Wednesday 20 November 2013

Alcohol Awareness Week: Low income drinkers

It looks like I won't be short of blogging material this week thanks to Alcohol Concern's Alcohol Awareness Conference, which would be better titled the Alcohol Disinformation Conference.

It's possible that "Big" John Holmes (of Sheffield computer model fame) has been misquoted, but someone is telling porkies (and he retweeted it, so misquoting seems unlikely). The first part of this claim is correct. People on low incomes are indeed least likely to drink. Here is alcohol consumption across occupational classes (units per week). A, B and C are managerial and professional occupations, D and E are intermediate occupations and F, G and H are routine occupations.

As you can see, the wealthier groups drink more than the poorer groups. So that must mean that alcohol-related mortality is highest amongst the big drinking groups, right?

Wrong. Here is alcohol-related mortality amongst men under the same occupational classification (from ONS - PDF).

And here is the same data for women.

The amount of alcohol-related harm (and therefore "harmful levels" of drinking) is vastly higher amongst the poorer groups than amongst the wealthier groups. It is not that there is no relationship between alcohol consumption and harm in each demographic group. Instead, there is an inverse relationship—the higher the overall consumption, the lower the level of harm.

This shows three important things. Firstly, that although people in the low income groups are least likely to consume alcohol, those who drink are much more likely to do so at "harmful levels" (unless 'harmful drinking' is completely divorced from harm, which, as I said yesterday, is what the public health charlatans have tried to so).

Secondly, that reducing overall alcohol consumption in any demographic group is no guarantee that harmful drinking and mortality in that group will decline. This is a bit awkward for the public health lobby who have been wedded to the Total Consumption Model for years, despite ample evidence of this sort undermining it.

Thirdly, of course, it shows that making alcohol less affordable is not a very effective way of reducing alcohol-related mortality. The high price of alcohol is surely the reason why the poor, as a cohort, drink less than wealthier groups, but this does not lead to less harm—quite the reverse. The people who are least able to afford alcohol are the ones who are drinking most hazardously and are dying from it. By contrast, the group that finds alcohol very affordable, drinks more of it and suffers least from it.


Jonathan Bagley said...

It could be that the method of measuring "alcohol related harm" has no validity.

nisakiman said...

Typo alert.

This shows too important things.

Christopher Snowdon said...

You're right. In fact it should be 'three'! Corrected.