UK Policy

In 2019, there were 7,565 deaths registered in the UK that related to alcohol-specific causes, the second highest since the data time series began in 2001. The majority (over three-quarters) of alcohol-specific deaths are attributed to alcoholic liver disease (ONS, 2021).

Northern Ireland was the UK constituent country with the highest alcohol-specific death rate in 2019 with 18.8 deaths per 100,000 (although the difference between N. Ireland and Scotland, which had 18.6 deaths per 100,000, was not statistically significant). England and Wales continue to have lower rates of alcohol-specific deaths, with 10.9 and 11.8 deaths per 100,000, respectively (ONS, 2021).

Since the beginning of the data time series in 2001, age-standardised rates of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland have tended to be highest of the four UK constituent countries. Since peaking at 28.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2006, the alcohol-specific death rate has fallen by more than a third to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2019. Scotland is the only UK constituent country to show statistically significant improvement when comparing with 2001 rates, and Scotland is the only country to see a decrease over time in both male and female rates of alcohol-specific deaths (ONS, 2021).

In the final statistical release on adult drinking habits in Great Britain, 57% of Opinions and Lifestyle Survey respondents aged 16 years and over in 2017 drank alcohol, which equates to 29.2 million people in the population (ONS, 2018).

Public Health England undertook an evidence review of the harm caused by alcohol to the people around those who are drinking ("alcohol's harm to others", AHTO), which found a wide range of AHTO, covering harms to individuals, communities and society (Public Health England, 2019) - this included evidence from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

DrugWise provides helpful lists of relevant UK publications on alcohol.



In the UK, devolved political authorities, as well as local authorities, have responsibility for various aspects of alcohol policy. However, the UK government retains control over levels of alcohol taxation and alcohol advertising. 




Rates of alcohol duty are set by the UK Treasury and are levied on all alcoholic drinks sold in the UK. Beer and spirits are taxed in relation to their alcohol strength, with the duty on spirits applied per litre of pure alcohol and the duty on beer applied per hectolitre per cent of alcohol. For wine, cider and perry, rates of duty are fixed by volume, per hectolitre of the product. See HM Revenues and Customs for current rates of alcohol duty.

In March 2008, the UK Chancellor raised excise duty on alcohol by 6% above inflation with a commitment to increase duties by 2% above inflation for each of the following four years, the so-called duty escalator. This was abolished in 2013 and since then UK governments have either frozen or reduced alcohol duties even further.  A new report from Sheffield University's Alcohol Research Group (SARG), 'Modelling the impact of alcohol duty policies since 2012 in England and Scotland' published in October 2019, shows that removing the escalator has led to 2,000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012. This policy led to lower prices and made alcohol bought in shops more affordable than at any time in the last 30 years.

Increasing alcohol price is known to be the single most effective policy measure for reducing alcohol consumption and harm.



Drink drive limits

At present the legal alcohol limit for driving in the UK is 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which equates to 35 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per 100ml of breath. For most other countries in the EU, including Scotland since December 2014, the legal limit is 50mg.



Alcohol advertising

Control over telecommunications and broadcasting – the main media through which the alcohol industry promotes and markets its products – is reserved to the UK Parliament. At present, alcohol advertising in the UK is regulated by a mix of statutory codes and self-regulatory standards, through Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority. 

Advertising rules currently ban alcohol adverts that particularly appeal to young people under 18 years, and that link alcohol with sexual success or irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. There is however no restriction on the volume of adverts.