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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 11:37 GMT
Alcohol abuse 'becoming epidemic'
Man drinking pint
The group hopes to find solutions to Scotland's drink culture
The "epidemic" of alcohol abuse is one of Scotland's greatest public health challenges, according to experts.

The warning came at the launch of the new Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) group to consider measures to stop excess drinking.

Latest figures show that one in four men and one in 10 women are putting their health at risk through drinking.

Health Minister Andy Kerr said he was aware of the problem of alcohol and a strategy was in place to tackle it.

SHAAP has warned that "radical measures", such as increasing the tax on alcohol, may have to be brought in.

Figures also show that hospital admissions relating to alcohol are soaring and one in 30 deaths are alcohol-related.

Alcohol misuse has now reached epidemic proportions in Scotland and forms one of the greatest public health challenges of our time
Dr Bruce Ritson
SHAAP chairman

There are also concerns that health problems relating to drinking are becoming more common among young people.

Mr Kerr said he wanted to build upon what the health professionals in Scotland were already doing to identify and tackle alcohol-related issues.

He added: "At the end of the day social drinking and drinking in moderation is not the issue.

"What we have here is a problem around Scotland, and I have to say it's not just about kids binge drinking, it is about the company executive having a couple of gins when they get home and then it's a glass of wine at dinner.

Wider awareness

"As a nation we have a very strange attitude towards alcohol.

"I do believe we need to be radical, but we must do it on an informed basis and take people with us."

The financial cost has been estimated at more than 1bn a year.

SHAAP, which was set up by the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges and funded by the Scottish Executive, aims to promote wider awareness and understanding of the problems and identify solutions.

It will look at the possibility of more screening by GPs and hospitals, random breath testing and lowering legal limits for drink-driving.

It will also examine the effect on unborn babies and the impact of alcohol taxation and sponsorship.

Drink campaign
Health campaigns have highlighted the dangers of drinking

SHAAP's chairman, Dr Bruce Ritson, said: "Alcohol misuse has now reached epidemic proportions in Scotland and forms one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.

"In recent years, rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions, liver failure and premature deaths in Scotland have increased dramatically and excessive alcohol consumption has all too often been perceived to be nothing more than harmless over-indulgence, rather than being recognised for its harmful effects on health."

The group will gather and review all the evidence on alcohol-related health problems and try to influence policy, clinical practice and public behaviour.

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "We hope that SHAAP can influence policy, clinical practice and public behaviour to start reversing the trend, and ensure far fewer people's lives are damaged by or lost to alcohol."

Professor Neil Douglas, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, claimed alcohol misuse in Scotland had reached crisis point.

"Excessive drinking has increasingly become the norm. It is now our national shame," he said.

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