levels and alcohol plays an important role in the success of the
leisure and tourist industry. However, there is evidence that
patterns of heavy and binge drinking may be particularly serious in
problems, and alcohol-related disorders and injuries.
That's the message in an interim analytical report published today by
the prime minister's Strategy Unit. The report has been produced as
part of its work to produce an alcohol harm reduction strategy for
England - which is aimed at tackling these problems.
The report also points out that up to 40% of men's drinking sessions
now technically qualify as binge drinking as defined by reference to
the government's sensible drinking guidelines. That means men
drinking in excess of the equivalent of four pints of beer (three for
women) or eight measures of spirits (six for women) often in short
periods of time. Over a typical 'Saturday night out' this can see
them drinking three or four times the recommended guidelines. The
consequences of drinking will differ from individual to individual
and many people understand 'bingeing' to mean deliberately drinking
to excess. However, this evidence suggests that many may be causing
themselves potentially serious harm.
The report says that this pattern of drinking is responsible for a
range of alcohol-related problems, is linked to up to 22,000
premature deaths each year, and is costing the country up to #20
billion a year.
It puts the cost to the NHS of alcohol-related injuries and illnesses
at up to £1.7bn a year. The unit's research also shows that
alcohol-related crime, assaults and disorder is costing a further
£7.3bn, while the cost to the economy of lost productivity through
absences and illness is estimated at up to £6.4bn. Some of the human
and social costs are est imated at £4.7bn.
Hazel Blears, minister of state at the Home Office, is sponsor
minister for the Strategy Unit project.
She said: 'The large majority of people who drink, do so without
causing themselves or others harm and it is an integral part of their
social life. In fact, for some there are even health benefits from
'But this study shows that increasing numbers of people - especially
the young - are drinking well above the safe limits. For example,
under-16s who now drink twice as much as they did 10 years ago.
'This is bringing with it health risks and a range of other social
problems. Not least of these problems is the nuisance and disorder
that are all too often a feature of our town and city centres.
'We want everyone to be able to enjoy a drink in safety. That is why
I am pleased to be visiting the pioneering City Safe scheme in
Manchester. This scheme shows that a partnership of police, local
councils and the industry, can succeed in creating a better and safer
city centre for everyone.
'The Strategy Unit team can build upon schemes like this when working
with partners across Government - and outside - to find ways to
reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse.'
The report says that chronic drinking is also taking an increasing
toll on society. Chronic drinkers are often adept at hiding their
addiction and this can put their families at risk of domestic abuse.
Children are doubly vulnerable as the report's research shows that
they can pick up their parent's drinking habits in later life.
Public health minister Melanie Johnson said:
'This report gives a full picture of the effects of alcohol
consumption on society, and on the health of individuals. While
alcohol can have positive effects, the cost to the NHS of 150,000
alcohol-related hospital admissions each year are clear to see. And
we also need to recognise the devastating effects, particularly on
families, of the 15,000 - 22,000 deaths each year, which can be
attributed to alcohol misuse.
'Identifying these problems will ensure that the Department of Health
can work with the Strategy Unit and other key stakeholders to develop
long-term, effective solutions over the coming months leading up to
the publication of the government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy.'
Key points from the report include:
- Regular heavy drinkers are having more health problems and dying
younger - for example, deaths by liver cirrhosis have nearly doubled
over the past decade.
- Alcohol-related accidents and illnesses land around 150,000 people
a year in hospital.
- Around 40% of A&E admissions are alcohol-related, and as many as
70% between midnight and 5am.
- Alcohol is associated with between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths every
- Up to 1.3million children in the UK are affected by parental
- Young people have not been receptive to the 'sensible drinking'
- Under-16s who do drink are drinking twice as much today as they
did 10 years ago, although overall numbers have changed little.
- Around 50% of rough sleepers are reliant on alcohol.
- In 2001-02, there were 1.2m incidents of alcohol-related violence.
- Almost half the victims of violent crime say their attacker was
under the influence of drink; and 45% of victims of domestic violence
said their attacker had been drinking.
- There is no such thing as a typical heavy drinker - though young
white unemployed men are disproportionately likely to misuse alcohol.
- Skilled women drink more than other women and unskilled men drink
the most heavily of all men.
- The average UK drinker consumed the equivalent of 8.6 litres of
pure alcohol in 2001 - that's an increase of 151% since 1951
- Alcohol taxes raise £7bn a year. The value of the drinks market is
estimated at £ ;30bn to the UK economy and the trade employs more than
half a million people.
- Moderate drinking can lower the risk of coronary heart disease -
especially for the over- 40s
- There is already a lot of good practice in tackling alcohol
misuse, examples include: the Manchester City Safe scheme; an Alcohol
Arrest Referral Scheme in Gloucestershire; and the appointment of an
alcohol co-ordinator by Hammersmith and Fulham's crime-cutting
1. The interim analytical report is available online.
2. The Home Office today published 'Alcohol-related assault: findings
from the British Crime Survey'. The online report can be found here.
3. Binge drinking is defined as drinking twice the recommended
guidelines in one day, i.e. six units for a woman and eight for a man
- equivalent to four pints of beer. Many regular drinkers may notice
little effect from these amounts, but their risk of harm is
substantially higher. And many, particularly the young, drink well
above these guidelines.
4. Douglas Alexander, minister of state for the Cabinet Office,
announced the project on 19 July 2002, in response to a parliamentary
5. The project team has been working closely with officials in the
Department of Health who have been working on an Alcohol harm
reduction strategy, as well as other key stakeholders, including Home
Office, Department of Culture Media and Sport, ODPM, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs in Government, the industry, key academics, and
representatives of user groups in the voluntary sector.
6. The project team has undertaken an extensive process of
consultation with stakeholders and relevant groups. A consultation
paper and responses to the consultation are available on the Strategy
Unit w ebsite (www.strategy.gov.uk). A paper setting out the costings
underlying the analysis will also be available on the unit's website.
7. An alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England is expected to be
published later this year.
The Strategy Unit provides the prime minister and government
departments with a capacity to analyse strategic policy issues and to
design long-term solutions to problems. It was formed by a merger of
the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), the Forward Strategy Unit
(FSU) and parts of the Policy Studies Directorate of the Centre for
Management and Policy Studies (CMPS) in June 2002.