UK "top three" in European Binge Drinking League


The consumption of alcohol has long been an important part of traditional culture in the UK. Between 1950 and 2000, total alcohol consumption per capita increased two-fold from 3.9 litres to 8.4 litres. Wine consumption was almost constantly on the increase in the 1950-2000
period starting from a very low level of one litre of the beverage per capita in 1950 and reaching the level of about 17 beverage litres per capita in 2000.

Drinking alcohol is a widely accepted feature of social life in the United Kingdom. This is amongst others reflected in the low proportion of abstainers in the UK. In the mid-1990s only 4 per cent of males and 7 per cent of females were lifetime abstainers (Health Survey for England, 1996).

According to World Drink Trends (2002) about 117 litres of alcoholic beverages were consumed per capita in the UK in 2000, consisting of 5 litres of distilled spirits, 17 litres of wine and 95 litres of beer. [1]

According to a 2000 national survey of subjects 16 to 74 years (total sample size n = 8580), 39% of men and 42% of women reported heavy and hazardous drinking (note that this figure is for among drinkers only). Heavy and hazardous drinking was defined for men as having five or more standard drinks on a typical drinking day and for women as having three or more standard drinks on a typical drinking day. In the same study, overall around a quarter (26%) of respondents were assessed as being hazardous drinkers, as indicated by a score of 8 or above on the AUDIT questionnaire. [2]

In a national survey of a sample representative of the adult population aged 18–64 years, the percentage of binge drinking occasions of all drinking occasions in the last 12 months was 40% among men and 22% among women. Binge drinking was defined as an occasion when the respondent had consumed at least one bottle of wine, 25 centilitres of spirits or four cans of beer. [3]

In a 1994 survey, 90% of personnel directors from British organizations cited alcohol consumption as a problem within their workplace. With regard to safety, up to 25% of workplace accidents and around 60% of fatal accidents at work may be associated with alcohol. [4]

One in seven traffic deaths were alcohol-related in 1998 – 460 people died in drink-drive accidents and 2520 were seriously injured. Between 1993 and 2001, the total number of casualties from road accidents involving alcohol rose by one fifth. [5]

Large rises in death rates from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis have occurred in most age groups. The SDR per 100 000 population for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis was 9.12 in 1999 and 9.65 in 2000. In 45–54-year-olds, there has been a greater than fourfold increase amongst men since the early 1970s and a threefold increase in women. In 35–44-year-olds, the rise has been even larger: an eightfold increase in men and approaching a sevenfold increase in women. [6]

Alcohol Policy in the UK

There are in the UK several governmental departments that have a responsibility for alcohol production, consumption and related problems. The Department of Health has responsibility for the provision and development of health and personal social services for problem drinkers, and for preventing alcohol misuse by fostering sensible drinking habits through health education measures.

The Home Office is responsible for the licensing laws, broadcasting and criminal policy, drunkenness offences, enforcement of drunk driving laws, crime prevention and the treatment of offenders. The Department of Trade and Industry has an interest in alcohol advertising, and also an interest in alcohol-related accidents stemming from its general responsibility for safety in the home. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has sponsorship responsibilities within government for the UK alcoholic drinks industry.

The liquor licensing laws, specifically the Licensing Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation, deal with the sale and supply of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises and off the premises in England and Wales. Although there are two broad divisions of licence, those for on-licence premises and those for off-licence retailing operations, there are currently, in effect, more than 40 different types of licence for liquor, and different procedures to follow, depending on the type of licence application. Examples of the different licences include restaurant licence, residential licence for hotels, special hours certificate, supper hours certificate and extended hours order.

In the UK there are strict opening hours for the sale of alcoholic beverages, both off-premise and on-premise. In England and Wales, however, the permitted hours and days of sale for licensed premises and registered clubs were extended by the 1988 Licensing Act, which came into force on August 22, 1988. The restrictions on age and permitted hours are the main controls on physical availability of alcohol. [7]

Alcohol Policy for Young People

In the UK there are laws governing the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages by young people. According to Licensing Act 1964, children under 14 years old may not be present in the bar of licensed premises unless accompanied by a person over 18 years old, and only before 9 p.m., and the bar must possess a children's certificate. Based on the Licensing Act 1964 and Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, children aged 14 and over may be in a licensed bar during permitted hours at the licensee's discretion. Those under 16 years may be present in a restaurant where alcohol is served with a meal and at the licensee's discretion they may consume alcohol bought by an accompanying adult, parent or guardian. However, they may not purchase alcoholic beverages by themselves.

The Licensing Act 1964 allows young adults aged 16 years and over to purchase beer, porter, cider or perry with a meal in an eating area of licensed premises. In Scotland they can also buy wine. However, those under 18 years may not purchase or be supplied with or consume alcohol in a bar. Moreover, the Confiscation of Alcohol Act 1997 gives the police the powers to confiscate alcohol from persons younger than 18 years drinking in public and to contact their parents. In Northern Ireland those less than 18 years are not allowed to enter licensed premises or to be employed in a bar of licensed premises. In the UK, only adults aged eighteen years and over are allowed to purchase alcohol in off-licences. There have been no major changes in the age restrictions. [8]

Alcohol Advertising

In the UK alcoholic beverages are among the most heavily advertised products. The possibility that alcohol advertising can have socially adverse effects is recognised in the special rules drawn up in relation to how, where and when alcoholic beverages can be advertised. A mixture of statutory and voluntary restrictions, depending on the media used, restrict alcohol advertising. The British Code of Advertising Practice governs these restrictions and guidelines.

Although the Code is extensive, it is fairly lenient and vague in describing advertising restrictions, presenting recommendations as to the approaches advertisers should take when showing alcoholic beverages. For instance, Paragraph 46.2 suggests that "The drinks industry and the advertising business accept a responsibility for ensuring that advertisements contain nothing that is likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise." Further paragraphs advise social responsibility and further recommendations regarding what should be avoided when preparing alcohol advertisements. [9]

[1] Britton, Annie, Karlsson, Thomas, and Österberg, Esa. “Chapter 18: The United Kingdom.” Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports. P. 408-411.

[2] Tobacco, alcohol and drug use and mental health. Office for National Statistics, 2002.

[3] Hemström Ö, Leifman H, Ramstedt M. The ECAS survey on drinking patterns and alcohol-related problems. In: Norström T, ed. Alcohol in Postwar Europe: Consumption, drinking patterns, consequences and policy responses in 15 European countries. Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2002.

[4] Hughes K, Bellis MA. Alcohol: some sobering statistics from the NWPHO. NorthWest Public Health Observatory, 2000.

[5] Prime Minister's Strategy Unit. Interim Analytical Report. London, Stationary Office, 2003.

[6] European health for all database. World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe.

[7] Britton, Annie, Karlsson, Thomas, and Österberg, Esa. “Chapter 18: The United Kingdom.” Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports. P. 415.

[8] Britton, Annie, Karlsson, Thomas, and Österberg, Esa. “Chapter 18: The United Kingdom.” Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports. P. 415.

[9] Relevant information regarding alcohol restrictions on advertising taken from Britton, Annie, Karlsson, Thomas, and Österberg, Esa. “Chapter 18: The United Kingdom.” Alcohol Policies in EU Member States and Norway: A Collection of Country Reports. P. 420-422.