A three-year-old who was regularly given alcohol over a six month period has been diagnosed as the UK’s youngest alcoholic, it has been revealed.
And in a separate incident, students from the University of Manchester took part in a bizarre drinking game to see who could vomit or end up in hospital first.
As pressure mounts on the Government to tackle “Binge Britain”, leading health organisations have slammed its latest “responsibility deal” with the drinks industry.
The hospitalised toddler from the West Midlands, who cannot be named, was one of 13 children who were diagnosed as alcoholics by the Heart of England NHS Trust between 2008 and 2010.
During the same period, 106 teenagers aged 13 to 16 were also treated for alcohol addiction.
Sarah Matthews, spokeswoman for the British Liver Trust, said it was an “extreme” example and “definitely one of the youngest cases of alcoholism we have heard of”.
“However, it does raise the issue of accessibility of alcohol and how normal it has become”, she said.
Leading alcohol awareness charities have warned of the long-term health issues this case flags up.
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “As long as alcohol remains as heavily promoted as it is, young drinkers will continue to consume far more than they might otherwise, leading to inevitable health issues.”
And Chris Sorek, CEO of Drinkaware, commented: “Any child requiring hospital treatment for alcohol-related illness is a cause for great concern – not just because of the short-term risks, but also the long-term health problems”.
The behaviour of the University of Manchester students involved in the potentially lethal drinking competition has been described by one professional as “suicidal” and “exceptionally dangerous”.
Evelyn Reid, a drugs and alcohol abuse worker, said: “In the short term someone can die from vomiting while unconscious or falling over and injuring themselves, and in the long term persistent drinking to this level will cause cirrhosis and liver failure”.
And Professor Roger Williams CBE, Joint Clinical Director of The London Clinic Liver Centre, said that these students “reflect the disturbing attitude our society has to alcohol.
“The Government must tackle this huge problem now”.
The Government’s plans to address the nation’s alcohol abuse have been criticised by six leading health organisations, including Alcohol Concern, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians.
In a joint statement, the bodies have stated their opposition to the Government’s “responsibility deal” with the drinks industry.
Under the deal, drinks manufacturers would be asked to agree to a number of pledges, including clearer labelling of alcohol unit content and the promotion of responsible drinking.
But the plans have been rubbished by the six organisations, who said in a written statement: “We have not yet seen evidence that Government is working towards a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy to reduce alcohol harm, based on evidence of what works, with rigorous evaluation metrics”.
Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern described the Government initiative as the “worst possible deal for everyone who wants to see alcohol harm reduced”, arguing that there were “no firm targets or any sanctions if the drinks industry fails to fulfil its pledges”.
Responding to the criticism, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said it was “just one strand of the Government’s wide public health policy” and “this is only the first step”.