One in five people admitted to a UK hospital drinks alcohol in a harmful way and one in 10 depends on it, a study suggests.
King’s College London researchers want people with issues caused by drinking to be screened. They are also calling for more trained staff to give support.
Alcohol can cause a large number of medical conditions, which costs the NHS in the UK around £3.5bn a year.
But many may not be receiving appropriate treatment, they said.
Harmful alcohol use is 10 times higher and dependence eight times higher in hospital inpatients than in other people, the study suggests.
The study was published in the Addiction journal. It looked at 124 past studies and more than 1.5 million patients to estimate how many had any of 26 conditions related to heavy alcohol use.
- liver disorders
- gastrointestinal disorders
- alcohol poisoning
- mental disorders because of alcohol use
- foetal alcohol syndrome
The patients were in general wards, intensive care units, A&E departments or mental health inpatient units.
‘Much bigger problem’
The report’s lead author, Dr Emmert Roberts, said many doctors knew the problems were common among inpatients.
But he warned: “Our results suggest the problem is much bigger than anecdotally assumed.”
Alcohol abuse was most common among patients in mental health units, the report found. Dependence was more common among people in A&E departments.
Dr Roberts said the findings were the most reliable to date.
He said dedicated inpatient alcohol care teams were needed to tackle the issue.
At the time, Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said it would give patients “the support they need”.
Kate Oldridge-Turner, head of policy and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, said the figures were worrying.
“We have a social culture in the UK which can be very focused on alcohol.
“We need the government to empower people to drink less by making our daily environments healthier. Information alone won’t lead to large-scale change in behaviours.”
She called for a minimum unit price and better urban planning to “give people more social spaces that do not revolve around alcohol”.
A minimum price for alcohol was introduced in Scotland in May last year. A recent report suggests there has been a substantial fall in the volume of alcohol sold at very low prices.