Analysing the latest data on UK alcohol trends

15/05/2018

So what do the latest data sets from the ONS and NHS Digital tell us about UK alcohol consumption?

The major headline used in the release and echoed in the media was that wealthier people are drinking more.  While there is a clear association between income and the likelihood that a person drinks, it is actually deprived areas that see the greatest number of alcohol-specific deaths and other harms. The figures show big regional variations, with alcohol related deaths being highest in the North East and North West regions. Binge drinking is also more prevalent in Scotland, the North West of England and Yorkshire and the Humber. The figures illustrate not only a North-South divide, but also reflect a link between deprivation and alcohol harm. This is echoed in the data with Southern coastal areas such as Bournemouth and Torbay also seeing a higher number of deaths from alcohol.  

In terms of hospital admissions in England, the figures show that there has been a 1% drop in admissions.  Overall, the most common reason for alcohol-related hospitalisation was cancer, followed by accidental injury. While any drop in admissions is good to see, there is clearly more work to be done on the ground in areas where admissions are high. Schemes such as Safe Spaces provide on-the-spot medical treatment and care and help to make the night time economy safer for everyone. There are currently 45 operating across the UK but we estimate that there is potential for a further 150 to be set up. This could return more than £100m to the NHS every year, further reducing hospital admissions and instances of alcohol related disorder.

The data also shows that terms like ‘Binge Britain’ and ‘Boozed up Brits’ no longer reflects the reality of how the UK is drinking today. As a nation, we are less likely to drink and less likely to binge drink than we were a decade ago. Over the last ten years, binge drinking has remained stable among older drinkers but has declined significantly among younger people.  While these figures once again indicate that drinkers in the 16-24 age bracket are the most likely to drink heavily, they are also less likely to drink than any other age group.

The biggest takeaway from the latest data is the stark regional variations. The links between deprivation and deaths from alcohol-related conditions underlines why we need targeted and effective local partnerships between councils, police, health services, local businesses and the voluntary sector to tackle alcohol-related harms where they are more prevalent, and help make our communities safer and more vibrant.

What is disappointing is that this will be the last year of the survey. In future, the only data available will be separate surveys across England, Scotland and Wales. This will mean that we will lose a valuable tool providing insight into UK drinking trends across the country and the ability to track trends and changes. While overall consumption is a useful indicator, we also need a more nuanced understanding of the changes that are taking place. It’s vital that we are able to measure binge and harmful drinking so that we can identify the areas where further targeted interventions are needed. The industry and public health professionals need to work together to identify the most appropriate metrics to consistently track and measure consumer choices around responsible drinking.       

John Timothy, Portman Group CEO

You can read the full data sets here: 

Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2017

NHS Digital Statistics on Alcohol