Authors: (Abiodun Olukoga, Graham Lister, Richard Fordham, Miranda Mugford, Edward Wilson and Dominic McVey, School of Medicine, Health Policy & Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, and others)
Abstract: Alcoholic drinks are a valued consumer item and an aid to sociability—less than 10% of adults in England do not drink alcohol. It is therefore essential to distinguish the misuse of alcohol from general consumption. Alcohol misuse is taken as drinking above the recommended weekly limit of 21 units of alcohol per week for a man and 14 units for a woman. By this standard, 30% of adult men and 17% of women report that their weekly consumption is above the recommended level; this is over 9 million people in England. Expenditure on alcoholic drinks in England in 2005 is estimated at £32 billion, split among beer, wine, spirits and fortified wines, cider and other drinks. During the past 10 years, “alcopops” (a variety of ready-to-drink mixes designed to appeal to younger people) were the fastest-growing subsector. Total alcohol consumption has increased by more than 60% in the last 30 years, and latest figures suggest that consumption has risen to the equivalent of 9.5 litres of pure alcohol per capita per year, higher than most other EU countries. Consumption of alcohol is 60% higher for men than for women; however, the highest rates of growth in consumption are among young people 16 to 24 years old. Alcohol consumption in this group grew by about 65% from 1993–2003, with fastest growth among young women. Alcohol consumption in England accounts for about a third of household expenditure on food and drink. It generates some £11.75 b in tax from excise duty and VAT. A current analysis of the full social economic and social costs of alcohol misuse identifies a total of £49 billion costs, including intangible social costs to society of £16 billion, costs to individuals and families of £23 billion, costs to employers of £2 billion, costs to public services of £6 billion and incapacity and income support costs of £2 billion. There are also tax receipts of some £3 billion attributable to excess alcohol consumption. Current evidence of the cost effectiveness of alcohol harm prevention measures in England and Scotland suggests that action on the legal minimum drinking age, blood alcohol laws, lower limits for young drivers and selective breath testing are effective in reducing road traffic injuries and deaths. Interventions aimed at training bar staff also shows evidence of effectiveness in reducing drunkenness.