Alcohol Abuse In The UK

The UK is known for its drinking culture. We’re renowned for it:  the football beers, after work drinks, the recent prosecco craze and now the of-the-moment gin trend, each one giving that little addition to our drinking culture.  In fact, we are so well-known for our binge drinking that the French (for whom binge drinking is a recent phenomenon) didn’t have a word for it until recently and so used ours: “le binge drinking”.

Of course, not everyone in the UK drinks alcohol, nor do those who drink it always abuse it.  Alcohol is considered safe in moderation.  However, there are a significant number of people in the UK for whom alcohol abuse is a major concern.

Alcohol abuse is defined by some as problem drinking that becomes severe or when drinking alcohol interferes with everyday life.  A person who abuses alcohol does not know how to stop drinking it or cannot stop drinking it.  It can also occupy a lot of their thoughts a lot of the time.  Alcohol abuse doesn’t necessarily mean that the drinker is dependent on it though.  It can mean that the consumption is inappropriate and excessive but not always an ‘addiction’.  Alcohol abuse does mean that there is some sort of dependence on the drug.  There will be physical as well as psychological symptoms and drinkers will need to drink more to have the same effects.  It’s easy to see that the abuse of alcohol is a downward spiral.

Just how much do Brits drink?

We’re going to have a look at some statistics about drinking in the UK.  Let’s start with those of us who don’t drink alcohol.

According to statistics, in 2016, 19% of adults (aged over 16) said that they were a non-drinker.  In fact, 17% of men and slightly more women, at 22%, said that they had not drunk alcohol at all within the preceding year.  As for those who drink, just over half of men (at 53%) have drunk alcohol in the last year, with their weekly consumption being under the recommended 14 units.  For women, this figure was slightly more, at 62%.  So, what about those who “abuse” alcohol?

These statistics are worrying.  In total, 7% of women and 10% of men said that they drink more than the recommended 14 units but no more than 21.  Those who drink more than 21 units but less than 35 units are 12%, 6% of men and women respectively.  Between 35 to 50 units is 4% of men and 2% of women. For the highest drinkers, a worrying 5% of men and 2% of women drink over 50 units of alcohol a week.   These statistics for the highest of drinkers are really worrying indeed.  They are contributing to an overall health crisis in the UK.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is one way in which consumers abuse alcohol.  Binge drinking is a relatively new term in the English language, but binge drinking isn’t all that new.  In terms of what is classed as a binge, it varies because everyone is different.  The NHS’s definition is that “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk” is classed as binge drinking.  The Office of National Statistics says that a binge is classed as having over 8 units in one go for a man, and over 6 units for a woman.  This is a lot less than many people would think. Many casual drinkers do not realise that they are actually classed as binge drinkers.  In fact, the glasses that we drink from are now so much bigger that a glass of wine can sometimes be a binge on its own.

Does age affect alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse?

Age is an important factor.  In fact, studies show that older drinkers (aged 65 or older) drink alcohol more frequently than younger people.  However, younger drinkers more in one session and are more prone to binge drinking.  In looking at alcohol-related deaths, the biggest at risk group is those between 55-64 years of age.  But, having said that, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health or disability for the 15-49 year old age bracket.  Looking at this, it’s clear that there are associations with age and alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Abuse and Health

It comes as no surprise that alcohol abuse is a significant risk to health in many ways.  The World Health Organisation says that there are 3.3 million deaths worldwide each year due to alcohol consumption.   In fact, alcohol is an important causal factor in many medical conditions. Such conditions include many cancers such as stomach, throat, mouth, breast and liver cancers.  It also increases blood pressure, can be a cause or aggravator of depressive illnesses as well as cirrhosis of the liver. This list is not exhaustive. There are over 60 conditions which are linked to alcohol abuse.

Social problems

It’s not just the health that suffers when alcohol is abused.  Alcohol misuse often leads to problems of another kind: social problems.  Such problems can include divorce or the breakdown of a relationship, domestic abuse, unemployment and lastly, homelessness.

Final thoughts

Alcohol abuse is a significant factor in many people’s lives in the UK.  Chances are, you know someone who either abuses alcohol or is affected by another’s alcohol abuse.  The good news is that there is lots of help out there for those who are looking to reduce or stop their alcohol abuse. We are lucky in that, in living in the UK, there are many organisations that can help.

The first port of call for many is their local GP.  The NHS has some excellent resources and apps to help people monitor their alcohol drinking and reduce their dependence or even stop altogether. There are also many websites and online resources such as the DrinkAware website, which points its readers in the direction of other organisations that can help with alcohol abuse.  However, the first thing is for the alcohol abuser to recognise that they have a problem.  And that is the greatest sticking point.