There are currently over 10 million people drinking at levels that are harmful to their health, according to a new report by Public Health England (PHE). 1

In England, alcohol is now the leading risk factor for ill-health, early mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49, and the fifth leading risk factor for ill-health across all age groups.

Since 1980, sales of alcohol in England and Wales have increased by 42%. This growth has been driven by increased consumption among women and increasing affordability of alcohol.

The key influencers of intake are price, availability, and the social norms around its consumption. The report looked at the effectiveness of policies aimed at addressing these influencers:

Taxation and price regulation

Policies that reduce the affordability of alcohol are the most efficient and cost-effective approaches to lowering consumption.

Regulated marketing

Exposure to marketing increases the likelihood that children will drink alcohol. Watershed bans and online age verification filters may help reduce the marketing of alcohol to children.

Information and education

Education programmes are less cost-effective and there is little evidence to suggest that education or health warning labels on drinks leads to lasting reductions in harm. However, education increases public support for more stringent policies.

Brief interventions and treatment

Interventions aimed at high-risk drinkers are effective at reducing consumption. However, success depends on large-scale interventions and dedicated staff and funding streams.

Combining policies could create a ‘critical mass’ effect, changing social norms around drinking. But policies need to be consistent. For example, labels highlighting the risks of drinking should not then be undermined by cheap unit prices.

Alcohol and cancer risk

There is strong scientific evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks increase the risk of several types of cancer including bowel and breast cancer.2

For cancer prevention, it's best not to drink alcohol. If people do choose to drink, they should aim to follow the national guidance of no more than 14 units a week.

Download our factsheet, A Closer Look at Alcohol.


  1. Public Health England. The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies. 2016.
  2. World Cancer Research Fund. Alcohol and Cancer Prevention. 2017.