The first step for Britain is to admit it has a drinking problem

Alastair Campbell. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Alastair Campbell is a former director of communications at Number 10 under Tony Blair and has written extensively about his alcohol problem that led him to stopping drinking at 27.

He has been studying the issue for his new novel My Name Is, which is about a young girl's descent into alcoholism.

In an article for ITV News, he writes about today's call by police chiefs for privately-run drunk tanks to tackle Britain's rising levels of alcohol-fuelled disorder.

I have a lot of sympathy for the police because the drinking culture in the UK takes up far more of their time and effort, I am sure, than was the case a generation ago.

The fact is now that small towns, as well as major cities, have to factor in the policing of regular drunken anti-social behaviour, draining resources that could be better used elsewhere.

So I am not surprised at the frustrations expressed by Chief Constable Adrian Lee at how much the country's drink problem is costing the police, and his promoting the idea of "drunk tanks".

Read: Put intoxicated in 'drunk tanks' says police chief

As with a lot of new ideas, the devil will be in the detail, and I can foresee problems with low-paying private security companies coming into run these sort of facilities.

But I have nothing but praise and support for the way Chief Constable Lee and his Acpo colleagues are getting the issue of alcohol up the agenda at the time of the political party conferences and freshers' week at universities across the UK.

I'm not going to slag off the alcohol industry because they are legitimately selling a legal product that rakes in billions of pounds to the Exchequer. If they are allowed to sell it 24 hours a day, why shouldn't they?

But the people I do criticise are politicians who fail to address the potential consequences of that, which are being highlighted more and more by police, courts, and healthcare professionals.

It is time for David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to listen to the police and doctors on the cost of alcohol. And time for them to come up with serious policy solutions to address a growing national problem.

An NHS liver doctor tweeted me after I did an interview on Britain's alcohol problems on Saturday and when we met up to discuss the issue, he said that in every single ward doctors are dealing with alcohol-related problems.

Read: 'Huge level of support' from doctors on minimum alcohol pricing

Alcohol in Britain has become like guns in America - it is like you can't tamper with it. People should have freedom to choose and exercise responsibility. But so many do not and so many cannot.

When I had a drink problem I felt like I was in the minority going out and getting smashed night after night. In Britain today, it is the non-drinker who feels in the minority. You never have to explain why you are drinking whereas you always have to explain why not.

Recently I was discussing alcohol with a group of international students. A Greek student at the LSE told the story of his first Friday night here, when he asked a British student what he planned to do for the evening.

The Brit said: "I am going to get smashed out of my brain." The Greek looked confused. "How do you know?" he asked.

What you have now is a culture saying you drink, not for social purposes, but purely to get drunk. And by becoming you drunk, you can be a burden on the police service, the NHS and worry about it less than you worry about the hangover.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said the only way to tackle Britain's booze problem is by action on price, availability and promotion and I agree with that.

The first step for an alcoholic on the road to recovery is the admission that they have a problem. If you are a country, the same principle applies. Even Russia has done more on this than we have.

I agree with Chief Constable Lee when he said that Labour's move on 24-hour licensing was "an entirely legitimate experiment" that didn't work.

David Cameron should review it and dump it, but he also needs to reconsider his minimum alcohol pricing u-turn.

More: Cameron drops minimum drink price plans

He was right the first time round, when he said we had to face up to the problem, and to act to deal with it. After all, liver disease is the only major cause of death in Britain which is rising, with liver cirrhosis fatalities in Britain up fivefold since 1970, whereas France, Spain and Italy have gone in the opposite direction.

Cameron's u-turn was seen by the drinks industry as game, set and match to them. He and the other leaders need to get it back on the agenda and give the police a better change of keeping our streets safe and orderly instead of the drunken rampage zones too many have become.

Alastair Campbell's new novel My Name Is is published by Hutchinson. His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.