Date published






Consequences: Adult drinking in the UK

Date published





Alcohol dependence and treatment

In England in 2014, 1.9% of adults aged 16 and over were harmful or mildly dependent drinkers (AUDIT scores of 16 to 19) and 1.2% were probably dependent drinkers (AUDIT scores of 20 or more).[1]

Of men in England in 2014, harmful, mildly dependent, and probably dependent drinking was most common among 25 to 34 year olds (6.6%).[2] For women, this level of problem drinking was most frequent among those aged 16 – 24.[3] In England, drinking at hazardous levels has declined over the past 15 years, down from 36.8% in 2000 to 27.9% in 2014.[4]

In 2017 in England 172,997 prescription items were given (in a primary care setting or NHS hospital), for the treatment of alcohol dependency.[5] This figure continues the downward trend from 2016 (188,331)—which marked the first decrease in prescriptions since 2004. In the last 10 years, the number of items prescribed has increased by 41%.

In 2017, the Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of these prescription items to treat alcohol dependency amounted to £4.42 million—a figure lower than 2016 (£4.87 million), but just under double the level ten years ago (2007, £2.48 million).[6]

In 2017/18, there were an estimated 586,780 dependent drinkers in England;[7] 81.7% of which were not in treatment.[8]

In Scotland in 2017/18 there were 8,972 patients dispensed drugs for alcohol dependency, a 3.2% decrease from the previous year (9,270 patients). The gross ingredient cost of drugs for alcohol dependence was approximately £2.1 million in 2017/18, this is a 9.6% decrease compared with 2016/17.[9]

Hospital admissions

Alcohol related hospital admissions can be measured using either a broad or a narrow measure (explained here). The narrow measure is considered more appropriate when assessing trends over time.

Based on a broad measure of alcohol-related hospital admissions:

In 2017/18, there were an estimated 1,171,253 admissions related to alcohol consumption in England, where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis[10]—a figure that is 3% higher than 2016/17, and one that represents 7.2% of all hospital admissions.[11]

The rate of admissions for alcohol-related conditions has increased from 2,185 (per 100,000) in 2016/17 to 2,224 (per 100,000) in 2017/18.[12]

Men were more likely to be admitted to hospital with alcohol related diseases, injuries and conditions than women (64.5% vs 35.4% of admissions).[13]

Based on a narrow measure of alcohol-related hospital admissions:

In 2017/18, there were an estimated 337,867 alcohol-related hospital admissions in England where the primary diagnosis or external causes recorded in secondary diagnosis fields were attributable to the consumption of alcohol.[14]

This is similar to the level observed in 2016/17 (337,113) and 2015/16 (339,280), but higher than the number of admissions in 2013/14 (333,010).[15]

People admitted to hospital

In 2017/18, there were 304,073 alcohol-specific hospital admissions in England; 205,623 male and 98,450 female.[16]

Between 2015/16 and 2017/18 for under 18s in England, there were 11,610[17] alcohol-specific hospital admissions—a rate of 32.9 per 100,000 population.[18]

Alcohol-specific deaths

In 2017, there were 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths in the UK—continuing the upward trend in deaths observed since 2012 (Figure 1).[19] 5,974 deaths were due to alcoholic liver disease.[20] The 2017 age-standardised rate of 12.2 alcohol-specific deaths per 100,000 people is now the highest rate since 2008 when the rate was recorded as 12.7 deaths per 100,000 people.[21]

In 2017, alcohol-specific deaths were highest among males aged 60-64 years (40.6 deaths per 100,000) and among females aged 55 to 59 years (19.6 deaths per 100,000).[22]

Approximately two-thirds of alcohol-specific deaths occur among men—a trend that has remained consistent since 2001 (Figure 2).

In 2017 in England, there were 5,843 alcohol-specific deaths; 80% of which were attributable to alcoholic liver disease.[23] The rates for men were highest in the North East (20.1 per 100,000), and lowest in London (11.3 per 100,000).[24] For women, alcohol-specific death rates were highest in the North East (11.1 per 100,000) and lowest in London (4.6 per 100,000).[25]

Alcohol-related crime

There were approximately 561,000 incidents of violent crime in England and Wales in 2017/18 where the victim believed the offender to be under the influence of alcohol; representing 39% of all violent incidents. The proportion of violent crime linked to alcohol has fallen from 54% in 2013/14 (Figure 3).[26] A similar pattern has been observed in the other nations of the UK.

In Scotland, the proportion of violent crimes involving offenders under the influence of alcohol was 46% in 2017/18. This figure has fallen from 63% in 2008/09 but is not significantly different from the estimate in 2014/15 (56%) or 2016/17 (42%).[27]

According to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, alcohol has been a contributory factor in one-fifth of all crimes recorded since 2012/13[28] In 2016/17, the proportion of violent crimes involving offenders under the influence of alcohol was 40%—a figure that has fallen since 2012/13 (47%).[29]

Drink Driving

In 2017 in Great Britain, an estimated 8,600 people were injured or killed on roads in incidents where a driver or rider was over the alcohol limit—a 5% decrease on the previous year.[30] This represents 5% of all reported road casualties in 2016.[31]

An estimated 250 people were killed in drink-drive accidents during 2017, up from 230 in 2016.[32] This represents 14% of all deaths in reported road accidents.[33]

Alcohol harm paradox: Is alcohol harm linked to income?

The so-called ‘alcohol harm paradox’ describes the finding that people in the most socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods of the UK, despite not reporting to be drinking more, are likely to experience more alcohol-related health problems than their counterparts living in more affluent neighbourhoods.[34]

For further information read our Research Highlight on the Alcohol Harm Paradox.

Costs of alcohol harm

A 2016 Public Health England evidence review estimates the economic burden of alcohol as between 1.3% and 2.7% of annual UK GDP (approximately £21-£52 billion).[35] You can access the full report here.

Local variance England

Public Health England has an interactive tool providing local level statistics on a range of alcohol harm measures. You can explore these local level statistics for England here.


[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[6] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] ibid

[16] ibid

[17] Note: admissions are not the same as individuals being admitted.

[21] Ibid. Table 1

[22] Ibid. Table 2

[25] ibid

[32] Central estimate. Ibid, Table RAS51001.

[34] Bellis, M. A., Hughes, K., Jones, L., Morleo, M., Nicholls, J., McCoy, E., Webster, J., and Sumnall, H. (2015). Holidays, celebrations, and commiserations: measuring drinking during feasting and fasting to improve national and individual estimates of alcohol consumption. BMC medicine, 13(1), 113.

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