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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2003, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Binge drinking costing billions
Drink
Ministers will publish a strategy to tackle alcohol problems next year
Britain's binge drinking culture is costing the country 20 billion a year, according to a government report.

The study by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit shows 17 million working days are lost to hangovers and drink-related illness each year.

The annual cost to employers is estimated to be 6.4 billion while the cost to the NHS is in the region of 1.7bn.

Billions more are spent clearing up alcohol-related crime and social problems.

In addition, alcohol-related problems are responsible for 22,000 premature deaths each year.

THE UK'S ALCOHOL PROBLEM
The scale and cost of drinking in the UK

However, the authors of the report said that even these figures may be a conservative estimate.

They found that there are 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-related violence a year.

Around 40% of A&E admissions are alcohol-related. Between midnight and 5am that figure rises to 70%.

Alcohol-related accidents and illnesses land around 150,000 people in hospital each year.

Up to 1.3 million children are affected by parents with drink problems, the report said.

They are also more likely to have problems later in life themselves.

Binge-drinking

It shows that one in three men and one in five women fail to drink sensibly.
Recommended alcohol limits
Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week
Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week
One unit of alcohol is half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine
Binge drinking is classed as consuming more than 10 units of alcohol in a single session for men and seven units for women

In addition, youngsters are starting to binge-drink at an earlier age.

The binge-drinking period that was once confined to the late teens now often runs from 16 to 24, it said.

Ministers are planning to publish a strategy to tackle binge-drinking and other alcohol-related problems next year.

Home Office Minister Hazel Blears said changes to pub opening hours would also help.

She said the licensing bill would help tackle the problem by removing a single closing time and reducing disorder in town centres.

She said there would also be a drive to give more information to young people about the risks of drinking too much.

Ms Blears told Radio 4's Today programme: "Young people will say to you 'We have a lot of education about drugs, but not enough information about alcohol.'

Who's up for a drink?
Over 90% of British adults drink alcohol
One in three men drink more than they should
One in five women drink more than they should
Teenagers are drinking earlier and more heavily than ever before
Young, white, unemployed men are more likely to abuse alcohol
Women in skilled jobs drink more heavily than other women

"Information means they can make choices, so I think education and prevention is going to be a big part of our policy."

Lord Adebowale, chief executive of charity Turning Point, called for more money to be spent on alcohol treatment, education and social care.

"We are talking about families dissolving in a sea of alcohol," he told the BBC.

Lack of money

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said the government would have to increase spending on alcohol services from 100m to 300m.

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said: "More money should be invested in alcohol services, as they are seriously under funded at the moment."

Britain's big hangover
Britons spend 30bn on alcohol each year
The government raises 7bn through taxes on alcohol
Alcohol costs 6.4bn in lost productivity
The NHS spends 1.7bn treating alcohol-related illnesses
Alcohol-related crime costs 7.3bn
Another 4.7bn is spent on the human and emotional costs of alcohol-related crime
Some 22,000 people die prematurely each year because of alcohol misuse

Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians, urged ministers to act on the report's findings.

"It's crucial that the government follows up this report urgently with strong recommendations to tackle the problem, including labelling of alcohol content and health warnings on drinks."

Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "Alcohol misuse needs tackling and treating.

"We also need to get to the root causes of what motivates a significant number of people who think it is acceptable to go out on a Friday or Saturday night, drink to excess and indulge in anti-social behaviour."

Jean Coussins, chief executive of The Portman Group - the industry back organisation that promotes sensible drinking, also called for action.

"The government should develop mass media campaigns to curb excessive drinking, funded at the same level as its drink-drive campaigns over the years."

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said: "The government has been far too complacent about the problem of alcohol abuse - particularly among young people."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The report says there is an increasing culture of intoxication"



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