Alcohol-related harm and drinking behaviour

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to harmful health consequences in the short term but also in the long term through conditions such as liver disease, stroke and some cancers. Alcohol related hospital activity and deaths are a potentially avoidable burden to the health service.

How have alcohol related deaths changed?

In the United Kingdom, the rate of alcohol-related deaths increased from 9.1 to 14.3 per 100,000 population between 1994 and 2014. This represents an increase in the absolute number of alcohol related deaths in the UK from 4,525 in 1994 to 8,697 in 2014.

The alcohol-related death rate varies across the UK and is considerably higher in Scotland than the other four constituent countries. In men, there has been a generally increasing trend in England, Wales & Northern Ireland. Scotland saw a peak in alcohol related death rates in men in 2003 at 48 per 100,000 population. The Institute for Alcohol Studies reported that at that time Scottish Executive launched plans for action on alcohol problems, which may have contributed to the downward trajectory in alcohol-related deaths in the subsequent decade. In 2012, however, rates began to increase again, despite the release in 2009 of a framework for action: Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol

How have alcohol related deaths changed in different age and sex groups?

The alcohol-related death rate in women is half that of that in men: in 2014 it was 19.4 for men compared 9.6 for women per 100,000 population. Over the past 2 decades, rates of alcohol related deaths have increased by 59% in men and 52% in women. The alcohol related death rate is highest in middle age (45-70 years).

How has alcohol related admissions to hospital changed?

Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS about £3.3 billion per year and society as a whole £21 billion annually. Monitoring alcohol related hospital admissions supports the national ambitions to reduce harm set out in the Government's Alcohol Strategy.

Overall, the rate of alcohol related hospital admissions (from recorded primary diagnoses) has remained broadly stable from 2008/09 to 2013/14. The peak rate of alcohol related admissions was 653 admissions per 100,000 population in 2011/12, having increased slightly in the years since 2008/09. A small reduction was seen in 2012/13 to 637 alcohol related admissions per 100,000, but increased again in 2013/14.

How has the proportion of people who drank heavily in the past week changed?

The proportion of people who reported drinking heavily (over 8 units for men or over 6 units for women on their heaviest drinking day) in the past week decreased in the 16-64 age groups over the period from 2005 to 2014. In the 65 and over age group, the proportion of women who reported drinking heavily remained stable to 2013, but increased by 56% (to 3.3%) in 2014. The proportion of men aged over 65 who reported drinking heavily increased from 2011 to a peak of 8.3% in 2013 and fell again in 2014 to 7.5%.

The 16-24 age group saw the largest decrease in heavy drinkers of any age group over this time period, falling 9.5 percentage points. However, the decline in reported heavy drinking in this age group has slowed and 2014 saw an increase in the number of both men and women who reported drinking heavily. There was also a 12% increase (to 22.3%) in men aged 45-64 who reported drinking heavily.

The government published strategies to reduce alcohol related harm in 2007 and 2012. Public Health England has indicated that an independent evidence-based report on alcohol is a priority for 2016/17.

About this data

The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions are calculated using a method developed by the North West Public Health Observatory. This method is based on alcohol attributable fractions of a range of diseases and injuries that are caused by alcohol consumption. The data presented here is based on the narrow measure which takes account of diagnoses recorded as a primary diagnosis. There is also a broad measure which takes account of both primary and secondary diagnoses.

The National Statistics definition of alcohol-related deaths includes underlying causes of death regarded as those being most directly due to alcohol consumption. The definition is primarily based on chronic conditions associated with long-term abuse of alcohol and, to a lesser extent, acute conditions. Apart from poisoning with alcohol (accidental, intentional or undetermined), the definition excludes other external causes of death, such as road traffic and other accidents.

The definition does not include diseases that are partially attributable to alcohol, such as cancers of the mouth, oesophagus and liver. However, all deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (excluding biliary cirrhosis) are included, even when alcohol is not specifically mentioned on the death certificate.

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