MORE young people are being treated for alcohol and drug misuse in Huntingdonshire than anywhere else in the county.

The latest figures from the Cambridgeshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) show that 82 youngsters in this district were in treatment during the first three quarters of 2011/12 - 40 per cent of the county total. Elsewhere, 45 were treated in Cambridge, 33 in Fenland, 27 in South Cambridgeshire and 21 in East Cambridgeshire.

In a report published in May, DAAT said it is estimated that there are 1,560 young people in Huntingdonshire with alcohol and drug misuse issues - a quarter of the total estimation for Cambridgeshire. Just five per cent are seeking help.

In 2010/11, DAAT figures combined with statistics from the Cambridgeshire youth offending team (YOT) showed the number of Huntingdonshire's youngsters being treated for substance abuse is more than double any other area.

The report stated: "There were more referrals into CASUS and the YOT substance misuse team from Huntingdonshire in 2011/12 than any of the other districts."

However, it said the figures were "not something to be alarmed by".

It said: "The YOT saw a general trend of more young offenders in Huntingdonshire. CASUS feel that the higher number of referrals was due to the significant presence that they had in several schools and locality team settings during the year."

Dr Dickon Bevington, a consultant child psychiatrist at the Huntingdon-based Cambridgeshire Children and Adolescent Substance Use Service (CASUS) said: "Alcohol and youth, like drugs, offers a mixed story.

"On the one hand, there is some promising national data that suggests that actually fewer young people are drinking under age but, on the other hand, those who ARE drinking are tending to do so at a younger age, are drinking more heavily, and are drinking more potent forms of alcohol - spirits rather than beers or wines."

He said the problem of underage drinking was becoming more concentrated in a particularly vulnerable group of young people.

"These are not just children from very poor homes," he said. "In fact CASUS sees a proportion of young people from well-to-do homes who appear to have, as part of their problem, easy access to much more money to buy alcohol or other substances."

He continued: "It is actually quite rare to see under 18 years old with physical addiction, as opposed to psychological 'habituation' to alcohol - simply because the body takes a period of time to develop physical addiction to alcohol and usually this does not emerge until after the 18th birthday. Having said this, the number of young people seen by CASUS in the past year requiring medically-assisted 'detox' from alcohol has risen very considerably and this is a real concern."

The increase in severe alcohol-related problems that CASUS has been seeing mirrors national and international data that shows the age of onset of liver failure due to alcohol is falling year on year, while the number of patients with liver failure are increasing dramatically.

"What used to be an illness of late middle age is increasingly now seen in the late 20s or early 30s," Dr Bevington said. "Of course, it is hard to convince an adolescent that their party-people lifestyle is storing up real suffering in the decades ahead."