MORE than 200,000 people could die early from causes related to alcohol over the next 20 years, leading doctors have warned.
Experts including Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, predict there could be 210,000 avoidable deaths in the next two decades if current trends continue.
The figures, for England and Wales, suggest 70,000 of the deaths could be from liver disease and the rest from accidents, violence and chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, breast cancer and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract.
The warning comes after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged last week to crack down on excessive drinking. He promised to look at the issue of alcohol pricing and how hospitals were treating the effects of binge drinking.
Writing in The Lancet medical journal online, the experts said it remains "entirely within the power of the UK Government" to ease the country's drink problem.
But they criticised the Government's public health responsibility deal with drinks companies, saying it represents a conflict of interest, with firms actually wanting to "maximise" consumption of alcohol.
Their latest prediction is a slight improvement on the 250,000 avoidable deaths attributable to alcohol envisaged last year.
But signs suggest alcohol-related liver deaths - which represent around a quarter of all deaths from alcohol - are increasing following a dip, the experts said.
"The actual mortality over 20 years will not be determined by our modelling but by the effectiveness or otherwise of Government alcohol policy," they added.
"Unfortunately, the recent moderate improvement might be related more to the recession than to current alcohol policy; the fact that deaths increased during 2009/10 indicates there is no room for complacency."
Public health minister Anne Milton said: "As the Prime Minister said earlier this week, we are determined to tackle the scandal of alcohol abuse. It costs the NHS £2.7 billion per year and in our forthcoming alcohol strategy we will set out our plans on how to deal with the wide range of problems and harms it causes."
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, which represents the industry, said: "It is really important that we put this report in context.
“The vast majority of people drink responsibly."
He added: “Painting doomsday scenarios won't help reduce alcohol misuse."