Majority of UK booze-industry revenues come from problem drinkers

69% of the alcohol sold in the UK is sold to "harmful," "hazardous" or "increasing risk" drinkers, accounting for more than 60% of the industry's revenues. The number of alcohol-related hospitalisations in the UK has doubled in the past ten years, to more than 1m/year.

The highest-risk male drinkers consume a median of 146 units of alcohol/week and their median female counterparts consume 144 units/week. The only way they can afford that much alcohol is by consuming booze that is marketed at £0.15/unit, primarily strong cider sold in three-liter bottles. The alcohol industry has strongly resisted minimum per-unit pricing and claims that the country's heaviest drinkers are wealthy and not sensitive to price increases.

As former UK drugs czar Prof David Nutt writes in his essential Drugs Without the Hot Air, the UK alcohol industry has insisted that it does everything it can to reduce problem drinking, and that any alcoholism public-health information should be produced by the industry, not by government. In peer-reviewed studies, the industry's anti-alcoholism campaigns have been effectively useless at reducing problem drinking, while government-run campaigns (especially those that focus on the industry's reliance on harmful drinking) are extremely effective at reducing consumption to safe levels.

The alcohol industry makes most of its money – an estimated £23.7bn in sales in England alone – from people whose drinking is destroying or risking their health, say experts who accuse the industry of irresponsible pricing and marketing.

While the industry points to the fact that most people in the country are moderate drinkers, 60% of alcohol sales are either to those who are risking their health, or those – labelled harmful drinkers – who are doing themselves potentially lethal damage, figures seen by the Guardian show.

Work by Prof Nick Sheron of Southampton University, co-founder of the Alcohol Health Alliance of more than 40 concerned organisations and colleagues, has established that people who drink dangerously are the industry's best customers.

"We looked at data from the Health Survey for England and did some calculations on that and we found that in terms of the total alcohol consumed within that survey, 69% was consumed by hazardous and harmful drinkers together," he said.

Problem drinkers account for most of alcohol industry's sales, figures reveal
[Sarah Boseley/The Guardian]