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Alcohol misuse is a significant public health issue. The effects of alcohol impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals but also on families and the wider population.

Public Health England estimates that 10.8 million people in England are drinking at levels which may impact on their health and 1.6 million have some level of alcohol dependence (Public Health England).

The Lancet Commission on Liver Disease in the UK, (2016) provides further context of the increasing issues associated with alcohol misuse being experienced by local communities, including the financial impact of this increasing burden. 

  • £2·1 billion is spent each year on the treatment of liver disease
  • Hospital admissions and mortality rates directly attributed to alcohol are rising
  • This is a condition that is largely preventable, and so positive changes can be made with low level, often brief interventions, meaning that alcohol related interventions are very cost effective 
  • 60% of UK police officers’ time is being spent on alcohol-related offences 
  • If cuts and freezes on alcohol duty were not in place and small rises had been allowed, this would have meant that £770 million could have been raised for the exchequer in 2016-17 according to HM Treasury’s figures 
  • Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, recently reduced safe limits for alcohol consumption for both women and men, on the basis of national and international evidence of the progressive increased risk of developing various cancers, including most common ones such as breast and colon
  • Alcohol use is related to many areas of social, physical, and mental health problems, triggering high rates of consultation in primary care
  • The proportion of alcohol consumed by extreme drinkers drinking more than 75 units a week has increased from 13% to 17% in recent years
  • Public Health post-2013 published by the Commons Health Select Committee, shows how local authorities have undergone cuts to public health budgets year-on-year, after assuming responsibility from central government. This in turn has led to issues with provision of responsive specialist provision for people with alcohol misuse issues 
  • Variations in mortality rate from liver disease persist between local authorities in England with a four-fold variation in mortality rates for men and women.

Supermarket alcohol 188% more affordable than thirty years ago 

New figures from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) show that supermarket beer is almost 188% more affordable today than it was 30 years ago, and that its affordability has risen by 22% since 2012.

The IAS research is the first to compare affordability in the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences) to the on-trade (pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants) using data up to 2016. Using an affordability index adjusting prices for inflation and income growth, the study shows a widening gulf between pubs and supermarkets. 

See also: Alcohol Health Alliance.

Alcohol Change UK

Alcohol Change UK has launched as a new national charity to reduce alcohol harm. The new charity formed as a merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK. The charity says its vision is 'a world free from serious alcohol harm'. As part of the launch, the charity has released the Alcohol Change Report, which makes the case for 'change being not only needed, but possible'. 

Visit Alcohol Change UK

Further resources

NICE. Alcohol interventions in secondary and further educationThis guideline covers interventions in secondary and further education to prevent and reduce alcohol use among children and young people aged 11 up to and including 18

NICE. Alcohol. This page lists all NICE products on alcohol, including guidance, pathways and quality standards

Page last updated - 13/06/2024