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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Alcohol trends 2019

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The Statistics on Alcohol for 2019 showed there were 337,870 admissions to hospital last year primarily due to alcohol consumption.

Earlier this month (5 February 2019), the Office for National Statistics published its invaluable annual collection of data relating to all things Alcohol in England for 2019.

This blog posts simply highlights some of the key findings and trends.

Alcohol-related hospital admissions

Two measures for alcohol-related hospital admissions are used:

  • Narrow measure – where the main reason for admission to hospital was attributable to alcohol.
  • Broad measure – where the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis was linked to alcohol.

The narrow measure estimates the number of hospital admissions which are primarily due to alcohol consumption and provides the best indication of trends in alcohol-related hospital admissions.

The broad measure gives an indication of the full impact of alcohol on hospital admissions and the burden placed on the NHS.

In 2017/18 there were 338 thousand estimated admissions where the main reason for admission to hospital was attributable to alcohol (narrow measure). This is similar to 2016/17 and 15% higher than 2007/08 and represents 2.1% of all hospital admissions.

There were 1.2 million estimated admissions where the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis was linked to alcohol, which is 3% higher than 2016/17 (broad measure). This represents 7.2% of all hospital admissions.

Alcohol-specific deaths

The ONS definition only includes conditions where each death is a direct consequence of alcohol misuse. The definition is primarily based on chronic (longer-term) conditions associated with continued misuse of alcohol and, to a lesser extent, acute (immediate) conditions.

In England in 2017, there were 5,843 alcohol-specific deaths.  The number of deaths is 6% higher than 2016 and an increase of 16% on 2007. Almost exactly two thirds (66%) of these deaths were of men. Alcohol-specific death rates are higher in the North of England and lower in England and the South. Unsurprisingly, they were much higher in the most deprived areas of the country.

Alcohol consumption

The proportion of men and women usually drinking at increased or higher risk of harm decreased between 2011 and 2017 (from 34% to 28% of men, and from 18% to 14% of women). The proportion of men and women usually drinking over 14 units in a week varied across age groups and was most common among men and women aged 55 to 64 (36% and 20% respectively).

The proportion of adults usually drinking at increased or higher risk of harm was highest in higher income households for both men and women, with 35% of men and 19% of women.

In the lowest income households, 20% of men and 12% of women drink at increased or higher risk of harm. When looking just at higher risk, there were no differences by income.

Alcohol treatment

In 2017/18, 76 thousand were treated for problematic drinking alone which was a 6% decrease on the previous year. 28 thousand were treated for non-opiate and alcohol problems. It is not clear from these statistics how much the drop in people in treatment is linked to decreasing alcohol consumption and how much in cut-backs to treatment services.

The affordability of alcohol

With Scotland having set a minimum unit price for alcohol and Wales following suit later this year, there’s increased interest in the cost of alcohol.

The ONS report shows that in the UK since 1987 alcohol has become 64% more affordable. Over the last ten years the price of alcohol has increased by 31%The price of alcohol decreased by 0.3% relative to retail prices, whilst real disposable income per adult increased by 2.8% over the same period. As a result, alcohol has become 3.2% more affordable since 2008.

UK household expenditure on alcohol has almost doubled to £19.3 billion in 2017, from £9.7 billion in 1987. However, alcohol expenditure as a proportion of total household expenditure has fallen to 1.5% over the same period, from 3.2% in 1987.

Average weekly household expenditure on alcohol was £8.70 in 2017/18.​

People in the 65-74 age group spent the most, with an average of £10.60 a week. ​

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