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This entry is our analysis of a review or synthesis of research findings added to the Effectiveness Bank. The original review was not published by Findings; click Title to order a copy. Free reprints may be available from the authors – click prepared e-mail. Links to other documents. Hover over for notes. Click to highlight passage referred to. Unfold extra text Unfold supplementary text The Summary conveys the findings and views expressed in the review.

Title and link for copying Comment/query to editor

Polarized drinking patterns and alcohol deregulation. Trends in alcohol consumption, harms and policy: United Kingdom 1990–2010.

Meier P.S.
Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs: 2010, 27, p. 383–408.
Unable to obtain a copy by clicking title? Try asking the author for a reprint by adapting this prepared e-mail or by writing to Dr Meier at You could also try this alternative source.

Lead researcher on influential analyses of the impact of possible alcohol pricing changes in the UK paints a picture of the state of play in drinking and related harms in England and how far these have or may be affected by national policy initiatives in a European and international policy context.

Summary This paper sets out to chart key trends in alcohol consumption and harm, and of related policy activity in the UK between 1990 and 2010, assessing among other things the degree to which national policy initiatives have or may in the future affect alcohol-related harm. The focus was on England as the most populous region, with comments on salient differential developments in other regions. The paper draws on a variety of data sources, especially general population surveys, government reports, industry figures, National Statistics products, and recent reviews of data trends. It is structured around the themes:
• trends in volume and patterns of consumption in adults and children;
• trends in major alcohol-related harms;
• changes in the affordability and availability of alcohol;
• influences of major players including policymakers, media and industry; and
• the current (mid-2010) status of policy efforts.

The reviewed data show that the UK has seen significant changes in the patterns and contexts of consumption during the 1990s and 2000s. Major consumption changes include falling per capita consumption, a rise in heavy episodic drinking, increasing preference for higher alcohol content beverages and a polarisation of the distribution of consumption in the population where heavy drinkers consume even higher volumes while moderate drinkers seem to decrease their average intake. Context changes include rising availability and affordability of alcohol, with few alcohol control policy efforts, and a switch from predominantly on-trade to off-trade drinking. Such trends help explain the current rapid increase in alcohol-related admissions and other heavy end consequences in the context of falling per capita consumption.

Last revised 19 March 2011

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