The number of drugs prescribed for treating alcohol dependence in England has shot up 79% in just a decade, as their cost to the NHS tops £3 billion for the first time.

According to a report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, almost 184,000 prescription items were dispensed in primary care and NHS hospitals in 2013, marking a rise of 3.1% (178,000) on the previous year and a 78.9% on ten years ago (103,000).

The two main drugs prescribed for the treatment of alcohol dependence are Campral (acamprosate calcium) and  Antabuse (disulfiram), and earlier this year saw Lundbecks's newcomer Selincro (nalmefene) - the first drug approved specifically for reducing alcohol consumption - hit the market.

The Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of these prescription items in 2013 was £3.13 million, which is an increase of £200,000 since 2012 and just over double the NIC in 2004 of £1.51 million. 

The introduction of Selincro will have contributed slightly to the increased cost, but the majority of the rise is attributable to the increase in the number of items being prescribed, the HSCIC said.

The report also found that in 2012 there were 6,490 alcohol-related deaths, 19% up from 2001 (5,476) but 4% down from 2011 (6,771), with liver disease being the most common cause of alcohol-related death.

Overall, the estimated cost of alcohol harm to society is £21 billion per year, with costs to the NHS coming in at about £3.5 billion.