THE number of children and teenagers treated in Hampshire hospitals for alcohol-related illnesses has more than doubled in the past decade, official figures show.

In 2005-6 when 24-hour drinking was introduced, the number of under-18s seeking treatment leapt by 22 per cent to 348 - almost one a day.

In 1997-8 there were just 170 cases and now doctors are warning the newly- released alcohol-related disease figures, which cover all English NHS hospitals by health authority, reflect an alarming rise in liver damage among the young.

They back the Daily Echo's Keep Kids Sober campaign which is encouraging adults and parents - as the main source of alcohol for younger children - to take a more active and responsible role in teaching youngsters about the dangers of alcohol and to think before supplying them with drink.

Dr Jonathan Fallowfield, a liver specialist at Southampton General Hospital, said: "We are seeing people with liver disease and cirrhosis at a much younger age than we ever used to, people in their 20s which is remarkable really.

Taste for alcohol "The concern is the number of young people drinking at hazardous levels."

He added: "People still dread being in A&E on Friday and Saturday night because it's full of drunk people, a lot of them very young."

Dr Fallowfield blamed a "cultural shift in drinking habits" and cheaper drinks. He wants clearer labelling and more hard-hitting education.

"It's too easy to get a taste for alcohol because it tastes like fruit juice," he said, referring to the rise in popularity of alcopops among the young.

A spokesman for the Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust added four fifths of all its weekend A&E admissions were now alcohol-related compared to one tenth in the week, with adolescents drinking more.

Children as young as 12 were being treated for the affects of binge drinking, the spokesman said.

Young Saints footballer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who helped launch the Echo's anti-drink campaign, said: "These statistics are a real warning as to what drinking can do.

"As we approach New Year and lots of people go out to parties they should keep this in mind and make sure they keep themselves safe and well."

Hampshire Trading Standards boss Phil Thomas is warning shopkeepers to remain alert to under-age drinkers this weekend and reminded adults that New Year spirit was no excuse for buying alcohol for minors. It is an offence that carries a fine of up to £5,000.

Southampton police Supt Terry Stevens, who is preparing extra city patrols for New Year celebrations, said: "There are definitely more young people drinking and it's a real worry as a police officer, a parent and a member of the community.

"We continue to be really concerned and worried at the number of young people we find really drunk who are leaving themselves vulnerable: as a victim of theft or violence or just being ill from drinking too much."

The figures, released in parliament answer by health minister Caroline Flint, include mental disorders due to alcohol, alcohol poisoning and alcoholic liver disease.

However, they do not include those people treated for injuries sustained in incidents such as drunken fights or drink-driving.

In addition to the figures for under-18s, the Department of Health data also show that the number of adults treated for alcohol-related illness in Hamp-shire has also more than doubled since 1997, from 3,342 to 7,203.