Alcohol-related harm and drinking behaviour

This indicator explores whether alcohol-related harm and drinking behaviour has changed over time.


Last updated: 26/02/2019

Effective clinical care
Primary and community care Public health


Excessive alcohol consumption can have harmful health consequences in the short term but also in the long term, through conditions such as liver disease, stroke and some cancers.  Alcohol-related hospital activity and deaths are potentially avoidable burdens to the health service.

How have alcohol-related deaths changed over time in the UK? 26/02/2019

Chart QualityWatch

Read more

The alcohol-related death rate varies considerably across the UK. Scotland has had the highest alcohol-related death rate, for all persons, since the time series began in 2001, while England has had the lowest. In 2017, the rate in Scotland was 20.5 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people in England. The alcohol-related death rates in Wales and Northern Ireland in 2017 were 13.5 and 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people respectively.

Alcohol-related death rates in England, Northern Ireland and Wales were all significantly higher in 2017 compared with 2001; the largest percentage increase of 40% occurred in Northern Ireland.

By contrast, in Scotland, the 2017 rate was significantly lower than in 2001, showing a 21% reduction. The launch of a Scottish National Alcohol Strategy in 2002 may have contributed to the downward trajectory in alcohol-related deaths over the subsequent decade. Since 2012, however, rates have begun to increase again, despite the publication of the framework for action Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol in 2009.

How do alcohol-related deaths differ by gender? 27/02/2019

Chart QualityWatch

Read more

The alcohol-related death rate in males is more than twice the rate in females; in 2017, there were 16.8 deaths per 100,000 males compared with 8.0 deaths per 100,000 females. Since 2001, the rate of alcohol-related deaths in males has increased by 13%, but has fluctuated over time, reaching a high of 17.8 deaths per 100,000 males in 2008. The rate of alcohol-related deaths in females has increased by 21% since 2001, also reaching a peak in 2008 that was then matched in 2017.

To put these figures into context, in 2017 there were 5,133 alcohol-related deaths in males and 2,564 in females. The alcohol-related death rate is highest in men aged 60-64 and women aged 55-59 (data not shown).

How have alcohol-related admissions to hospital changed over time? 27/02/2019

Chart QualityWatch

Read more

Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion per year and society as a whole £21 billion annually. Monitoring alcohol-related hospital admissions supports the national ambition to reduce harm set out in the Government's Alcohol Strategy.

The rate of hospital admissions which were primarily due to alcohol consumption has remained broadly stable over time. In 2016/17, there were 820 alcohol-related hospital admissions per 100,000 males and 470 admissions per 100,000 females.

How has the proportion of people who drank heavily in the past week changed over time? 26/02/2019

Chart QualityWatch

Read more

The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, run by the Office for National Statistics, conducts annual face-to-face interviews where people are asked about their alcohol consumption on the heaviest drinking day in the week prior to interview. Since 2005, the proportion of people drinking more than 8 units (men) or 6 units (women) on their heaviest drinking day has fallen for those aged 16-24 by 18%, and for those aged 25-44 by 8%. Meanwhile, there was a small increase of 9% in heavy drinking for people aged 45-64. And there was a large percentage increase of 44% in heavy drinking in the 65 and over age group; in 2005, 7.7% reported they had drunk heavily in the week prior to interview, compared with 11.1% in 2017.

Overall, the 16-24 age group report drinking the most heavily, with 39.4% reporting that they had exceeded 8/6 units on the heaviest  drinking day in the week prior to interview in 2017. In comparison, 11.1% of people in the 65 and over group reported that they had drunk heavily.

About this data

The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions is calculated using a method developed by the North West Public Health Observatory. This method is based on alcohol attributable fractions of a range of diseases and injuries that are caused by alcohol consumption. The data presented here is based on the narrow measure, which takes account of diagnoses recorded as a primary diagnosis. There is also a broad measure which takes account of both primary and secondary diagnoses.

The National Statistics definition of alcohol-related deaths includes underlying causes of death regarded as those being most directly due to alcohol consumption. The definition is primarily based on chronic conditions associated with long-term abuse of alcohol and, to a lesser extent, acute conditions. Apart from poisoning with alcohol (accidental, intentional or undetermined), the definition excludes other external causes of death, such as road traffic and other accidents.

The definition does not include diseases that are partially attributable to alcohol, such as cancers of the mouth, oesophagus and liver. However, all deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (excluding biliary cirrhosis) are included, even when alcohol is not specifically mentioned on the death certificate.