Societal Effects Of Alcohol

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  • 478,000 children living in the UK with a parent with an alcohol or drug problem 
  • £3.5 billion in costs to the NHS due to alcohol use
  • £7.3 billion in costs to workplaces due to lost productivity caused by drinking [1
societal effects of alcohol 2

Effects Of Alcohol On Society

The most significant effects on society caused by alcohol are: 

  • £12.4 billion in alcohol tax revenue to the UK government per year [2]
  • 358,000 admissions to Accident and Emergency caused directly by alcohol [3]
  • £1.6 billion in costs to police for alcohol-related crimes [4]
  • 600,000 alcohol-related crimes committed per year [5]
  • 50% of domestic homicides are as a result of alcohol abuse by the perpetrator and/ or victim [6]

Financial & Economic Effects Of Alcohol

Economic Stimulus

The economic contribution of alcohol in the UK includes:

  • 770,000 jobs in the alcohol industry [7]
  • £12.4 billion in alcohol tax [8]
  • £800 million in advertising [9]
  • 4p for every £1 of alcohol sold collected as alcohol excise taxes [10]
  • In 2021, £46 billion was spent on alcohol in the UK [11]
societal effects of alcohol 2

Lost Productivity

44 million working days are lost per year nationwide due to alcohol.

1 in 5 employees take at least one day off work per year due to hangover symptoms [12].

Economic Burden

The economic costs of alcohol use in the UK total £55.1 billion, comprising:

  • £22.6 billion in costs to individuals - including crime, private healthcare costs, care costs for families, and loss of money due to unemployment
  • £21.9 billion in costs to the economy due to illness, disability, or death
  • £5 billion in costs to social care, the criminal justice system and fire services
  • £7.3 billion in costs to employers due to absenteeism, lower work rates, and workplace accidents [13]
  • In 2021, the government spent £1.68 million on a drink driving advert called "Consequences" [14]
  • A deficit of £10.3 million per year in pub licensing fee admin [15]

Costs v Revenue

The costs of alcohol's effects do not outweigh the economic stimulus it brings to the country, since:

  • £58.48 billion is lost due to economic costs to the individual, the economy, social care and employers
  • £6 billion is lost in economic yield due to alcohol [16]

Considering the cross-over in sectors (e.g. social services and policing) that are associated with alcohol, it can be difficult to determine alcohol's effect on the economy through clear statistics.

Healthcare Effects Of Alcohol

Injuries & Accidents

In 2018-2019, 358,000 admissions to Accident and Emergency were directly caused by alcohol, with 23% of those being caused by unintentional injuries incurred while drunk [17].

In 2012, alcohol-related Accident and Emergency admissions cost the NHS £696 million [18].

Drink Driving

In 2021, 1,880 people were killed or seriously injured due to drunk driving [19].

In 2014, drink driving cost the UK government £754 million [20].


Impaired Decision Making

  • 86% of those attending sexual health clinics after unprotected sex exceeded the government's binge drinking levels
  • 19% of women attending sexual health clinics were pregnant after binge drinking [21]

Long-Term Treatment For Liver Diseases

In the UK there are:

  • 5,000 new cases of liver cancer per year - with treatment costing £44,000 per person [22]
  • 965 cases per 100,000 people of liver cirrhosis - with treatment costing £60,000 per person [23]


There are no rehab facilities run by the NHS, but the NHS may either subsidise or pay completely for treatment at a third-party facility.

Mental Health And Alcohol

Psychiatric effects

Alcohol-related mental health problems cost the NHS an estimated £11.7 billion annually [24].

Used differently, this budget could alternatively fund:

  • 278 million GP appointments (£42 for an average GP visit) [25]
  • 31 million accident and emergency visits via ambulance (£367 for ambulance use and treatment) [26]


In 2021, there were 9,641 deaths caused by alcohol-related conditions in the UK.

This is 7.4% higher than in 2020 (8,974 deaths), and 27.4% higher than in 2019 (7,565) [27].

Effects on sleep and insomnia




Short sleep duration

1.32% increased odds

1.32% decreased odds

Obstructive sleep apnoea

1.38% increased odds

1.38% decreased odds [28]


Up to 91% incidence [29]

17% incidence [30]

Time awake in the night



REM sleep

21% of time asleep in REM

19% of time asleep in REM [31]

Reproductive Health Effects Of Alcohol


  • A 12.63% increased risk of stillbirth
  • An 11.72% increased risk of low birth weight
  • A 6.80% increased risk of preterm birth [32]

Birth Defects

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) affects 1.2 to 2.4 million children [33]. 

The effects of FASD cost the NHS £2 billion per year and include:

  • Vision or hearing difficulties
  • Difficulties managing emotions and social skills
  • Kidney failure and heart defects [34]


Female fertility falls 39% after drinking over 6 drinks per week [35].  

23% of heavy drinkers have optimal sperm conditions, compared to 43% of non or low-drinkers [36].

Secondary Reproductive Effects

The risk of prostate cancer is 25% higher in men who consume over six drinks per day [37].

