Less alcohol consumed in recession

Jane Kirby,Pa
Thursday 27 January 2011 15:35 GMT

A drop in consumer spending during the recession has led to fewer people drinking alcohol, a charity said today.

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows men in the UK drank 16.3 units of alcohol a week on average in 2009, down from 17.4 in 2008.

Meanwhile, women drank eight units a week on average, down from 9.4 in the previous year.

The figures also showed a drop in the number of people dying, with 8,664 alcohol-related deaths in 2009, 367 fewer than in 2008.

However, the number of deaths is still up 26% on a decade ago.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "The slight fall in 2009 in alcohol-related deaths mirrors a slight drop in alcohol consumption, and while this is positive, is wholly due to a drop in consumer spending as a result of the recession.

"It is very likely that alcohol consumption will rise again once the economy picks up.

"Government alcohol policy should ensure alcohol becomes less affordable permanently, not just in an economic downturn."

The figures mirror data published last September by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA).

It showed the sharpest year-on-year decline in alcohol consumption since 1948. Overall, there was a 6% fall in 2009 - the fourth annual drop in five years.

The ONS data published today also shows a continuing trend regarding middle-class drinking.

More than a third (35%) of women in professional and managerial households exceeded the recommended alcohol intake on at least one day in the week prior to interview compared with 23% of those on lower incomes.

For men, the figure was 41% in professional and managerial households, compared to 34% of men in manual jobs.

Women are advised not to drink more than three units per day while men are told to limit their intake at four.

Older age groups tended to drink more regularly than younger people in 2009, the data showed.

A fifth (20%) of those aged 65 and over drank on five or more days a week compared with 10% of those aged 25 to 44 and 4% of those aged 16 to 24.

But younger age groups are more likely to binge drink.

Some 46% of those aged 16 to 24 drank heavily on at least one day a week compared with 6% of those aged 65 and over, and 35% of those aged 25 to 44.

Chris Sorek, chief executive of the charity Drinkaware, said: "It's really encouraging to see a drop in alcohol-related deaths but the fact that thousands of people are still dying from alcohol misuse shows we must not rest on our laurels.

"It is imperative we change people's attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol to avoid the drinkers of today turning into the alcohol-related death statistics of tomorrow.

"Although a slight drop in average weekly consumption of alcohol, particularly among 16 to 44-year-olds, is a positive step in the right direction, we mustn't get complacent about the how much more work there is to do to help people drink less."

Data out today from the NHS Information Centre showed the number of hospital admissions in England for drugs rose last year.

The figures - relating to both legal and illegal drugs - revealed 44,585 hospital admissions for drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders in 2009/10, 2,415 (6%) more than in 2008/09.

Drug poisoning accounted for a further 11,618 admissions, 5% more than in 2008/09.

But the number of people taking illegal drugs appears to be falling, with 8.6% of adults (2.8 million) aged 16 to 59 having used one or more drugs in 2009/10, down 1.5% on data for 2008/09.

Among 11 to 15-year-olds, the proportion of those who have ever taken drugs fell from 29% in 2001 to 22% in 2009.

Public health minister Anne Milton said: "The fall in the number of people dying from alcohol misuse is good news but I'm under no illusions that alcohol remains a major public health problem.

"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.

"The new Public Health England will also work to give communities the power and incentives to tackle alcohol problems in their areas."

David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry, said: "It is encouraging to see a fall in alcohol-related deaths and a continuing fall in levels of alcohol misuse in the UK.

"The industry is determined to play its part in building on these positive trends by marketing its products responsibly and in a way which does not encourage irresponsible consumption."

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