Tonight: Britain’s Young Drinkers

A leading specialist has warned that excessive alcohol consumption is fuelling an explosion of liver disease among young people, leading alcohol addiction charity Addaction has seen the number of under 24 year olds referred to them increase by 76% in the past 4 years and earlier this year the binge drinking game 'neknominate' swept through Britain and it is thought claimed lives.

shot glasses lined up on bar
Tonight: Britain’s Young Drinkers, on ITV at 7.30pm Credit: ITV / Tonight

In an exclusive Tonight survey we reveal that young people are drinking with alarming regularity – over 1,000 18-25 year olds responded to our survey conducted by OnePoll.

Around 1 in 10 say they get drunk at least twice a week and ¾ admit to drinking alcohol purely to get drunk.

There’s some almost basic need for kids to take risk and alcohol seems to have filled that gap. If a youngster said to me a bottle of vodka wouldn’t kill me then I would say to them that you are taking a large quantity of a sedative drug, it’s like taking an overdose of valium or shooting a large dose of heroin."

– Sir Ian Gilmore, Alcohol Health Alliance UK
CU man with glasses
Sir Ian Gilmore Credit: ITV / Tonight

Clive Loveday’s son died as a result of a binge drinking game.

Matthew was no different from many other teens around the country. 19 years old, living with friends in a rented house and working hard in his first job as a stock controller. He wasn’t a big drinker or regular party goer and had always been pretty sensible when it came to his alcohol consumption.

But a drinking game on New Years Eve changed all that. Matthew drank a bottle of Ouzo and passed out, his frineds put him to bed to sleep it off but Matthew never woke. The amount of alcohol in his system lead to his vital organs shutting down and Matthew stopped breathing.

Clive hopes Matthew’s story will be a wake up call to other youngsters who like Matthew think they’re invincible.

Man with son
Clive and Matthew Loveday Credit: ITV / Tonight

Sadly, one shocking statistic proves that they’re not - every month, someone in their 20s dies from alcohol poisoning. So what makes young people drink so much?

Is it the cheap prices? The retail and drinks industry say not - they say it’s down to our culture because UK prices are actually more expensive than many other European countries who don’t have a problem.

Could it be availability or is it that for many, it’s just become a kind of social norm?

To find out we speak to a group of students aged 19 to 21 about their drinking habits and they tell us that all of these things play a part in why they drink so much.

They also explain that there is a huge trend for getting drunk at home before going out – pre-loading – has taken off because drinking shop bought alcohol is cheaper than buying it in a bar. We follow four of the students, Sam, Codi, Jake and Francesca on a night out to see how much they drink and put them through some health checks before and after to measure the effect it has on their bodies.

Before the night out all 4 students are generally healthy and there is no alcohol in their system.

group of young people in lecture hall
Students tell the Tonight programme about their drinking habits Credit: ITV / Tonight

We’ve always known of course that alcohol isn’t good for our health but what is new is the age at which it now increasingly affects us.

According to latest figures the number of under 30 year olds admitted to hospital with liver disease in England has almost doubled in the past decade.

Young people are suffering the harms from alcohol that are associated with long term heavy drinking and that's entirely new. That has never happened before, it’s a whole new phenomenon.”

– Dr Nick Sheron, Consultant Hepatologist at Southampton General Hospital
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Dr Nick Sheron Credit: ITV / Tonight

Gary Reinbach was just 22 when he was admitted to hospital with liver disease. Like many teenagers he started drinking casually at the age of 15. But by the time he was 18 he was doing it regularly.

The amount he was putting away, and the regularity, was taking a toll on his health. He didn’t know it, but his liver was failing.

Gary was admitted to hospital but ten weeks later died of liver failure as a direct result of his alcohol consumption.

Liver disease doesn’t give any warning - a person can survive on just 20% of their liver not knowing that 80% of it isn’t working until it’s too late.

Although it’s not just the physical impact that worries health experts. The concern is that an increasing number of young people are becoming dependent on drink, too. Leading addiction charity Addaction has seen the number of under 24s being referred for rehab increase 76% in the past 4 years.

Once, the majority of young alcoholics were male – but our young women are quickly catching up.

The stereotype of an older alcoholic with a drinking problem has long gone. We’re seeing more younger people, particularly young women, coming to us with serious problems around their drinking and their consumption of alcohol.”

– Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction
man being interviewed
Simon Antrobus Credit: ITV / Tonight

In our Tonight survey of 18-25 year olds 20% of girls said they drink more than 5 times the recommended daily amount on a typical night out and the main reason they drink, they say, is because it boosts their confidence.

But according to experts, it’s that very confidence which is almost addictive, and one of the reasons why many young people are becoming dependent on alcohol.

Young women like Phoebe Haffenden who’s just 19, and a recovering alcoholic.

CU 19 year old girl with glasses
Phoebe Haffenden Credit: ITV / Tonight

A naturally shy girl Phoebe started drinking alcohol when she was 16 to gain confidence but within 3 years she was dependent on it and drinking 6 litres of cider each day. 8 months ago Phoebe entered Rehab and is now sober and rebuilding her life.

In Liverpool the programme catches up with the student volunteers - Jake, Sam, Codie and Francesca - to reveal how much they drank on their night out. The recommended daily amount of units is 3 for women, 4 for men but our students got through a lot more than that….

  • Fran got through 25 units
  • Codie 26
  • Sam 40
  • And Jake drank 48 units in one night

We repeated the medical tests with Dr Ghosh to measure the impact of this on their health.

The ultrasound scans reveal that all of the students are dehydrated – hardly surprising.

The blood tests tell us the concentration of alcohol in their blood - the higher it is the more damage it causes. A reading of 400 is likely to be fatal but anything over 100 is considered medically dangerous. All our students had a reading over 100.

Finally we look at the impact of this on their liver function and there is a shock for Sam who at just 19 years old is showing the first signs of liver disease.

Dr Ghosh tells him “your body wasn’t able to cope with the amount of blood alcohol that you had to the point where it’s excreting protein. That means out of everyone you’re going to be the first one who would develop permanent liver damage.”

The good news is that any liver damage is reversible and if Sam abstains from alcohol for a week or so his liver will heal.

Livers are the only organs that can regenerate and can heal. So if you gave your liver now at least a week’s break it would come back to normal.”

– Dr Ghosh
doctor with 4 students posing
Dr Ghosh and the students Credit: ITV / Tonight

Tonight: Britain’s Young Drinkers is on ITV at 7.30pm this evening.