alcohol consumption factsheet (complete) august 2013

Download Alcohol consumption factsheet (complete) August 2013

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  • Alcohol consumption

    Updated August 2013

    Alcohol consumption Factsheet

    Institute of Alcohol Studies Alliance House 12 Caxton Street London SW1H 0QS Tel: 020 7222 4001 Email:

    Institute of Alcohol Studies Elmgren House

    1 The Quay St Ives

    Cambridgshire PE27 5AR

    Tel: 01480 466766



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    Table of contents Alcohol consumption: Introduction 3

    Total consumption in the UK 4

    A good measure: Units and drinking guidelines 6

    Drinking patterns and trends 10

    Alcohol consumption in the European Union 19

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    Alcohol consumption: Introduction Alcohol consumption in Great Britain has risen per head of the adult population during the post-war years, more than doubling between the mid-1950s and late 1990s, when it hit double figures for the first time. It has fallen slightly from a peak of 11.5 litres in 2004; periods of slow economic activity in recent years may have contributed to this relative decline. Men consume on average more than twice as much alcohol mainly beer on a weekly basis as women, although in terms of amounts drunk, women now consume more units of wine than men in total. There has also been a long-term increase in the proportion of alcohol purchased from off-licenced outlets and consumed at home rather than in pubs and bars; British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) figures estimate that twice as much alcohol is now bought from off-licenced premises as from pubs and other on-licenced premises. This is thought to be due to the increased affordability of alcoholic beverages from off-licence vendors, relative to the cost of purchasing drinks in pubs and bars.

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    Total consumption in the UK The latest available data estimates total alcohol consumption in the UK at 10 litres per capita for those aged 15 years and older and 8.3 litres per capita on average throughout the entire population in 2011.1 This forms part of a recent downward trend from a peak of 11.5 and 9.5 litres per capita respectively in 2004. However, Figure 1 below demonstrates the long-term increase in UK alcohol consumption since 1975, when average consumption per capita was 9 litres for the UK population older than 15 years and 6.9 litres on average as a whole. Figure 1: UK Total Alcohol Consumption, 1975 to 2011, litres per capita

    Source: British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), Statistical Handbook 2012 Recorded UK alcohol consumption per capita for drinkers 15 years of age and over first reached double figures in 1997, rising to a peak of 11.5 litres in 2004 and remaining above 10 litres per head since 1998. Recorded UK alcohol consumption in total has remained broadly in line with trends in adult consumption, also peaking in 2004 at a high of 9.5 litres per capita, before declining to 8.3 litres in 2011. These figures do not, however, take into account the levels of unrecorded alcohol consumed. For instance, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimates that the tax gap for beer duty accounted for up to 14% of the UK market in 2009-2010.2 Unrecorded alcohol consumption in a country includes consumption of homemade or informally produced alcohol legal or illegal smuggled alcohol, alcohol intended for industrial or medical uses, alcohol obtained through cross-border shopping (which is recorded in a different jurisdiction), as well as consumption of alcohol by tourists. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates UK unrecorded alcohol consumption to be approximately 1.7 litres per head (for the population aged 15+ years).3

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    Data on alcohol consumption comes from a variety of sources. Every year, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) publishes a compilation of drinks industry statistics incorporating data from producers, retailers and other relevant sources on alcohol production, as well as government figures on the revenue accrued from UK sales of alcoholic beverages, collected by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also provides data on alcohol consumption in the annual General Lifestyle Survey (GLS), which provides a snapshot of the habits and attitudes of nearly 8,000 families and people living in private households in Great Britain. Statistics on Alcohol, produced in conjunction with the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), offers an insight into the demographic distribution of alcohol consumption throughout England. The respondents to the 2010 GLS were asked questions about their drinking in the week prior to interview, in particular: how often over the last year they have drunk normal strength beer; strong beer (6% or greater alcohol by volume (ABV)); wine; spirits; fortified wines and; alcopops, and how much they have usually drunk on any one day. The answers to these criteria formed the basis for the statistics on average per capita alcohol consumption in the UK. By its own admission, the GLS states that:

    Obtaining reliable information about drinking behaviour is difficult, and social surveys consistently record lower levels of consumption than would be expected from data on alcohol sales. This is partly because people may consciously or unconsciously underestimate how much alcohol they consume. Drinking at home is particularly likely to be underestimated because the quantities consumed are not measured and are likely to be larger than those dispensed in licensed premises.4

    If this is the case, it can be assumed that the ONS statistics on the consumption of alcohol are conservative estimates, as data collected by HMRC can be seen as more robust than self-reporting via surveys, in that it shows the actual volume of alcohol bought and sold. However, this too cannot be seen as wholly representative of UK alcohol consumption as it does not include unrecorded alcohol. 1 Sheen, David (August 2012), 'Statistical Handbook 2012', British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA),

    London: Brewing Publications Limited, p. 36 2 National Audit Office (NAO) (January 2012), 'Renewed Alcohol Strategy: A Progress Report', p. 4 3 World Health Organisation (WHO) (2011), 'Global status report on alcohol and health', p. 277 4 Office for National Statistics (ONS) (March 2012), 'General Lifestyle Survey Overview Report 2010', p. 16

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    A good measure: Units and drinking guidelines What is a unit of alcohol? In the UK, consumption of alcoholic drinks is measured in units. Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink, offering a standardised comparison of the volume of pure alcohol between alcoholic beverages.1 They are calculated as follows:

    In the UK, 1 unit is equal to 8 grammes of pure alcohol, which is also equivalent to 10 millilitres of pure ethanol (alcohol). This takes approximately an hour for the average adult to process in the body (although there are many varying factors which mean all drinkers process alcohol differently).2 The number of grammes that make up a unit varies between countries.* UK low risk drinking guidelines The current advice from the Department of Health regarding alcohol consumption is that, in order to minimise the risk of health harms associated with drinking:3

    Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, no more than 4 units in any given day, and have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week

    Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than 3 units in any given day, and have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week

    Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol at all. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than 12 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk

    Children should not drink alcohol at all, but if they do, they should be at least 15 years old, never drink more than once a week, supervised by a parent or carer, and never exceed the recommended adult daily limits (34 units of alcohol for men and 23 units for women)

    Hazardous drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking which brings about the risk of physical or psychological harm. This occurs when a person regularly drinks over the recommended daily limit. The cumulative effect over a week's worth of drinking will most likely exceed 21 units for men and 14 units for women. Harmful drinking, a subset of hazardous drinking, is defined as a pattern of drinking which is likely to cause physical or psychological harm.4 Men who drink more than 50 units in the course of a week are classified as harmful drinkers, as are women who consume over 35 units. Figure 2 depicts the difference in consumption levels between moderate, hazardous and harmful drinkers.

    * A comprehensive international roundup of drinking guidelines by nation is available on Wikipedia

    Number of millilitres in drink x Alcohol By Volume (%) 1000

    = Number of units

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    Figure 2: Alcohol consumption levels, in units, by sex

    Source: Dr Holmes, John et al., Minimum Unit Pricing & Banning Below Cost Selling: Estimated policy impacts in England 2014/15, Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield History of UK drinking guidelines The current recommended drinking guidelines were originally based on evidence submitted in a report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to the UK government in 1987. This report acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to make completely confident statements about how much alcohol is safe.5 However, in making the judgement that the public needed to be informed about


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