The annual Statistics on Alcohol for England 2015 has been released, detailing national data for key alcohol-related indicators and health harms. Mainly bringing together various previously reported alcohol data releases, the current trend picture remains one of declining consumption but still rising alcohol-related harm measures.
Readers will know well the time-lag effect between consumption and health harms, but interesting questions exist over whether current trends are stabilising or could indeed soon reverse. It may be that in the near future figures will show hospital admissions starting to fall, lag-responding to the decline in consumption, but consumption potentially back on the up as spending increases.
Of course behind the general trends are many complexities - falls in consumption and binge drinking are most evident in young people in particular, but in fact rising slightly amongst older adults. Regional differences on some measures are also stark.
The ONS used binge drinking, defined as drinking twice ones daily guideline amount on one occasion, and tee-total adults as positive headline figures that had fallen since 2005. Overall, the number of adults in Great Britain who binged at least once in the previous week decreased from 18 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2013, whilst 21% of adults abstained in 2013 compared to 19% in 2005.
However the 2015 report uses previously released Opinions and Lifestyle 'Drinking Habits Amongst Adults Survey' (OPN) as the main source of this data, despite OPN providing a less precise indication around consumption and likely trends.
OPN data focusses on Heaviest Drinking Day (HDD) in the last week whilst the Health Survey for England (HSE) data may be considered better for consumption trends as it also includes questions on the key measure of mean weekly or daily consumption. A recent HSE release indicated 'a stable picture over the last three years for both men and women' based on average weekly consumption.
HMRC sales data too also gives a more reliable source of actual consumption, but are not considered within the report. The inclusion of data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) 2007 also re-appears as an additional section, giving another take on the numbers of at-risk and dependent drinkers. A new release reporting on the 2014 APMS survey is expected shortly, whilst UCL's Alcohol Toolkit Study or the Drinkaware Monitor also give other takes on drinking habits.
Other measures: admissions, drugs, deaths...?
The report includes plenty on the broad measure for alcohol-related hospital admissions, despite indications that a new narrow measure would take precedence. The report highlights that in 2013/14, there were:
'...an estimated 1,059,210 admissions related to alcohol consumption where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis (broad measure). This is 50,360 (5 per cent) more estimated admissions than 2012/13 (1,008,850) and 565,450 (115 per cent) more estimated admissions than 2003/04 (493,760).'
As for the narrow measure, intended as a more reliable indicator for analysing trends, this was up by 2% on the previous year, with 'an estimated 333,010 admissions where the primary diagnosis or alcohol-related external causes recorded in secondary diagnosis fields were attributable to the consumption of alcohol'.
Prescriptions of drugs for alcohol dependency continued the upward trend - 194,706 for 2014, up from 183,810 last year and up 80% over the last ten years.
For deaths in England, it reports 6,592 alcohol-related deaths in 2013 - a 1% increase from 2012 (6,495) and a 10% increase from 2003 (5,984).
An update on affordability is included, alcohol 53.8% more affordable than in 1980.
On conversations with a health professional, 10% of male drinkers and 7% of female drinkers reported an alcohol conversation in the last year, the majority of these with their GP. This question was first asked in 2000, however 'the proportions having such discussions have changed little since then'.
Public Health England (PHE) have also published a recent comment piece on consumption and trends, and the their current and future plans for alcohol activity. The current IAS alcohol alert also covers the report, as did the Guardian and the Express.
Acknowledgement: With thanks to James Nicholls, Alcohol Research UK & John Holmes, University of Sheffield, for their input.