Doctors warn of increase in alcohol-related health problems

Tuesday 23 April 2013 22.13
Clinicians are seeing a 'catastrophic wave' of diseases related to alcohol
Clinicians are seeing a 'catastrophic wave' of diseases related to alcohol

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of young people hospitalised for liver disease and dying from alcohol-related conditions, a group of leading doctors has warned.

Professor Frank Murray, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Alcohol, has said that more and more young people were now presenting for treatment.

"There's been an approximate doubling in the number of young and middle-aged people admitted to hospital with alcohol-related problems in the last 15 years. The pattern of those problems has changed.

"Previously it was a disease of mainly men and mainly older people, but now the gender balance is almost one to one, and you see far younger people presenting with problems related to alcohol.

"About one in 25 deaths in Ireland, which is a huge number, is related to alcohol."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Prof Murray said that clinicians were seeing a "catastrophic wave" of diseases related to alcohol.

Prof Murray urged the Government to be as "radical as it can" in relation to its policy on alcohol and substance abuse.

He said, like the smoking ban, there was a great chance to do something that would be of a health benefit to the population at large.

He said there should be minimum unit pricing for alcohol, to increase the price of cheap drink.

"There's lots of good evidence from elsewhere that when minimum unit pricing is introduced, the people who will benefit most are the problem drinkers because those people tend to drink cheap alcohol."

He also said there should be a reduction in the number of outlets selling alcohol, including supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations.

"There's no argument for garages selling alcohol," he insisted.

The Royal College of Physicians has said that more people under 40 are dying from liver disease than ever before.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Edition, Dr Stephen Stewart from the Centre for Liver Disease at the Mater Hospital said there are more patients drinking heavily even though national consumption levels have fallen.

Dr Stewart said there are a number of factors behind the increase in the cases of liver disease, including the affordability and availability of alcohol, and advertising aimed at younger people.

He said: "There is good evidence that young people exposed to advertising, particularly around sport, drink younger and drink more heavily in their younger years.

"That is one of the reasons why we are seeing these problems and certainly it's worthwhile tackling those issues. We have to if we are going to make a change to what we are seeing."