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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Alcohol abuse 'rife and ignored'
Millions are dependent on alcohol
At least six times as many people are dependent on drink than Class A drugs in England and Wales, research has found.

There are three times as many deaths directly from alcohol misuse as drug misuse each year.

The study also shows that every day 13 people die as a direct result of alcohol misuse.

Society cannot afford to continue to neglect alcohol treatment
Lord Victor Adebowale

In total, 3.8 million people are thought to be dependent on alcohol in England and Wales - 3 million men and 800,000 women.

The charity Turning Point, which carried out the study, says the government must give alcohol services a greater priority.

It says alcohol services attract just one sixth of the government funding that drugs services attract - 95m annually compared to 573m committed to drug treatment in 2005/6.

As a result nearly six out of 10 dependent drinkers experienced delays in getting access to treatment for their problems with some having to wait as long as 18 months.

Lord Victor Adebowale, Turning Point chief executive, said there was a desperate need for the government to invest in alcohol services.

"Society cannot afford to continue to neglect alcohol treatment.

"There is an urgent need for the government to give as high a priority to tackling alcohol dependency as it does to addressing drug misuse."

Major burden

There is evidence to show treatment for dependent drinkers is less effective if drinkers are forced to wait long periods.

Alcohol use is estimated to cost the NHS 3bn a year. Turning Point argues that better treatment would cut the cost, not just to the NHS, but also to the criminal justice system.

Dependent drinkers are eight times more likely than non-dependent drinkers to appear in court.

Official figures show that 44% of domestic violence victims in 2000 said their attacker was under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol abuse is also thought to be a major cause in about 3% of new cancers in England - more than 8,000 cases a year.

Alcohol dependency
Average length of dependency is 14 years
Many dependent drinkers took years to recognise they had a problem
It is commonplace for dependent drinkers to drink at least the equivalent of a bottle of spirits a day
One dependent drinker said he had been drinking up to 3-4 litres of vodka a day
Half of dependent drinkers said they had a mental health problem
And indirectly, alcohol plays some role in around 40,000 deaths annually.

It also increases the risk of dying from illnesses such as strokes, cirrhosis of the liver and damage to the brain and nervous system.

Lord Adebowale said it was vital that nobody who was hooked on alcohol should have to wait up to 18 months for treatment.

The charity says no patient should have to wait more than two weeks for an assessment, two weeks for in-patient detoxification and three weeks for all other forms of treatment - in line with government targets for drug services.

Dr David Ball, of the charity Action on Addiction, backed the call for more funding.

He said: "Alcohol can cause many problems, including crime, violence and anti-social behaviour, accidents and long term illness.

"The lives of families and friends of problem drinkers are also affected. Binge drinking is on the increase, especially among young women, and alcohol is implicated in many teenage pregnancies."

Ministers are to publish a National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy soon.

The BBC's Gill Higgins
"Treating drinking problems is very effective"

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