Britain's heavy drinking culture is placing an "unsustainable burden" on the healthcare system — costing the NHS over $4 billion a year, according to a report.

The cost of treating the effects of excessive boozing has doubled in the past five years, research by the NHS Confederation and Royal College of Physicians revealed.

The report called for improvements to systems to identify, assess and treat patients with alcohol problems. But it also said a wider change in society's attitudes towards drink was needed.

The bulk of the financial burden is falling on hospitals and ambulance services, which are forced to deal with people who get into difficulties after drinking too much.

But there is also a cost in long-term health conditions caused by boozing over many years.

Steve Barnett, chief executive of the Confederation which represents NHS managers, said alcohol was putting growing pressure on staff and services.

"With only one in 18 people dependent on alcohol receiving treatment... we know that more needs to be done to help identify and treat patients," he said.

"This report shows that not only are we drinking too much, but that the cost to our health services is increasing.

"The NHS can play a part in ensuring that treatment is provided… but a reappraisal of social attitudes to drinking is also well overdue."

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