Societal Effects Of Alcohol Addiction

The repercussions of addiction to alcohol at a societal level include:

  • 478,000 children living with a parent with an alcohol or drug use problem [38]
  • £421 million has been allocated for funding alcoholism treatment in local authorities from 2023-2025 [39]
  • Cost of £1.6 billion to the police force as a result of alcohol-related crimes (including drunk driving)
  • Cost of £1.9 billion to the NHS for alcohol-related illnesses
  • Cost of £289 million for welfare payments for those who cannot work due to alcoholism and related illnesses [4]
  • 600,000 alcohol-related crimes per year
  • 65% of suicide attempts motivated by alcohol use [5]

Employment & Work Effects Of Alcohol

  • £7.3 billion lost due to lost productivity (including the premature death of working-aged people, unemployment and sickness absence)
  • 42% of people have been to work drunk or hungover (presenteeism), costing the UK economy £1.4 billion per year
  • An estimated 167,000 hours of work are lost every year due to alcohol use
  • 40% of employers state alcohol abuse is a cause of low productivity
  • 27% of employees state that workplace stress leads to drinking [40]

Alcohol Effects On Crime


64% of unprovoked violence is believed to be alcohol-related.

5% of alcohol-related violence victims experienced loss of consciousness or concussion, compared to 1% of victims of non-alcohol-related crime [41].

Domestic Violence

25-50% of domestic violence cases are as a result of alcohol intoxication.  

50% of domestic homicides result from the victim and the perpetrator both being intoxicated [6]. 

Drink Driving

In 2020, 220 people were killed in accidents where one or more drivers were over the drink-drive limit [42].


Alcohol was a factor in:

  • 10.8% of personal thefts
  • 18.1% of domestic burglaries
  • 6.7% of vehicle-related thefts [43]

Social Effects Of Alcohol

Effects Of Alcohol On Family

Alcohol can be perceived as a way for families to strengthen social bonds, as alcohol is often the catalyst for social events.

In wives with alcoholic husbands:

  • 50% experience financial difficulties due to alcoholism
  • 46% displace their frustration on their children
  • 13% experience social isolation due to shame or stigma [44]

Alcohol And Relationships

Alcohol can be perceived as a signifier of special occasions that strengthen bonds in a relationship. 

However, alcohol can negatively impact relationships, such as:

  • Being encouraged to drink more when their spouse is drinking
  • Increased tension in relationships caused by drinkers' unpredictable behaviour
  • The drinker's needs become the priority in the relationship - with the partner having to sacrifice their own needs [45]


Examples of stigma, prejudice and stereotypes associated with alcohol include:

  • The "drunken Irish" stereotype - being seen as aggressive and absent from work leading to loss of employment opportunities [46]
  • Stigma due to low socio-economic class causes a lack of economic opportunities, leading to a 20% increased risk of alcoholism [47]
  • Native Americans - 39% of Native Americans report offensive comments connected to alcohol use [48]

Alcoholics also experience stigma and prejudice, such as:

  • The belief that alcoholics have no intention of seeking help for alcohol abuse - affects funding or availability of treatment
  • The belief that alcoholics are not suffering from alcoholism; instead, they cannot handle drinking. This stigmatises getting help and furthers alcoholism
  • Recovering alcoholics struggling to regain custody of children after years of sobriety

Indirect Costs Of Alcohol

Aspects that relate indirectly to alcohol usage at an individual level, that ultimately become issues at a societal level, include:

When Does Socially Acceptable Alcohol Use Become Detrimental To Society?

Socially acceptable uses of alcohol can develop into non-functional drinking that incurs negative effects on society:

  • Alcohol's intended use is to enhance creativity in artists, but leads to mental health disorders that hinder any work being produced (Vincent Van Gogh, Amy Winehouse, and Ernest Hemingway all suffered from comorbid alcoholism and depression) [50]
  • Alcohol's intended use is to ease social interactions, but becomes negative when alcohol causes inappropriate or aggressive behaviour
  • Alcohol at weddings is considered a socially acceptable way to celebrate the bride and groom's union. However, 14% of married couples say drunk guests were one of the main stressors at their wedding [51]
  • Alcohol on holiday is considered a socially acceptable way to relax. However, British tourists have developed a reputation abroad for public drunkenness, leading to calls for bans or specific zones for British tourists [52]

Key Metrics In Alcohol Drinking vs Non-Alcohol-Drinking Populations


United Kingdom

Saudi Arabia

Is it legal to drink alcohol?



Domestic abuse statistics

1.5 million incidents in 2022 [53]

4 million incidents in 2022

Drink driving statistics

220 deaths via drunk driving in 2020 [55]

No reported deaths via drunk driving

Liver related diseases

2,777 total cases of
non-alcoholic fatty liver
disease [56]

413,700 total cases of
non-alcoholic fatty liver
disease [57]

Violent crime statistics

Rate at 1.00 [58]

Rate at 0.80 [59]

Police funding for
alcohol-related crime

£1.6 billion in funding for
alcohol-related crimes [4]

No declared police funding
for alcohol-related crime

Punishment for
alcohol-related crimes

  • Sobriety tags
  • Points on
    license/driving bans
  • Prison sentences
  • Fines
  • Prison sentences
  • Deportation for
    visitors [60]
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About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: March 24, 2024