Alcohol abuse has a devastating effect on the drinker, their friends, family and employers.

Alcohol often plays an invisible role in crime, domestic and street violence, car accidents and fatal illness. For every person who dies of illicit drug use, ten alcohol-related deaths will occur.

The NHS spends more than £164 million a year on treating alcohol-related conditions.

Yet addiction treatment can often be seen as the Cinderella of the NHS, according to Marco Procopio, head of the addictions programme at the Priory Clinic in Hove.

He said: "Colleagues working in the NHS are struggling to offer a service with a level of resources inadequate to the scale of the problem.

"There is still a stigma attached to people with alcohol problems and an implied judgement they are not deserving patients. But the long-term effects of alcoholism are damaging and costly to society as a whole."

The Hove clinic views addiction as a disease that needs to be treated, and can be treated, and not as a vice or a moral flaw.

It has a four-week programme founded on the ethos that alcoholism is disease for which abstinence is the only cure.

The unit offers a comfortable and contained environment where the patient can explore the underlying causes of their addictive behaviour.

Each person is given their own treatment plan, which will include detoxification, individual counselling, group therapy, coping mechanisms for abstinence and attendance at 12-Step AA meetings.

A unique and important aspect of the treatment is a year-long, in-house aftercare programme which provides support in the first year of recovery.

Research shows this period is crucial as people are at a greater risk of relapse during this time.

According to Alcohol Concern in Sussex, alcohol can affect the health of a wide range of people, including those who do not think they have any problem with drink, even if it takes some years for the effects to show.

Current estimates suggest 28,000 to 33,000 deaths a year are alcohol-related and one in four male hospital beds is occupied by someone with an alcohol-related illness.

Experts say at least one-infour men and one-in-seven women drink more than they should, putting their longterm health at risk.

Alcohol Concern says too much alcohol can act upon nearly every organ of the body, including the liver, digestive system, brain, nervous system, heart, bones, skin and muscles.

There is also the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol or of heavy drinking affecting personal relationships or jobs.

After alcohol has been drunk, it passes through the stomach and small intestine and is absorbed into the bloodstream - and passes from there to the rest of the body and to the brain.

It is processed out of the body by the liver, a complex organ with many vital roles.

One of its tasks is to break down alcohol and this can interfere with its other functions. If the liver has too much alcohol to handle, it gets damaged.

Normally, when the liver is damaged, it can regenerate itself. In cirrhosis, the process of healing fails and scar tissue develops, preventing the liver from carrying out its normal functions.

There is no cure for cirrhosis but people who manage to stop drinking completely have a better chance of survival.

Those who continue to drink will end up with complete liver failure.

Drinking alcohol is a cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) and is the most common cause after overweight.

People with high blood pressure face an increased risk of coronary heart diseases and stroke.

Binge drinking - drinking ten or more units of alcohol at a time - seems to be linked with significantly raised blood pressure.

Heavy drinking can also contribute to osteoporosis.

This makes bones thin, soft and liable to collapse, especially in the lower spine, pelvis and thigh.

For more details, go to the Alcohol Concern website at