Millions of Britons causing ‘silent harm’ through hazardous drinking


Millions of Britons are causing themselves “silent harm” through hazardous drinking, while the nation’s alcohol habits will not go back to pre-pandemic levels, according to an expert from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

New data from the Government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows millions of people in England are downing bottles of wine, beers and spirits that are harmful to their health, with a big jump in the numbers drinking at levels considered to be high risk.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the switch to drinking at home was partly to blame for the rise, with drinking sessions sometimes lasting several hours longer than they would in a pub.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The official data, based on monthly YouGov surveys with each month involving at least 1,700 people, shows:

– Some 18.1% of adults in England were drinking at increasing or higher risk in the three months to the end of October 2021 – equating to almost eight million people.

– This is much higher than in February 2020 before the pandemic hit, when 12.4% of the population or around six million people drank at these levels. In October 2019, just 11.9%, or around five million people, were drinking at this level.

– A quarter (25.2%) of adult men (about 5.5 million people) were drinking at increasing or higher risk levels in the three months to the end of October. This is the joint highest figure in the dataset and is significantly higher than the 17.8% (about four million people) in February 2020.

– Among women, 10.1% (around 2.3 million) were drinking at increasing or higher risk levels, up from 7.3% (around 1.6 million) in February 2020.

Increasing or higher risk drinking is defined by the alcohol use disorders identification test (audit) used by professionals, which asks questions about people’s drinking habits.

It looks at how often people drink, how many units in one session, whether they ever feel guilty and whether they sometimes miss out on usual activities due to drinking.