By JAMES SLACK, Daily Mail 15:48pm 4th August 2006
Experts today warned Britain's 'addiction to alcohol' is swamping hospitals, reducing life expectancy and fuelling violent brawls.
The report by the Centre for Public Health is the most devastating account yet of how alcohol is destroying the nation's fabric.
Academics said the country had gone from 'enjoying a harmless tipple' to a 'dangerous alcohol addiction.'
The Government must either change its policies or 'reap the toll of mental and physical wreckage', they warned.
Ministers are accused of allowing the ready availability of cheap alcohol, a night-time economy overwhelmed with bars and clubs and a failure to deliver a 'credible drinking message'.
The report lays bare for the first time the impact of alcohol on hospital admissions, violent attacks and life expectancy across the country.
The average loss of life due to drinking is a shocking ten months for and five months for women, on average. In Blackpool, men can expect to lose almost 23 months, and women 13 months.
Around 217,900 men and 147,000 women in England were admitted to hospital as a result of alcohol, placing huge pressure on the already stretched NHS.
And there are 367,000 violent attacks directly attributable to drinking every year. Most take place in city centres, which are becoming marred by vicious brawls.
In some parts of the country, almost three in ten people admit binge drinking in the last week.
The findings will place enormous pressure on Ministers - already under fire for introducing 24-hour opening - to end irresponsible drink promotions and force up alcohol prices.
At present, they have nothing more than voluntary agreements with multi-billion pound pub chains and brewers which do not appear to be working.
Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health said: 'These profiles graphically illustrate the growing costs of cheap alcohol, a night-time economy almost exclusively packed with bars and clubs, and a failure to deliver a credible drinking message to both youths and adults.
'We hope that making these statistics widely available will highlight that we are no longer a nation enjoying a harmless tipple but increasingly one developing a dangerous alcohol addiction.'
Karen Tocque, Director of Science and Strategy at the North West Public Health Observatory, which co-authored the study, said 'It is a shocking revelation that in some areas men, on average, can expect to lose over one and a half years of life because of the effects of alcohol consumption.
'Loss of life due to alcohol related conditions is just the tip of the iceberg - beneath this are often many years of illness and anti-social behaviour.'
Professor John Ashton, North West Regional Director of Public Health said: 'Too often health priorities seem to be determined retrospectively like a car driver looking in the rear view mirror.
'We have made significant progress in reducing the toll of death and disease from heart disease and cancer in recent years, meanwhile alcohol is racing ahead as one of the biggest threats to public health not least in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.
'Fears of being accused of being part of the nanny state have intimidated governments from tackling head on the manufacturers of cheap alcohol in the same way that they would if this was any other kind of drug.
'We can stand by and reap the toll of mental and physical wreckage or decide as a society that enough is enough and so solicit a willingness to roll back the tide of alcohol that is washing over us.'
The study shows huge variations in the country's alcohol addictions, with the most deprived of the 354 local authority areas worst hit.
Across all of England, 18.2 per cent of adults binge drink at least double the daily recommended level in one or more sessions a week.
But the biggest binge drinkers lived in the North East and North West (23 per cent of adults) compared to those in the South East, South West and East of England (less than 16 per cent).
In Newcastle, Liverpool and Durham, more than 27 per cent of adults said they binge drink.
For hospital admissions, those in the North East and North West proved the biggest burden - with 1,100 men and 610 women admitted per 100,000 population. This compared to less than 700 men and 400 women per 100,000 in the South East.
Areas such as Liverpool, Manchester and Middlesborough had around 70 per cent more admissions than England as a whole, with more than 1,400 men admitted per 100,000 people. Across England, rates stand at 826 men and 462 women per 100,000.
The City of Westminster, Islington in north London and Leicester all saw an alarming 14 to 15 violent crimes related to alcohol per 1,000 people.
In comparison, there were fewer than six attacks per 1,000 people in the East of England. In East Dorset and South Cambridgeshire the figure dropped to less than two violent offences per 1,000 population.
The figures do not even cover the period after Labour introduced round-the-clock opening, in November last year. Experts believe this will have made the problem even worse.
Prof Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians alcohol committee, said licensing reforms had made alcohol available 24-hours-a-day from petrol stations, shops and supermarkets.
'In real terms, alcohol has never been cheaper or ever been more available since licensing was brought in after the First World War.'
He added that, while he supported the Government's alcohol reduction strategy, it must now be prepared to go further.
Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: 'This alarming research shows why it was wrong of the Government to unleash 24-hour drinking on all our towns and cities, without a proper assessment of the consequences.
'Yet again the public are put at risk by the irresponsible actions of this Government.'
The Government's solutions to date, apart from 24-hour drinking which Ministers claim will make people behave more responsibly, have been education campaigns. They are considering placing cigarette packet-style health warnings on drinks.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: 'We are working hard to raise awareness about alcohol misuse and ensure that treatment is available to those who need it.
"The first-ever national needs assessment concerning alcohol problems has just been completed and we are getting more people into treatment.
'We already spend an estimated £217 million a year on alcohol treatment and treat an estimated 63,000 people in specialist alcohol treatment services - with even more getting support from their GPs.
'An additional £15 million has been committed for 2007/08 to improve interventions for alcohol misuse.
'In addition, we are working with the drinks industry, police and health professionals to increase awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking and make sensible drinking messages easier to understand.
'Later this year we will be launching a joint campaign with the Home Office to promote sensible drinking.'