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Largest UK survey reveals harm of people's drinking

Friday May 10th, 2019

One person in five in England has been affected by someone else’s drinking in a 12-month period, the largest UK survey of its kind reveals today.

The results of the survey, which draws on data from an extended Alcohol Toolkit Survey (ATS), also found that nearly one in 20 of people experienced aggression, were physically threatened or hurt, or forced/pressurised into something sexual.

The survey of 5,000 adults across England looked at the extent, type, and frequency of the harms associated with other people’s drinking, who is most likely to be affected, as well as who and what might be driving it.

The ATS is a nationally representative household survey and includes a new sample of adults every month. This extended survey, carried out between November 2015 and January 2016, included 18 additional questions on a wide range of potential harms associated with other people’s drinking.

These ranged from actual or threatened physical violence, emotional hurt or neglect or having to care for someone whose drinking had resulted in illness/disability, to being kept awake at night because of associated noise and disruption.

The Public Health England-funded study, published in the latest online edition of BMJ Open, found that of the 4,874 respondents for whom data was available, 980 (just over 20%) said they had experienced at least one of the 18 harms as a result of someone else’s drinking in the previous 12 months.

The most commonly reported harm was being kept awake at night (8%) or feeling anxious/uncomfortable at a social occasion (nearly 7%). But 225 people (4.6%) said they had experienced violence or aggression, had been physically threatened or hurt, or forced/pressurised into sex.

The researchers found that men were slightly more likely than women to experience violence/aggression – 5.3% compared to 4%, while women were about twice as likely as men to say they had experienced emotional harm/neglect – at just under 5% compared with just over 2%.

Friends and strangers accounted for about 46% of the reported incidents – 590 and 578 respectively.

One in five respondents who reported having been forced or pressurised into something sexual, said this was via a stranger, but most commonly it was via a co-habiting partner (23%, rising to almost 40% when including partners who lived elsewhere).

About 75% of respondents said they experienced these harms on a monthly basis, about 5% reported being affected by others’ drinking daily or almost daily.

Retired people of those with children in the household were less likely to experience harm.

Although this the largest ever survey of alcohol-related harms to others conducted within the UK, and the first national study in England, it is an observational and exploratory study.

However, the researchers say: “It is clear that [alcohol-related harm to others] is relatively prevalent and that some individuals experience harm frequently. The most prevalent harms could be considered insignificant, but even apparently minor harms such as sleep disruption can have an impact on health and quality of life, particularly if experienced persistently.”

Beynon C, Bayliss D, Mason J et al. Alcohol-related harm to others in England: a cross-sectional analysis of national survey data. BMJ Open 10 May 2019. doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-021046

Tags: Drug & Alcohol Abuse | NHS | UK News

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