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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 September 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
The binge drinking time bomb
Scott Ellis
Politics Show reporter
BBC West

Young woman drinking
Little thought is given to the dangers on a night out

Acohol kills more people than drugs - so why does it receive half the cash for rehab treatment?

Here's a question - which a consultant on the liver ward at the Bristol Royal Infirmary put to me while I was up there reporting on the effects of binge drinking.

"Could you go two days without a drink?"

In truth - I had to think about it.

And health experts in Bristol wish everyone would consider the facts about drinking a bit more.

After all, illness due to alcohol is costing the National Health Service 1.7 billion a year.

At the Bristol Royal Infirmary, it is costing 2,500 bed days a year.

Change of priorities

Those who work in addiction recovery services go a bit further.

They want the government to reconsider its priorities on drugs and alcohol.

It is estimated that drink kills 22,000 people a year and drugs about 1,300.

Beer barrels
Thousands of litres of beer ready fro the delivery

Yet drug treatment is receiving 500m next year and alcohol will get half that - 217m.

In Bristol, public health experts are making alcohol a higher priority.

But not with new funding.

Instead they have to make savings from elsewhere.

"There is a much bigger problem around alcohol than around drugs," says Barbara Coleman, Assistant Director or Public Health for Bristol.

"Unfortunately that's not reflected in the expenditure. It has to change."

Alcohol specialist

If not, the people entering the liver ward at the Bristol Royal Infirmary will continue to get younger and younger.

The hospital has appointed a new specialist nurse to try and identify patients who have a drink problem but may not realise it.

"It's not just the stereotyped old man sat on a park bench drinking out of a brown paper bag," says nurse Sarah Saleem.

"A lot of people here now are getting younger, they're in relationships, are working, they're professionals having business lunches or a drink after work. All the units add up."

Beer being poured
Realistically, this will simply not stop happening

The worry is that if we do not spend on prevention and treatment now, then the problems will get worse. In a city centre bar the students are as bullet proof as ever.

"When you're young you just don't think about your health. I don't sit at home watching the news, I'm always out," says one. Another: "I just take one day at a time. That's life as a student."

The government has published a strategy for alcohol. But it's priority remains with drug treatment, as drugs are more closely linked to crime.

Professionals and campaigners will put pressure on politicians. They believe the growing death toll from drink will win them round - eventually.

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