1 In 5 Hospital Patients In The UK Drinks Alcohol In A Harmful Way, Study Finds

One in 10 people in hospitals are alcohol dependent – yet researchers argue services and support for these patients are limited.
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An estimated one in five patients in UK hospitals uses alcohol harmfully, and one in 10 is alcohol dependent, according to a new review.

Harmful use of alcohol is most prevalent in mental health inpatient units, while alcohol dependence is found most commonly in accident and emergency (A&E) departments, according to the study by King’s College London.

Little is being done to screen for alcohol dependence in hospitals, said the researchers, and services for patients with alcohol dependence are limited.

They have called for universal screening in hospitals for alcohol-related problems and improved training for hospital staff around related conditions.

The findings are based on a review and meta-analysis, published in the scientific journal Addiction, which provides the first estimates of alcohol-related conditions among UK hospital inpatients. Researchers gathered the results of 124 earlier studies covering a total of 1,657,614 participants.

The prevalence of alcohol-related conditions was already thought to be higher in hospital inpatients compared with the general population, but until now there have not been reliable estimates of how common it was.

The review suggests harmful alcohol use is 10 times higher in hospital inpatients, and alcohol dependence is eight times higher, compared with the UK general population.

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Alcohol-related conditions are estimated to cost the NHS approximately £3.5 billion each year. Without in-hospital screening, many of these conditions may be missed and not receive appropriate treatment.

Lead researcher Dr Emmert Roberts, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said the 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,” he said.

And Kate Oldridge-Turner, head of policy and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, called the figures “worrying”, adding that drinking alcohol increases the risk of six different types of cancer.

“We have a social culture in the UK which can be very focused on alcohol,” she said. “We need the government to empower people to drink less by making our daily environments healthier and tackling this drinking culture, as information alone won’t lead to large-scale change in behaviours.”