Prescriptions for the treatment of alcohol dependency increase by 56% in 8 years

Comorbidities such as alcohol

The Health and Social Care Information Centre have published Statistics on Alcohol for England 2011.  The yearly report includes data on drinking behaviour among adults and children, knowledge and attitudes to alcohol, drinking-related costs, ill health and mortality.

The widely reported headline from the data is that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England has exceeded one million for the first time, with admissions increasing by 12% between 2008-09 and 2009-10.  This represents a doubling of admissions since 2002/3.

Also of interest is the increase in prescriptions for the treatment of alcohol dependency of 19% since 2008 when it was 134,423 and by 56% since 2003 when 102,741 items were prescribed in primary care and NHS hospitals. The Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of these prescription items in 2010 was £2.41 million, an increase of 40% since 2003 when it was £1.72 million.

The report also notes that Disulfiram has now overtaken Acamprosate Calcium as the most widely prescribed drug for alcohol dependency in NHS Hospitals, although Acamprosate Calcium remains the more popular choice in a primary care setting.

Here are the key facts from the report:

  • In England, in 2009, 69 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women (aged 16 and over) reported drinking an alcoholic drink on at least one day in the week prior to interview. 10 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women reported drinking on every day in the previous week.
  • There has been an increase from 54 per cent in 1997 to 75 per cent in 2009 in the percentage of people in Great Britain who had heard of daily drinking limits. Throughout the period, differences between men and women have been slight.
  • In 2007, 33 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women (24 per cent of adults) were classified as hazardous drinkers. This includes 6 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women estimated to be harmful drinkers, the most serious form of hazardous drinking, which means that damage to health is likely.
  • Among adults aged 16 to 74, 9 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women showed some signs of alcohol dependence. The prevalence of alcohol dependence is slightly lower for men than it was in 2000 when 11.5 per cent of men showed some signs of dependence. There was no significant change for women between 2000 and 2007.
  • In 2009/10, there were 1,057,000 alcohol related admissions to hospital. This is an increase of 12 per cent on the 2008/09 figure (945,500) and more than twice as many as in 2002/03 (510,800).
  • In 2010, there were 160,181 prescription items for drugs for the treatment of alcohol dependency prescribed in primary care settings or NHS hospitals and dispensed in the community. This is an increase of 6 per cent on the 2009 figure (150,445) and an increase of 56 per cent on the 2003 figure (102,741).
  • In 2010, 290 prescription items per 100,000 population were dispensed for alcohol dependency in England. Among Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) this varied from 515 and 410 items per 100,000 population in North West SHA and North East SHA respectively, to 130 items per 100,000 population in London SHA.

Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern said:

Alcohol is one of the biggest public health problems facing the country yet sadly this government is showing no commitment to deal with the problem. Without minimum unit pricing, a radical overhaul of the licensing act and investment in alcohol treatment our research shows that by 2015 alcohol-related hospital admissions will rise to 1.5 million and the annual health cost increase to £3.7bn.

The Department of Health will be publishing a new alcohol strategy later this year.


Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2011. The Health and Social Care Information Centre

Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) 1 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 (PDF). National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, Oct 2010.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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