IN his newly-published memoirs, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted that he used alcohol to help him escape from the pressures of his job.

“If you took the thing everyone always lies about – units per week – I was definitely at the outer limit. Stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it... I was aware that it had become a prop,” he confessed.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the man who led the government between 1997 and 2007 turned to drink, as the decade saw an apparent explosion in Britain’s booze culture, blamed by many on the relaxation of licensing laws and cheap supermarket deals.

A new report has now revealed that the number of hospital admissions due to alcohol in England soared by 825 a day in the last five years to nearly a million, with almost a quarter of drinkers exceeding healthy limits every week.

And the latest local alcohol profiles for England show that while northerners are the heaviest drinkers, the south is far from immune from the effects of the demon drink.

Bournemouth and Poole score significantly worse than the national average for male deaths from alcohol and chronic liver disease; alcohol-specific hospital admissions; and alcohol attributable crimes, including violent and sexual offences.

Alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and mortality also rose for women in 2008-9. Men in the area shortened their lives by an average of a year due to alcohol, and women by 4.5 months. The alcohol-specific and chronic liver disease death rates for men in the area were around double the regional average.

By contrast, East Dorset had the second lowest rates in the country for alcohol-attributable crime and combined alcohol-related harm.

A spokesman for Bournemouth and Poole Drug and Alcohol Action Teams said: “The local alcohol profiles released today indicate that although above the national average on some criteria, our results follow a trend of urbanised areas but with significantly lower levels than that of larger areas such as cities.

“Alcohol, like many other parts of our diet, is something to be enjoyed in moderation. We want to focus our work on education in order to allow individuals to make sensible, informed choices.

“It is also essential that we have a range of interventions and offer help to those who are misusing alcohol in order to give them direction and support them to get back on track.”

Paul Spanjar, treatment director of the Bournemouth-based Providence Projects for people with addictions, said: “Cheap alcohol is something people have been speaking about for a long time. It’s very easy to get drunk for £5. On the other side, there’s no money available for treatment.

“In terms of funding, alcohol has for many years been the poor relation to drugs, and yet the harm from alcohol is far greater. It’s more available, but more than that is the number of people that abuse alcohol.

“The government tried to change our culture with 24-hour drinking. They thought we were going to sit outside sipping glasses of red wine, but it goes far deeper than that.”

Mr Spanjar said there had been a huge rise in people from various groups seeking treatment, including middle-aged women and young people. He believes there needs to be a national alcohol strategy, just as there has been a national drugs strategy over the last 10 years.

“I get eight or nine phone calls a day from people who want help but can’t afford it and don’t know where to get it. What happens to these people is they end up in A&E every three months.”

Professor Mark Bellis, director of the North West Public Health Observatory, which collected the data, said the profiles reflected “the price we pay for turning a blind eye to the real extent of alcohol abuse across England”.

He added: “It is a price that is paid especially by the poorest communities.

“It’s time to recognise that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with just a handful of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others.”

Jo Webber, deputy policy director at the NHS Confederation, which represents over 95 per cent of NHS organisations, said: “Alcohol is causing a growing health problem in the UK, damaging lives as well as costing the health service billions.

“The NHS should not have to pick up the tab for our nation’s drinking.

“Unless society as a whole considers the price, availability of alcohol and our attitudes towards it, we will be using a sticking plaster solution for a national problem.

“In a time of much tighter public spending it is up to individuals and public services to work together so we can intervene early and address both the harm alcohol causes to people’s health and the huge cost burden it puts on the nation’s finances.”

• For advice about alcohol misuse, contact the Brief Intervention Team on 01202 203101.