The price of a drink: survey reveals cost of alcohol abuse
The toll that alcohol takes on many people’s lives is laid bare in a survey which has prompted fresh calls for action to tackle widespread chronic drinking across Britain.
Alcohol’s role in everything from injury and relationship breakdown to trouble with the police, emerges in a poll commissioned by a group of senior doctors. Some 11% of people polled have seen a friend or relative’s relationship end as a direct result of heavy drinking. One in five (21%) know someone who has driven while over the legal alcohol limit. And 51% know someone who has been a victim of drink-related violence, or has been attacked themselves.
The survey also found that 14% of children are being brought up in a family where at least one adult has a drink problem.
The YouGov poll, commissioned by the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), paints a graphic picture of alcohol’s many negative consequences. The survey of 2,221 people found that:
• 14% admit they have injured themselves while drunk; 2% have injured others.
• 43% know at least one person with a drink problem, and 5% say they know more than five people.
• 12% have a family member who they believe drinks too much.
• 13% go to work at least occasionally feeling unwell due to a heavy drinking session, and 9% have taken time off for that reason.
• 4% of women and 1% of men have been involved in domestic abuse linked to alcohol.
• 11% know someone who has had to be treated in A&E because of alcohol.
• 5% of men have ended up in trouble with the police for that reason.
Young people are disproportionately likely to suffer harm. Some 27% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 31% of 25 to 34-year-olds admit injuring themselves while drunk, while 12% and 15% respectively of the same age groups have taken time off work due to drink. “These findings show there’s a big problem in terms of harm, aggression, antisocial behaviour and actually some very sad outcomes,” said BSG spokesman Professor Chris Hawkey. “Dysfunctional and violent behaviour due to alcohol have become social norms. There used to be shame attached to alcohol dependence and its consequences, but clearly there’s much less of that around now.”
He called on ministers to introduce a minimum price of 50p a unit and implement tough restrictions on the advertising of alcohol based on those in France, which bans drink ads on TV and in the cinema, and forbids alcohol sponsorship of sporting or cultural events.
Alcohol Concern, which represents drink treatment services, said the poll undermined industry claims that only a small number of people were affected by excess consumption. “This research shows drunkenness has become a cultural norm and is negatively impacting the lives of millions of people, many of whom are responsible drinkers,” said Don Shenker, the charity’s chief executive. He also called for tougher action against drinks retailers and promoters.
“Their irresponsible practices are creating the mirage that drinking is a social right with no consequences. The reality is far from that. What we have is alcohol being sold for pennies and an accepted culture of excess which blights our town centres and affects friends, neighbours and loved ones,” he added.Professor Steve Field, until recently president of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the coalition’s plan to ban the sale of alcohol at below cost price. “This is a step in the right direction,” Field said, but added : “The policy must be kept under review: if it is not shown to make a difference on the public’s health, and on antisocial behaviour, then I would urge ministers to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The majority of people drink responsibly but these findings reflect that alcohol consumption is a serious problem for too many. No one thing will solve this complex challenge of alcohol misuse and the Government is taking action on all fronts including banning the sale of alcohol below cost price and giving local authorities more power over local licensing decisions.”
She added: “It is not clear that national minimum unit pricing is the best way to reduce harm so we need to look at other options in England.”