One in ten patients in NHS hospitals is alcohol dependent, Kings College study finds

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One in ten people in NHS hospitals is alcohol dependent, according to a major study which calls for all patients to be quizzed on their drinking habits.

The study of more than 1.6 million admissions found that one in five people admitted for any reason was drinking at harmful levels.

And one in ten was classed as being dependent on alcohol, the research by Kings College London found.

Researchers called for checks on all patients admitted to hospital – whatever the reason.

Alcohol related conditions have previously been estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5bn pounds a year.

But experts said the findings suggest Britain’s alcohol problem is far greater than had been assumed.

Lead researcher Dr Emmert Roberts, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “The numbers are so massive that it shows that everybody in hospital should be being screened about their alcohol use.

“If you only ask people about the drinking when the signs are obvious, such as alcohol on the breath, or conditions that are most closely associated with alcohol, you are missing a vast swathe of people.”

The research pooled the results of 124 studies covering 1,657,614 participants in NHS hospitals.

The findings suggest that harmful alcohol use is ten times higher in hospital inpatients than in the wider population.

Earlier this year, health officials announced plans to pilot screening systems in 50 hospitals, to quiz patients on their drinking habits.  It came as guidance urged the public not to let their lifestyles “place extra demands” on the NHS.

The checks will see hospital patients quizzed on their intake, with those thought to be drinking too much given advice sessions lasting 20 to 40 minutes, with personalised feedback about their level of risk, tips about how to cut down, and referrals for those in need of urgent help.

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said the numbers were “shocking”.

“What we must recognise is that there are more people with alcohol problems in the UK than most of us realise,” he said, calling for minimum unit pricing and restrictions on alcohol marketing.

“We must wake up to the unacceptable levels of suffering that alcohol is causing our society,” he said.

Earlier this year global research suggested British people are the most likely to get drunk regularly.

Britons reported getting drunk an average of 51.1 times in a 12-month period – almost once a week – according to the latest results from the Global Drug Survey.

Last year a study in the Lancet found that the UK is almost unique, in the fact that on average, women are drinking the same amount as men.

The study, led by the University of Washington, shows that on average women in the UK are now consuming three alcoholic drinks daily – exactly the same as men.

Experts said a steady growth in wine drinking since the 1980s, and the marketing of “female-friendly” drinks such as cocktails, had driven the trend.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Alcohol dependence can devastate families with the NHS often left to pick up the pieces, yet the right support can save lives.

“The NHS Long Term Plan will expand specialist alcohol care teams in hospitals across the country to tackle problem drinking and prevent 50,000 admissions over the next five years.”

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