyle survey) at www.ons.gov.uk