Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Governments should step up efforts to tackle harmful alcohol consumption

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report providing insights into alcohol consumption across 52 OECD, European Union and Group of 20 (G20) countries. From a simulation for life expectancy using a low-risk drinking threshold, it is estimated that life expectancy across the countries included will be 0.9 years lower over the next 30 years due to disease and injuries caused by drinking more than 1 drink per day for women and 1.5 drinks per day for men.

The report also highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol consumption. It found that a higher number of people reported increases in drinking frequency compared to those drinking less. According to preliminary estimates, in Germany, the UK and the United States, overall alcohol sales slightly increased by 3-5% in 2020 compared to 2019.

During the lockdown periods of the pandemic, women, parents of young children, people with higher income and those with anxiety and depressive symptoms reported the highest increase in alcohol consumption, for instance, in Australia, Belgium, France, the UK and the United States. There was also a 60% increase in calls about domestic violence across EU countries during the pandemic.

Consumption patterns in the UK

In the UK, on average 11.4 litres of pure alcohol is consumed per person each year. Binge drinking remains a major issue in the UK, with 30% of adults binge drinking at least once a month. Men tend to consume more alcohol than women, with men on average consuming 17.8 and women 5.4 litres of pure alcohol per person each year.

Among 15-year olds, girls (31%) were more likely than boys (29%) to report having ever been drunk before. It was also noted that 24% of children that reported having never been drunk before, were more likely to do well in school.

Policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm in the UK

While the UK has some strong alcohol policy measures in place to reduce alcohol-related harms, including pricing policies and health care services, there remains further opportunities to enhance alcohol policy, these include:

  • Limiting alcohol marketing, specifically, marketing that children are exposed to. 
  • Introducing health warnings onto alcohol labels to fully inform consumers around the harms of alcohol consumption.
  • Better enforcement to reduce alcohol-related road traffic accidents.

In the UK, should £1.80 be invested in enhancing alcohol policy there would be a range of benefits to people and society, including:

  • 4.1 million non-communicable diseases and injuries by 2050 would be avoided.
  • £658 million in health care costs would be saved each year.
  • employment and productivity would be increased to the equivalent of 57.4 thousand full-time workers per year.

Read the country report for the UK

Read the full report