Heavy drinking harms poor most: study

Drinking heavily is more harmful to the poorest people in society, according to a UK medical study.


A marked link between socio-economic status and the harm caused by drinking alcohol excessively was found by research published in medical journal The Lancet Public Health on Wednesday.

Researchers said alcohol consumption was “disproportionately harmful” to the poorest in society, who were at greater risk of illness or death because of drinking.

Compared to light drinkers in advantaged areas, excessive drinkers were seven times at risk of an increase in alcohol harm.

This contrasts with excessive drinkers in deprived areas, who were 11 times at risk of an increase.

Harmful impacts of alcohol are higher in socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Researchers defined harm based on deaths, hospital visits and prescriptions attributable to alcohol.

However, until now it was unclear whether those were as a result of differences in drinking or as a result of other factors.

“The poorest in society are at greater risk of alcohol’s harmful impacts on health, but this is not because they are drinking more or more often binge drinking,” said lead author Dr Vittal Katikireddi of the University of Glasgow.

“Experiencing poverty may impact on health, not only through leading an unhealthy lifestyle but also as a direct consequence of poor material circumstances and psychosocial stresses.

“Poverty may, therefore, reduce resilience to disease, predisposing people to greater health harms of alcohol.”

The authors linked different sets of data from Scottish Health Surveys and electronic health records, studying more than 50,000 people.

It suggested even when other factors are accounted for, including smoking and obesity, living in deprived areas was consistently associated with higher alcohol-related harms.

“Heavier drinking is associated with greater alcohol-related harm in all individuals,” study co-author Dr Elise Whitley said.

“However, our study suggests that the harm is greater in those living in poorer areas or who have a lower income, fewer qualifications or a manual occupation.”