A significant proportion of adults drink beyond safe limits, but prevalence of drinking in young people is falling.

Alcohol harm

Alcohol has been identified as a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions including mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; hypertensive disease (high blood pressure); cirrhosis; and depression (1). In 2010, there were 6,669 alcohol-related deaths in England (2).

Alcohol-related illness is placing an increasing burden on the NHS. In the past 10 years there has been a sharp rise in the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol (3).

Hospital admissions attributable to alcohol in England 2002/3 to 2009/10


Source: Appleby J, (2012). Article. British Medical Journal

Admissions for alcohol harm differ significantly by area and gender. In 2010/11, hospital admission rates for alcohol-related reasons per head of population were 80 per cent higher in north-west than in south-central strategic health authority regions (3).

Adults and alcohol

Alcohol consumption has nearly doubled since the 1950s, with increasing amounts of alcohol consumed in the home. The increase in consumption is now levelling off (4).

Government recommendations are that adult men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day and adult women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day. More than 10 million adults in England exceed the recommended levels. The proportion of women who drink more than 14 units per week has increased from 12 per cent in 1992 to 18 per cent in 2009. There has been no significant change in the proportion of men who drink more than 21 units per week (about 27 per cent) (3).

Alcohol misuse affects all socio-economic groups and trends show significant increase in the middle-aged, middle-class cohort. The overall proportion of adults exceeding the recommended level on at least one day in the past week was greater in managerial professional group (38 per cent) than in routine and manual group (28 per cent) (3).

Young people and alcohol

The percentage of young people aged 11-15 years drinking alcohol is falling. In 2010, 13 per cent said they had drunk alcohol in the past week, down from 26 per cent in 2001.

Proportion of pupils (11-15) who drank alcohol in the last week, by sex (1988-2011)

Source: NHS Information Centre (2010). Report. Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2010

For more on young people and trends in health, see our pages on obesity, smoking, drug misuse and sexual behaviour.

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  1. NHS Information Centre (2010). Report. Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2010
  2. Office for National Statistics (2012). Report. Drug use, alcohol and smoking
  3. NHS Information Centre (2011). Report. Statistics on Alcohol
  4. British Medical Association (2008). Report. Alcohol Misuse: Tackling the UK Epidemic