Alcohol consumption is a leading cause of death and disability globally, especially among the working-age population. It’s not just heavy drinking that’s concerning; even moderate and low levels of alcohol use heighten the long-term risks of heart diseases, strokes, liver cirrhosis, and certain cancers.
Beyond these health risks, alcohol is a significant contributor to car accidents, injuries, and an array of social issues, including violence, homicides, suicides, and mental health disorders.
This impact is most pronounced among young people. The societal cost of alcohol-related diseases and injuries is substantial. On average, 2.4% of health expenditure is dedicated to addressing alcohol-related harm, a figure that escalates to as much as 4% in some countries.
The recent OECD healthcare statistics report identifies the UK as having the highest rate of female binge drinking worldwide. A staggering 26% of British women report engaging in binge drinking – consuming six or more drinks in a single session – at least once a month. Addiction experts at Rehabs UK are examining the underlying reasons and the impact of this trend on British drinking culture.
With the UK holding the third-highest global rate of binge drinking at 35%, the issue extends beyond just female consumption. It’s noteworthy that British men are even more prone to binge drinking, with 45% admitting to such behaviour monthly. This high rate of consumption is even more striking considering that 20% of British adults abstain from alcohol, indicating a significant portion of alcohol consumption is concentrated among binge drinkers. The entrenched pub tradition in the UK, while fostering camaraderie, also raises questions about the fine line between moderate and excessive alcohol consumption.
British pub culture, often seen as a source of social bonding, also blurs the line between moderate and excessive drinking. According to Lester Morse, founder of Rehabs UK, the UK’s portrayal of alcohol consumption in media such as films and reality shows has contributed to a culture of excessive drinking. This differs from the controlled, sociable drinking contexts seen in other countries.
Morse points out that cultural differences are not the sole factor in the UK’s binge drinking issue. Many individuals turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to escape life’s difficulties. The UN has identified poverty and inequality as key drivers of addiction issues. With the ongoing cost of living crisis, Morse warns of a potential increase in addiction rates. “When life gets out of balance and the quality of life becomes compromised, well-being and mental health problems will increase. Due to significant pressures that we are all facing as a society, there is a predictable increase in those seeking the comfort and ease that alcohol offers.”
Over the past decade, significant cuts to addiction services in the UK have led to overstretched resources and a shift towards harm minimisation rather than long-term recovery. Morse emphasises the importance of abstinence-based recovery services and the invaluable support provided by recovery communities. He advocates for greater recognition of their role in aiding recovery, stressing the support and solidarity found within these groups. “What makes recovery work is usually other people in recovery. If you start reducing the recovery community, then it’s going to be harder for new people to recover.
“I know for a fact that the people in those meetings give each other a hell of a lot of support. They go the extra mile for each other and help each other stay alive. I don’t think there’s anything that equals that fellowship. I wish there was more acknowledgement of how valuable it is,” Morse said.