Deaths caused by alcohol are at a record high. But it's not too late for our government to act.

May 2024 | 8 minutes

Alcohol is an ever-present backdrop in the UK. Billboards at sports events, promotions when we’re picking up groceries and pictures of our friends online can all make it seem like alcohol is an essential part of UK life. This can make it harder for us to cut down if we want to.

For all of us who drink alcohol there can be a range of effects on our health and wellbeing from weight-gain and sleepless nights to anxiety and cancer. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, deaths caused by alcohol are at a record high. In April the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data that showed that there were 10,048 alcohol-specific deaths in the UK in 2022.1 The government can reduce harm caused by alcohol, and prevent deaths like these in the future.

It can be hard to take in statistics like these when they are reported in the news – they are so big, and for those of us who have lost loved ones, they can feel very close to home. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy, representing a person who has had their life cut short and has left behind people who are grieving and miss them every day.

What are alcohol-specific deaths?

The statistics released in April show the number of deaths known to be caused directly by alcohol, such as liver disease. The number of deaths to which alcohol contributed is much higher. For example, in England in 2022 the number of alcohol-specific deaths was 7,912. When alcohol-related deaths are included, the number jumps to 21,912. This shows that the disturbing trend of record deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down.2

Inequalities across the country

There are stark inequalities in deaths caused by alcohol. The data show that in the most deprived areas, a much higher proportion of the population die from alcohol-specific causes than in more affluent areas, despite alcohol consumption tending to be lower among more marginalised groups.

This chart made by Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield shows just how unequally these death rates are felt across different levels of deprivation:

There were big regional differences too. The rate of deaths in the North East of England was almost double that of the East of England.

There are many explanations for health inequalities related to alcohol, including social factors such as poverty, housing, unequal access to support and local availability of alcohol as well as differences in drinking patterns.

We can change this

With a general election on the horizon, politicians, government and political parties are all thinking hard about their policies and aims for the coming years. This is also a crucial time that we can push for change.

Although there are many factors that shape the impact that alcohol has on us, there are some things we know can reduce harm.

We need population-level policies, including:

  • Measures that target the marketing, availability and price of alcohol.
  • Clear labels that tell us what’s in our drinks and inform us about health risks.
  • A properly funded, inclusive alcohol treatment and support system.
  • Policies and support that challenge stigma associated with alcohol harm, so that more people feel able to get help earlier.

To improve health for people and places where health is the worst, alcohol policies must also be enacted alongside policies that address the wider health, social and economic inequalities that intersect with alcohol harm.3

Join our campaigns network to help us get the next government to take alcohol harm seriously – we will be in touch shortly to let you know how you can help by engaging with your local candidates.

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