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Alcohol harm encompasses a broad range of health, social, and financial impacts that can affect individuals, families and society as a whole. 

Public Health England (PHE) published its review on the evidence on the public health burden of alcohol in England in December 2016.  This reported that “among those aged 15 to 49 in England, alcohol is now the leading risk factor for ill-health, early mortality and disability and the fifth leading risk factor for ill-health across all age groups.”[1]

Many indicators of alcohol-related harm have increased in recent years, and those dying from alcohol related disease die over 20 years earlier than the average age of death:

In recent years, many indicators of alcohol-related harm have increased. There are now over 1 million hospital admissions relating to alcohol each year, half of which occur in the lowest three socioeconomic deciles. Alcohol-related mortality has also increased, particularly for liver disease which has seen a 400% increase since 1970, and this trend is in stark contrast to much of Western Europe. In England, the average age at death of those dying from an alcohol-specific cause is 54.3 years. The average age of death from all causes is 77.6 years. More working years of life are lost in England as a result of alcohol-related deaths than from cancer of the lung, bronchus, trachea, colon, rectum, brain, pancreas, skin, ovary, kidney, stomach, bladder and prostate, combined.

Despite this burden of harm, some positive trends have emerged over this period, particularly indicators which relate to alcohol consumption among those aged less than 18 years, and there have been steady reductions in alcohol-related road traffic crashes.[2]

The report highlights the wide-ranging impacts of alcohol use- this can affect the individual themselves, their family and children, the local community and wider society.  Poorer communities seem to be disproportionately affected by alcohol harm.

A report produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Harm highlighted the impacts of alcohol harm on the emergency services.  It reported that over 50% of police officers say that alcohol related incidents make up most of their workload, and over 70% of attendances at A&E on a weekend are alcohol related.[3]

The PHE review reported that the economic burden of alcohol is substantial.  Estimates show that the annual cost is between 1.3% and 2.7% of GDP.[4]  It also reports on the difficulties in accurately assessing the impacts of the wide variety of costs- for example there are few studies produced on the costs to people other than the drinker. 

The review proposes a number of local and national policies to tackle alcohol harm.  These include controls on prices of alcohol, marketing restrictions and regulating availability.

Statistics on alcohol use are available from PHE Local alcohol profiles[5] and NHS Digital: Statistics on alcohol 2020.[6]

[1]    PHE, The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies An evidence review, December 2016

[2]    PHE, The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies An evidence review, December 2016

[3]    APPG on Alcohol harm, The Frontline Battle  An Inquiry into the Impact of Alcohol on Emergency Services by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm, December 2016

[4]    PHE, The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies An evidence review, December 2016

[5]    Local Alcohol Profiles for England, PHE, [accessed 16 March 2020]

[6]    Statistics on Alcohol, England 2020, NHS Digital, 4 February 2020


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