Illnesses caused by drinking will increase markedly in the next decade, a Birmingham medical expert has warned.

Current levels of alcohol consumption will lead to more cirrhosis, doctors said.

The British Society of Gastroenterology said: "As a nation, we are drinking more than for 90 years and there is a lag between consumption and cirrhosis. Already we have seen a 350 per cent increase in cirrhosis between 1970 and 1998, and this figure is 900 per cent for those under 45."

The stark warning comes in a report setting out a strategy for the care of patients with gastrointestinal disorders, including cirrhosis.

The report says patients with alcoholic cirrhosis and its complications are heavy users of expensive resources.

Managing the health consequences of the tide of alcohol misuse will be one of the key challenges of the future, and much will fall to the gastroenterology and hepatology services in acute hospitals, it says.

The society's president, Professor Elwyn Elias, a gastroenterologist based at University Hospital, Birmingham, said: "There is a 20 to 30-year lag between what people drink and hospitals filled with the consequences.

"Binge drinking can have a sudden effect, but you can also kill yourself in 20 years, by drinking what some people consider a reasonable amount.

"The evidence is that drinking fell away in the 1930s and 1940s but it's been climbing since the 1960s and there's no sign of a plateau."

A Department of Health official said: "We know alcohol misuse costs the NHS around £1.6 billion every year and causes health and social care problems. And that is why we are taking action to tackle it.

"A recent audit of alcohol treatment services has given us an understanding of the trends of alcohol misuse.

"It showed the Government spends an estimated £217 million per year on alcohol treatment and an estimated 63,000 people are receiving treatment from specialist services - with even more people receiving support from their GPs.

"However we also found the level of provision varied and some areas were much better provided for.

"We are working hard to take forward the recommendations in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, which identified a need to get more people treated for their alcohol problems."