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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 14:18 GMT
The deadly toll of alcohol
Person drinking beer
Alcohol can cause liver damage and a range of cancer
Football legend George Best fought alcoholism for decades.

But the 59-year-old was just one of thousands of people who have suffered ill-health because of boozing.

Alcohol is up there as one of the biggest killers in the country. More than 6,500 people die each year in England and Wales because of alcohol though liver disease, cancer and alcohol poisoning.

But the impact of booze reaches much further than that. Another 30,000 deaths are linked to drinking and alcohol is estimated to cost the NHS 3bn.

The World Health Organization has identified it as the third highest risk to health in developed countries behind tobacco and raised blood pressure.

Colin Drummond, professor of addiction psychiatry at St George's Hospital Medical School in south London, said: "Alcohol is a major risk to public health. Smoking causes more deaths, but the number of smokers is on the decrease.

THE TOLL OF ALCOHOL
Deaths - Linked to nearly 40,000 deaths a year, including the direct cause of 6,500, mainly through liver disease
Cost - Estimated to cost the NHS 3bn in hospital services, according to the Royal College of Physicians
Disease - Alcohol can cause liver problems, such as cirrhosis and alcohol hepatitis, as well as a range of cancers, heart disease, stroke and brain disorders
Consumption - Some 8m people are hazardous drinkers - classed as having over the recommended daily limits - while 1.1m are said to be dependent on alcohol

"Drug taking only kills a few hundred in comparison, yet the government spends more on tackling that. Drinking, by comparison, is on the rise and too little is being done to help."

Consumption has been rising since the early 1990s, particularly among teenagers, as the price of drinks has fallen in relative terms.

Alcohol is the single biggest cause of liver disease - responsible for 80% of liver-related hospital admissions.

In the most severe cases, over consumption leads to liver cirrhosis, an irreversible condition which prevents the organ functioning and can lead to complete failure. One in 10 of these cases then go on to develop liver cancer.

Transplant

Alcohol-related liver disease accounts for about 5,000 deaths a year.

One option for people who develop liver problems is to have a liver transplant - as Mr Best did three years ago. One in 10 transplants are carried out because of alcohol abuse.

But alcohol can also help cause many other conditions, including heart disease, strokes, cancers of the breast, mouth and stomach, osteoporosis, brain disorders, such as dementia, and the stomach complaint gastritis.

The public is not aware enough of the damage alcohol can cause
Alcohol Concern spokeswoman

Research has also found that alcohol affects the immune system which some have suggested can have an impact on the progress of HIV.

And that is without counting the problems many people suffer with a hangover such as blurred vision, memory loss and the shakes.

A spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern said: "The public is not aware enough of the damage alcohol can cause.

"Too many people think their drinking is not a problem, but you do not need to be dependent on alcohol for it to cause short and long-term problems."

The charity estimates there are 8m hazardous drinkers - that is to say people who drink more than the recommended daily amounts of alcohol.

For women that is between two and three units - the equivalent of a large glass of wine - and for men between three and four units - a pint-and-a-half of lager.

"We need to address this and quickly," she added.




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