UK Alcohol Addiction Facts and Statistics

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a spectrum disorder, appearing in mild, moderate, and severe forms. Alcohol has a powerful effect on the brain, creating intense feelings of pleasure and numbing any negative ones. This can motivate users to repeatedly return to alcohol, even when it causes a negative impact on their health, relationships, and professional life.

Alcohol in the UK

Due to the normalisation of alcohol in UK culture, consuming the substance is extremely common. A 2017 survey revealed that around 29.2 million adults drank the week before being questioned, equating to around 57% of the Great British population.

It is not just the number of people drinking alcohol that is a potential problem, it is also the unhealthy amounts that are being consumed. Recent research showed that over 58.6% of adult drinkers across the UK regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines. Out of these, 27% binge drink on their heaviest drinking day.

The Dangers of Alcohol Misuse

When consumed in large amounts or consistently over a long period, alcohol can be a dangerous substance. Consumption of the drug is a causal factor of over sixty medical conditions, such as liver disease, multiple types of cancer, depression, and dementia. Between 2019/2020, 976,425 people were admitted to hospital in England due to problems related to alcohol consumption, an increase of 12% compared to 2016/2017.  There is also a risk of death through overdosing when misusing the substance. In 2020, the Office for National Statistics found thirteen in 100,000 people died due to alcohol-related deaths. This is an increase of 19.6% from the year before, the highest jump in numbers since records began.

Alcoholism Per Demographic

There are a number of factors that influence the rates of alcohol abuse and the impact of its consumption across the UK. One of these factors is gender, with men being more likely to drink than women. The age range between forty-five to sixty-four are the group most likely to drink, with sixteen to twenty-four-year-olds being the least. However, young people between sixteen to twenty-four are more likely to binge drink when they consume alcohol. The area where you live also plays a role in drinking habits, with people in the East of England most likely to drink from week-to-week and those in the North East most likely to binge drink. Comparing between countries, Scottish people are the most likely to binge drink, with the English being the least.

Additionally, socioeconomics has an influence on drinking habits, with high earners consuming more alcohol than those who don’t. About 90% of people in the least deprived areas were found to drink alcohol, with only 71% in the most deprived. In Wales, however, people living in the most deprived areas were 3.3 times more likely to be admitted to hospital due to alcohol. Scotland and Northern Ireland also had similar statistics, where those living in areas of higher deprivation have substantially higher rates of alcohol-related mortalities.

An individual’s country of residence has been shown to impact death rates related to drinking. Between 2019/2020, the alcohol specific death rate in:

  • Scotland was 21.5 per 100,000 population
  • England was 13.0 per 100,000 population
  • Wales was 13.9 per 100,000 population
  • Northern Ireland was 19.6 per 100,000 population

Comparison of Pre- and Post-Lockdown Drinking Habits

According to GOV.UK, the pandemic triggered people across the UK to increase their alcohol consumption levels compared to previous years. This resulted in an estimated 10%  increase of the population consuming levels of alcohol at higher risk levels. Research commissioned by Alcohol Change UK, also revealed further drinking habit changes during lockdown. Finding:

  • Men and women increased their alcohol consumption equally
  • More young people drunk more than usually compared to older people
  • Working people’s (33%) drinking habits increased more than non-working people (20%)
  • People with lower incomes (32%) were more likely to increase their drinking habits than those with higher incomes (24%)

Of course this has a knock-on effect in the health sector, with a 13.5% increase between 2019 and 2020 for the rate of unplanned admissions for alcoholic liver disease. In 2020, the UK saw a 20% increase in the total alcohol-specific deaths compared to 2019. This included deaths from mental and behavioural disorders linked to alcohol consumption – which rose by 10.8% – and deaths due to alcohol poisoning – which were 15.4% higher than previously.

The Impact of Increased Tax Levels

Compared to 1987, alcohol now is 74% more affordable, with retail prices hugely decreasing over the last thirty years. From 2009 to 2019, alcohol decreased by 5% compared to the average for other retail goods, becoming 13% more affordable than in 2008. International research has shown that alcohol consumption is directly related to price. If more regulations were put into place to restrict the price of alcohol – such as increasing tax rates, minimum unit pricing, and restricting price promotions – overall consumption would likely decrease.

Statistics on Those Seeking Treatment

In the UK, 82% of the estimated 600,000 dependent drinkers are not accessing treatment. Between 2019 and 2020, around 105,000 adults were in treatment for an alcohol use disorder in England, with nearly 75,000 of those solely being treated for alcohol with no other substance.

Of people starting treatment for an alcohol use disorder in this year:

  • Were 46 on average
  • 60% were male and 84% of these were White British
  • 28% of people had a disability
  • 45% lived in the top 30% of deprived areas
  • 60% also needed mental health treatment
  • 59% successfully completed their treatment program

Treatment and Addiction Trends

Overconsumption of alcohol is an issue in the UK due to its key role in cultural normality. Statistical studies from 2018 showed the overall amount of alcohol being consumed in the UK and the number of people drinking it was decreasing since 2005, especially amongst younger drinkers. In 2017, 20% of the population reported not drinking at all, with overconsumption falling around 16% in the thirteen previous years.

However, due to the pandemic, this number has increased by quite a large amount putting more strain on the health services. Researchers have warned that there could be a knock-on effect from the increase in pandemic drinking for the next 20 years, although many hope that the end of lockdown will see alcohol return to pre-pandemic levels.

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