The number of people receiving specialist treatment for problem drinking in Lambeth fell sharply over the last three years, figures show.
The British Liver Trust charity said the figures were “sadly not surprising”, while another campaign group warned of barriers to treatment and support for problem drinkers.
Public Health England data reveals 304 people received treatment at alcohol misuse services in Lambeth in 2017-18, roughly one in every 1,000 people.
This was down 41% from three years earlier, when 518 used the services.
The figures relate to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, which counts how many adults receive help for drink and drug-related problems in England.
Mark Leyshon, senior policy and research officer at charity Alcohol Change UK, said: “That fewer heavy drinkers are accessing services that they often so desperately need is a huge worry – alcohol treatment services must be seen as an essential element of tackling the wider social problems associated with alcohol dependency.
“Over half a million people in England are in need of specialist alcohol treatment, yet four out of five dependent drinkers are not receiving it.
“This is, at least in part, a direct consequence of continued cuts to treatment budgets, which have led to many alcohol and drug services merging.”
Stretched funding makes it harder for alcohol users, especially older drinkers, to seek support in a system that “seems geared towards supporting people dependent on illicit drugs”, he added.
Alcohol misuse, which means drinking more than the recommended limits, costs the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion each year.
Doctors advise not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, the equivalent of a bottle of wine and two cans of lager.
They say heavy drinking increases the risk of serious long-term health conditions, as well as causing social problems. It also piles pressure on the health service through hospital admissions.
Across England, 75,787 used the services in 2017-18, down 15% on 2014-15.
They include 10,530 people in London, where numbers dropped by 17% over the same period.
The policy director at the British Liver Trust, Vanessa Hebditch, urged the Government to raise taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighten rules on advertising alcohol.
She said: “There has been a big shift in the UK’s drinking culture and one in five adults drink alcohol at a harmful level.
“To make a lasting change, we need to tackle prevention. This means as well as providing effective treatment and supporting those people with alcohol problems, we need a population wide approach.”
In Lambeth , none of the 254 patients starting their treatment in 2017-18 were left waiting more than three weeks to begin. In other parts of the country, waiting times differ significantly – in Shropshire, 24% of patients faced a three-week wait.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Overall people are drinking less, however we are determined to do more to support the most vulnerable or at risk from alcohol misuse.
“As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we are establishing specialist Alcohol Care Teams in hospitals with highest rates of alcohol harm, which will prevent 50,000 admissions over five years. Local authorities will also receive over £3 billion in 2019-20 to be used exclusively on public health including alcohol treatment services.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.