Middle-aged drinkers are a drain on the NHS
The cost of alcohol abuse in Devon and Cornwall has been laid bare by new figures which reveal the price tag for treatment exceeded £100m in one year which claimed 526 lives to excess drinking.
According to a hard-hitting new study by the charity Alcohol Concern, in the two counties there were 318,000 admissions to hospital in 2010/11 caused by alcohol.
The organisation said that, across the larger South West region, the cost of treating alcohol problems for middle-aged people was almost 14 times higher than the bill for treating teenagers and young adults.
Westcountry health bosses said they were working hard to educate people.
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Felicity Owen, director of public health in Cornwall, said health impacts of consistently drinking above recommended healthy levels may not show for many years.
"These figures from Alcohol Concern are a timely reminder of the issues of unhealthy drinking for people of all ages," she said.
"It may seem fine at the time, but it can lead to multiple health issues either immediately or in later life, as we are now seeing in the older generations."
Devon's director of public health, Dr Virginia Pearson, said that in recent years numbers admitted to hospital in the county were not increasing, but people still drank too much.
She added that NHS Devon, the primary care trust, had invested significant amounts in alcohol services to support people with alcohol-related conditions.
"The easiest way to reduce the risks of alcohol-induced liver disease is to follow the recommended guidelines," she said.
"These are that men consume no more than 21 units a week, with no more than four units a day, and women consume no more than 14 units a week, with no more than three units a day.
"It is also recommended that for two days a week no alcohol is consumed.
"While the number of people who are admitted to hospitals in Devon for alcohol-related conditions is not increasing and is comparatively lower than the national and regional average, we recognise some people are drinking too much."
Alcohol Concern believes that people across the Westcountry are drinking to a level which increases the risk to their health. In Cornwall and Plymouth the charity says 23 per cent are in this category, in Torbay, 25 per cent, in the remainder of Devon it is 30 per cent, while on the Isles of Scilly it is 33 per cent.
According to the organisation, in Cornwall in 2010/11, there were 93,497 alcohol- related hospital admissions and on the Isles of Scilly there were 427 hospital admissions.
In Devon, the figure was 152,289, in Torbay, 31,556 and in Plymouth, 40,644.
Alcohol-related admissions in Cornwall cost £31.4m in 2010/11, equating to £71 per adult. In Devon, the cost was £47.6m the same year, or £76 per adult, while in Plymouth it was £17.2m or £80 per adult and Torbay it was £10.4m, equal to £93 per adult.
The study published shows that the age group drinking most and most likely to be admitted to hospital for alcohol-related problems was 55-74-year-olds.
Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said £2 billion was the cost of hospital admissions across England, either partly or wholly as a result of excess drinking.
"It is the common perception that young people are responsible for the increasing cost of alcohol misuse, but our findings show that in reality this is not the case.
"It is the middle-aged, and often middle-class drinker, regularly drinking above recommended limits, who are actually requiring complex and expensive NHS care.
"There needs to be more investment in local alcohol care pathways and services by local authorities for this group, to prevent them from ending up as an in-patient."