‘Think before every drink’ urges Sally Davies as alcohol-related deaths soar 60% in 20 years

Champagne Glasses

Chief Medical Officer at Public Health England, Dame Sally Davies, is urging drinkers to ‘think before every drink’ as figures reveal an almost 60% rise in alcohol-related deaths since 1994.

Speaking at a House of Commons science and technology committee, Dame Sally Davies said that more action must be taken to inform the public of the dangers of drinking. She told MPs: “I would like people to make their choice knowing the issues and do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think; ‘Do I want my glass of wine or do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?’ And I take a decision each time I have a glass.”

Davies suggests action to reduce harmful drinking could potentially come in the form of clearer labelling of calorie content alongside prominent health warnings, such as those on cigarette packets.

Alcohol-related death rise

According to new data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 8,697 people died from alcohol-related causes in 2014, an age-standardised rate of 14.3 per 100,000 people. In 1994, the rate of alcohol-related deaths was 9.1 per 100,000. Alcohol-related deaths peaked previously in 2008, and experts are concerned that they are rising again.

The majority of the deaths in 2014 were among men, primarily in the 55-64 age group, but alcohol-related deaths among women in England and Wales in 2014 were also “significantly higher” than they were in 1994.

Risks better understood

While some alcohol-related conditions are relatively well-known, including liver and cardiovascular disease, other alcohol-related health issues are becoming increasingly better understood.

According to Public Health England, 10.8 million UK adults are drinking at levels which are harmful, thereby increasing their risk of developing around 60 different health problems and at least five types of cancer.

Data published last month by the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC), estimates that between 4 and 6% of newly-diagnosed cancers in the UK are caused by alcohol consumption.

Couple Pouring Red Wine

Alcohol-related cancers

Cancers directly associated with alcohol consumption include oral, oesophageal, liver, stomach and breast cancers. Other chronic health conditions caused by alcohol misuse include liver and heart disease, depression in addition to the wider social and financial impact of alcohol misuse.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE says: “Alcohol harms individuals, families and communities and it’s crucial that, alongside effective local interventions and treatments for those that need it, we look more widely at what affects drinking behaviour in this country, such as marketing and pricing.”

“Public Health England will soon be providing a report to government on how we can reduce the harms caused by alcohol.”

New alcohol guidance

Newly-revised guidance recommends both men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week, equivalent to 14 single shots of spirits, seven standard glasses of wine or six pints of beer. It also urges drinkers to consider setting aside a few ‘alcohol-free’ days each week and advises pregnant women to avoid alcohol altogether.

Some critics believe the previous guidance, introduced in 1995, may have resulted in the perception that it is acceptable and safe to drink alcohol every day, however the new guidelines are clear that there is no such thing as regular ‘safe’ alcohol consumption. The new advice also cautions against ‘saving up’ the weekly allowance for a weekly drinking binge, as this been linked to an increased risk of death from accidents and injuries associated with binge drinking, as well as an increased risk of disease.

The revised guidelines are said to be based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence and were produced by a panel of experts in alcohol studies, public health and behavioural science.

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How is alcohol-related death defined?

Alcohol-related death, as defined by ONS, includes death from underlying causes due to alcohol consumption, including chronic conditions - such as cirrhosis of the liver - associated with long-term alcohol abuse. It also includes death by alcohol poisoning, but excludes external causes in which alcohol may have been a factor, such as road traffic or other accidents.

The ONS definition does not currently include diseases that may be partially attributable to alcohol, such as liver, breast, oral or oesophageal cancers.


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