Greengates Builders Merchants

Alcohol Consumption Dropping!

Despite new evidence that more people are being treated in hospital for excessive drinking, the overall trend is that we are drinking less as a nation. Why?

It's difficult to open a newspaper without reading about the alcohol problems that exist in the UK.

Recent headlines include "Binge drinking costs NHS billions", "Hospitals reel as drink cases soar" and "Alcohol abuse to cost NHS an extra billion"

And new figures from Alcohol Concern suggest the number of people being treated in hospital for alcohol misuse has more than doubled in eight years.

But behind these stories is an unexpected truth - Britons have been drinking less and less every year since 2002.

Men and women of all ages are slowly curbing their excesses and drinking in moderation, according to the annual survey from the Office for National Statistics, which covers England, Scotland and Wales.

It suggests that heavy drinking is falling, abstinence is rising, and young people are leading the drive towards healthier drinking.

"There is a received wisdom that we must be drinking more," says Neil Williams of the British Beer and Pubs Association (BBPA). Its own figures, which are based on sales and not self-reporting, suggest alcohol sales peaked in 2004 and have fallen by 13% since then.

"In reality, we see a fairly deep-rooted decline in alcohol consumption which dates back to 2004. That's not something you see acknowledged in the media."

Historically, sales of booze rose and fell with the economy. Recessions in the early 80s and 90s were coupled with a slump in drinking. And the current downturn is having a similar effect. From 2008-2009, alcohol consumption in the UK fell by 6%.

In 2004 the Drinkaware logo started appearing on beer advertisements. The labelling of drinks bottles improved to make it clear how many units of alcohol they contain. And the health dangers of heavy drinking were increasingly highlighted by the media.

The Daily Mail ran a memorable campaign, featuring images of young women slumped on pavements and park benches. News stories were peppered with health warnings from groups like Alcohol Concern, Drinkaware and the Royal College of Physicians.

In reality, 24-hour drinking never took off. The average pub only opened 24 minutes longer after 11pm last orders was abolished. But it didn't matter - the headlines had already been written. A new tone had been set for alcohol reporting. The message was that Britain was out of control.

The negative publicity not only led people to moderate their behaviour, it also created a new kind of social stigma around being drunk. The ONS survey notes that people may now be "less inclined to admit to how much they have been drinking".

Boozing was no longer such a badge of honour. And attitudes in the workplace began to change too.

Meanwhile, consumer forces were also at work to change our drinking habits throughout the last decade. Pubs were closing down, duty on beer was rising, and sales of cheap supermarket wine were rocketing.

The caricature of a "drinker" has slowly morphed - from lager louts downing pints to girls on the sofa, sipping Pinot Grigio.

It's hard to quantify how each of these micro-trends in pricing has influenced overall alcohol consumption, but their net effect is that the price of a drink as a percentage of spending money is cheaper than ever before.

So alcohol is cheaper, but we are drinking less of it - a highly improbable cocktail.

But a look at the longer term picture shows that drinking has been rising steadily since 1947, and levels are still some way above those in the early 1990s.

So is the latest fall a victory for drink awareness campaigning?

 

At Greengates Builders Merchants Accrington, Lancashire we were shocked to see the figures for alcohol consumption had dropped.