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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 12:53 GMT
Jump in alcoholic liver disease
Alcohol can seriously damage the liver
The number of people admitted to hospital in England with alcoholic liver disease has more than doubled in just 13 years, figures show.

Between 1989 and 2003 admissions for the disease increased by 116% in men and 108% in women.

The figures, from London's St George's Hospital and the Office for National Statistics, were presented at a British Society of Gastroenterology meeting.

They underline just how much of a drain alcohol abuse is on NHS resources.

We are unmasking an iceberg effect where we are storing up enormous problems for the NHS in the future
Dr Elwyn Elias
The figures show that there was a rise in admissions in people of all ages - including young adults.

In the year 2002/03, the admission rate for alcoholic liver disease was 42.4 per 100,000 men, and 27.6 per 100,000 women.

Many health campaigners have voiced concern that changes to licensing laws, allowing more pubs and clubs to stay open for longer, could lead to increases in alcohol-related illness and public disorder in the UK.

Lead researcher Dr Mark Fullard said that with hospitals already struggling to cope with demand, the rising number of cases of alcoholic liver damage was a potentially huge problem.

"The research findings highlight an important problem in public education and health planning and how we are going to manage alcohol related problems in this country.

"If it doubles again, it is going to have tremendous implications for the future burden of care in hospitals."

Andrew Watson
Andrew Watson needed a liver transplant
The actual number of women admitted with alcoholic liver problems is about half that of men - but the rate of increase in cases is similar.

The diseases included in the study range from mild alcoholic hepatitis - mild inflammation of the liver - through to very severe cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Dr Fullard said: "If you are young and have alcoholic liver disease and carry on drinking, then you will get severe alcoholic liver disease."

Dr Elwyn Elias, of the British Society of Gastroenterology, said: "It is very important that we are flagging this up at a time when the consumption of alcohol in this country is continuing to increase.

"I think we are unmasking an iceberg effect where we are storing up enormous problems for the NHS in the future."

Transplant surgery

Andrew Watson wrecked his liver through drinking to the point where he needed transplant surgery.

He now has to take medication every day.

But he admits he never thought that his alcohol consumption was a problem.

"Others drunk a hell of a lot more, and they are still drinking to this day, and it's frightening."

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said the figures reflected those collected by her organisation.

"The sad thing is that we are seeing the effect of drinking too much younger people.

"Alcoholic liver damage takes 10-20 years to develop, so in the past we did not tend to see the effects in people until they were in their fifties or sixties.

"But now we are starting to see it in people who are in their forties who are in a really bad state, and are candidates for a liver transplant."

Ms Rogers said the upsurge in cases was a reflection of a change in dinking culture in the UK.

She said society needed a radical rethink in its attitude towards alcohol.

And she warned that liberalisation of the licensing laws was "probably more trouble than it was worth".

However, she said: "There are no easy answers."

Life on medication for man with liver wrecked by drink

Alcohol 'as harmful as smoking'
04 Feb 05 |  Health
Female binge drinkers' health warning
22 Sep 03 |  South Yorkshire

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