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10% of NHS hospital patients alcohol dependent, study finds

According to a new study by researchers at King’s College London, one out of ten patients in NHS hospitals is alcohol dependent. The study was published on 3 July in the journal Addiction. It is the first study to quantify the huge burden that Britain’s drinking culture places on the NHS. The researchers pulled together the findings of 124 earlier studies, which involved 1.6 million people admitted to NHS hospitals. The study showed that 20% of the people used alcohol in a harmful way, such as binge drinking, while 10% were alcohol dependent.

Experts say that the cuts in alcohol abuse treatment services in the community and the NHS have caused the health service to struggle to cope with the large numbers of people who end up in mental health or A&E units because of their heavy drinking habits. The NHS estimates that the annual cost of providing treatment services is £3.5bn.

“The numbers are so massive that it shows that everybody in hospital should be being screened about their alcohol use,” said lead researcher, Dr Emmert Roberts, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London. “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 study’s findings also showed that harmful alcohol use by hospital inpatients is ten times higher than in the general population.

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