Page last updated at 10:02 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Alcohol abuse 'epidemic' warning

Girls drinking beer
Health experts have talked of alcohol becoming an "increasing epidemic"

Alcohol abuse is the "new lung cancer", the medical director of Torbay Hospital has warned.

Dr John Lowes said he is seeing younger and younger patients dying from alcohol-related illness in Devon.

Figures from the health trusts in Devon, Torbay and Plymouth show 642 under-18s have been admitted to hospital in the past three years.

These have solely been for alcohol-related conditions, including liver disease or alcohol poisoning.

In Torbay, more than 40 people under the age of 18 have received treatment for alcohol addiction in the past six months.

Dr John Lowes said: "We shall see an increasing epidemic as we did 20 or 30 years ago with lung cancer and cardiovascular disease with the effects of smoking.

"We're going to see the same with the effects of alcohol on our population with people being admitted for a whole range of alcohol-related harm."

Dr Lowes said not only were the costs to the NHS increasing, but society was paying "a huge price" with the physical and social harm caused by the effects of alcohol abuse.

Stephen Hawker, a Children's Society youth worker, said he believed some young people were "self-medicating" with alcohol to deal with problems in their lives and the issue was more about society.

"It's not about alcohol - it's a much wider issue," Mr Hawker told BBC News.

"If we look at other things which affect young people - teenage pregnancies, mental health issues, young people getting involved in violence - the UK is a very difficult place for young people to grow up."

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