Almost 600 cases of alcoholic liver disease involving young people in their 30s have been recorded in hospitals around the state over a period of five years – with patients frequently exhibiting symptoms traditionally found only in older patients engaged in long-term alcohol abuse, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

A new breakdown of Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) figures also indicates a sharp rise in the number of cases involving young women, suggesting that they are beginning to catch up on their male counterparts when it comes to serious alcohol abuse.

This has prompted one leading public health expert to express concern that the increasing popularity and availability of wine, which is frequently drunk at home, may be a significant factor.

Overall, the number of cases involving the discharge from hospitals of individuals suffering from alcoholic liver disease rose by almost a quarter between 2002 and 2006, with nearly 20 cases a week now being dealt with by hospitals. During the same period, some 360 cases of alcoholic liver disease involving men in their 30s were recorded, compared to 231 cases among females. This represents about one in seven of all the cases recorded.

At least 48 further cases related to men aged under 30, while 16 related to women aged under 30.

But the total number of cases of women in their mid to late 30s suffering from alcoholic liver disease has more than doubled from 18 in 2002 to 39 in 2006. During the same period, the figure for men in this age category rose from 45 to 47. Similar increases were registered among women in the 30-34 age group.

Dr Joe Barry, of the HSE's Population Health Directorate noted that cirrhosis of the liver is a condition traditionally only found in older patients after long term alcohol abuse.

He said he was alarmed at the rise of "silent drinking", which he said was particularly noticeable as a result of the increased consumption of wine at home.