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Alcohol-related deaths among women in the UK have reached the highest rate since 2008. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 8.0 deaths per 100,000 women in 2017 – a similar level to when ONS records began in 2001. Death rates among men continued to be at least double that figure, at 16.8 per 100,000 – the highest since 2010.

Deaths caused by alcohol misuse have been rising steadily since 2015. In total, 7697 people died from alcohol-specific causes during 2017, a rate of 12.2 deaths per 100,000. This is the highest figure since 2008, when the rate was 12.7 deaths per 100,000.

UK variations

Although Scotland continued to have the highest rate of alcohol-specific deaths (at 20.5 per 100,000 people), it is the only country in the UK to have recorded a statistically significant decrease since 2001 (21% reduction). Northern Ireland saw the biggest change in death rate of any UK country with a 40% increase in alcohol-specific deaths since 2001.

England had the lowest rate of alcohol deaths, with 11.1 per 100,000 people, but the statistics differed widely depending on geographic region. The north-east had the highest rate (15.5 deaths per 100,000), despite a decline since 2014. At 7.8 deaths, London had the lowest rate for the first time since 2011. With the exception of London, all regions had significantly higher alcohol-specific rates in 2017 than in 2001.

Older drinkers still at risk

Alcohol misuse in older drinkers remains a cause for concern. Deaths were highest among 60- to 64-year-olds in 2017 (at 29.7 per 100,000), overtaking 50- to 54-year-olds, who had the highest rate in 2001. In terms of gender, death rates were highest among 55- to 59-year-old females and 60- to 64-year-old males.

“It’s an issue that touches almost every family in the UK. It’s really common and it’s definitely something we all need to talk about”, said Karen Tyrell, executive director of external affairs at the drug and alcohol charity Addaction. Adding that more than half of people knew someone with an alcohol problem.

“We know alcohol is an issue for over-50s and we need to do a lot more to reach this group in a way that works for them. For older drinkers, alcohol often creeps up and gradually plays a more central role in day-to-day life.”

At a policy level, the alcohol industry needs to be held to account, said Ms Tyrell.

“We know that the big drivers in terms of behaviour change include minimum unit pricing along with restricting advertising and visibility. We’re encouraging government to include these measures in the forthcoming alcohol strategy.”

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