A ‘national epidemic’ of alcohol problems is not being tackled due to massive cuts to rehabilitation services, researchers have warned.

People with alcohol problems in England are less than half as likely to receive the right treatment as people in Scotland and Wales, due to cuts of more than £100m to services since reorganisation in 2012. The claims come from the alcohol addiction research team at King’s College London, which told the BBC that alcohol service budgets in England had decreased by around 30% since being handed to local authority control.

The findings come just weeks after another King’s study revealing that one in 10 patients admitted to hospital in the UK is alcohol dependent, while one in five patients uses alcohol harmfully. The researchers have called for universal screening in hospitals for alcohol-related problems, as well as improved training for hospital staff around alcohol-related conditions.
In England, hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions have risen by 17% in the past decade. In comparison, in Scotland and Wales there has been an investment in alcohol treatment services and people with alcohol dependency are two and a half times more likely to be able to access specialist treatment.

Colin Drummond, professor of addiction services at King's, told the BBC: "The services that are being cut have a strong evidence base of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. For every £1 you spend on treatment, you save over £3 in NHS and social care costs, so cutting these services is a false economy."

In the earlier research, the same team found that alcohol-related conditions in NHS hospitals were approximately 20 to 30 times higher than official government statistics suggested.

Lead researcher Dr Emmert Roberts said: “Many doctors are aware that alcohol-related conditions are common among hospital inpatients, but our results suggest the problem is much bigger than anecdotally assumed. Dedicated inpatient alcohol care teams are needed to ensure this widespread problem is being addressed, particularly in the context of diminishing numbers of specialist community alcohol services in the UK.”

NHS England announced earlier this year that, under its 10-year plan, it wants to create alcohol care teams (ACTs) in a quarter of hospitals with the highest rates of alcohol-related admissions. Alcohol-related conditions are estimated to cost the NHS £3.5b per year.

Consuming too much alcohol can lead to cirrhosis and liver disease and failure, as well as contributing to weight gain, which in itself can result in a number of health issues. Last year, TV presenter Adrian Chiles revealed he was drinking up to 100 units of alcohol a week and urged other so-called ‘social drinkers’ to be honest with themselves about their intake.

Men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units per week, which is the equivalent of six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. It’s also a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week and spread out alcohol units over time, rather than consume them all in one session.