New figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats show that alcohol is fuelling an increase in hospital admissions and a rise in youth crime.
The figures reveal that during the 2008/09 financial year 945,223 people were admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related illness.
This represents a 47 per cent increase since 2004/05 when the number of alcohol-related admissions was 644,185.
Critics have blamed the rise on 24-hour drinking and the availability of cheap alcohol.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “Alcohol-related illness is reaching epidemic proportions in Britain. We cannot continue to ignore the seriousness of this health crisis.”
Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “The Government must take strong measures on the affordability and availability of alcohol to reduce the unnecessary burden on the NHS and improve everyone’s health.”
Official figures have also revealed that over 39,000 children were fined, cautioned or taken to court for alcohol-related offences between 2003 and 2007.
Over 6,000 of these children were aged between ten to 15.
Between 2003 and 2007 there was a 28.4 per cent increase in the number of drunken under-18’s caught by the police.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “These figures paint a shocking picture of how many children are being dragged into the criminal justice system through alcohol abuse.”
He added: “We must put an end to alcohol being sold at pocket-money prices and start educating our children about the dangers of drink or these figures will continue to get worse.”
This is not the first time that politicians have expressed concern over alcohol misuse in the UK.
In August, the Conservative Party leader David Cameron blamed cheap alcohol and 24-hour drinking for fuelling crime and said that “serious changes” are needed to tackle drink-related violence and crime.
In September, Prime Minister Gordon Brown admitted that the controversial 24-hour drinking laws implemented by his party in November 2005 were “not working”.
Mr Brown made the admission during his speech at the Labour Party conference and announced that local authorities would be given “power to ban 24-hour drinking throughout a community in the interests of local people”.