Governments across the globe must unite and act now to develop a worldwide treaty on alcohol to reduce the growing burden of alcohol related harm, warns a liver specialist in this week's BMJ.
Rarely a day passes by when, as hepatologists, we don't see a patient whose psychological or physical wellbeing has been marred by alcohol, writes Dr Debbie Shawcross from the Institute of Liver Studies at King's College Hospital in London.
In the UK, the death rate from alcoholic liver disease has doubled in the past 10 years, while its incidence has risen eightfold in the under 35s as a culture of binge drinking has evolved among young people. As such, the incidence of cirrhosis is expected to increase exponentially and there will be a 500% greater need for liver transplantation in the next decade.
After attending a "symposium on alcohol" at last year's British Liver Conference in Edinburgh, the author recalls patients she had seen early in her career and several recent experiences.
Firstly, she thought about two young girls she had seen walking past her house on the way to school. It was only 7.30am, yet both girls were swigging bottles of bright blue "alcopops." Who had sold these drinks to them, she asks? Did they drink at lunchtime and after school too? And what was their weekly intake?
Then she moved on to thinking about a man in his early 20s. He came from a respectable family, had good qualifications, and had a well paid job. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis and only just made it out of hospital. But he didn't attend follow up appointments and the author doubts whether he stayed abstinent.
Another young man was admitted to hospital with alcoholic hepatitis, but his Muslim upbringing meant that he hid all evidence of his addiction from his family and his faith. "It was only as his alcohol withdrawal syndrome was reaching its terrible crescendo and he quite literally began crawling up the walls that he finally admitted to his alcohol addiction," says the author.
"I dread the day when the young schoolgirls drinking alcopops will be referred to my clinic or, worse still, present with multiorgan failure," she adds. In moderate quantities, alcohol may well be salubrious and socially far more acceptable than tobacco or illicit drugs, but governments across the globe must unite and act now to develop a worldwide treaty on alcohol to reduce the growing burden of alcohol related harm," she concludes.