One in five people has been harmed by a drinker – that’s the headline finding of the largest study on alcohol-related harm to others in the UK. It’s the first national survey of its kind in England. Of the people who reported alcohol-related harms, one in 20 experienced aggressive behaviours.
In this blog, we’ll look at the key findings from this Public Health England survey on alcohol-related harm. What types of harm are people suffering? How can alcohol-related harm to others be safely challenged? And who is most at risk from another person’s behaviour when drinking?
We’ll also explain how alcohol addiction interventions and alcohol rehab programmes help people confront the harms of their drinking. If you know that your drinking is hurting other people, or if you’re a relative or close friend of a harmful drinker, Addiction Helper will assess the situation and advise you on alcohol treatment.
Alcohol-Related Harm to Others – How are People Suffering?
The Public Health England researchers analysed interviews with 4874 people, aged 16 and over. 980 said they had experienced at least one alcohol-related harm from another person. They were then asked how often they experienced that harm and whether the perpetrator was a spouse, partner, family member, friend, work colleague or a stranger – including, where relevant, if they lived with that person.
The most common categories of alcohol-related harm to others were:
- Being kept awake due to noise or disruption from a drinker – 390 people (8%) experienced this
- Feeling uncomfortable or anxious at a social occasion because of a drinker’s behaviour – 331 people (6.8%) reported this
- Having a serious argument that did not include physical violence with someone who had been drinking – 275 people (5.7%)
Some of the more serious, violent or criminal harms from drinkers included:
- Having to contact police – 117 people (2.4%)
- Being physically hurt – 92 people (1.9%)
- Being put a risk by a drunk driver – 75 people (1.5%)
- Feeling children were at risk from a drinker – 61 people (1.2%)
- Feeling forced or pressurised into a sexual act – 33 people (0.7%)
- Having to move home to get away from a harmful drinker – 25 people (0.5%)
Three-quarters of all alcohol-related harms to others happened less than monthly. One in 20 (5.2%) were daily or almost daily occurrences. Friends and strangers were the dominant perpetrators – making up 46% of all reports.
How to Challenge Alcohol-Related Harm Safely
Confronting a drinker about their actions is neither straightforward nor predictable. What could be a useful conversation with one person could lead to even more problems with another. When people get addicted to alcohol, they lose control over how much they drink and what happens when they are drinking or craving alcohol. For this reason, alcohol addicts can be equally unpredictable when they haven’t yet had a drink, as when they have had a lot of alcohol.
These are not reasons to tolerate someone’s bad or aggressive behaviour towards you. There are insights into the disease of addiction. There are limitations in terms of your influence to stop someone drinking and behaving harmfully. A drinker may promise to change many times but find the cravings for alcohol are too strong to resist.
The best ways to confront people about alcohol
Alcohol interventions are a safe way to confront a loved one about their drinking. A professional addiction interventionist leads the meeting, typically involving one of two members of the family and the person who is addicted to alcohol. Interventions help people to face the harm that alcohol is causing them and others. Whenever possible, the interventionist will persuade the client to accept further addiction help, usually, an alcohol rehab programme with a medically-supervised detox if required.
In residential treatment for addiction, clients are supported day and night to detox safely from alcohol. Skilled addiction counsellors use a range of therapeutic techniques to help clients understand the true nature of their drinking. Breaking through the denial around alcoholism usually leads to discovering the causes behind destructive drinking. Rehab equips clients with a range of healthier strategies to address their problems, manage their emotions and transform their behaviour.
In all other circumstances, the best way to challenge alcohol-related harms from others is to be clear on your own boundaries – these are the behaviours you will and won’t accept from other people. If a drinker oversteps your boundaries, then you can choose whether to continue your relationship or friendship on the same terms.
If a colleague or a neighbour is bullying you, for example, it’s advisable to ask for help from other people. Involving your friends, family, community and the police, if necessary, can help address regular alcohol-related harms.
If you’ve been affected by a one-off serious incident, please seek help from your GP, a trained counsellor and, whenever appropriate, the police.
Who is Most at Risk of Alcohol-Related Harm from Others in England?
1. Hazardous/ harmful drinkers
People who drink too much alcohol themselves are the highest risk category for alcohol-related harms from other people. 37.9% of hazardous drinkers said they had been harmed by another person’s drinking in the past year, compared to 17.3% of non-hazardous drinkers.
Harmful drinkers were also the most at risk of aggressive alcohol-related harms from others (11.3%), compared to 3.6% of non-harmful drinkers.
2. Young people, aged 16-24
Experience of alcohol-related harm from others decreased with age. 36.6% of 16-24-year-olds reported harms in the last 12 months, compared to 21.6% of 25-44-year-olds, 18.5% of 45-64-year-olds and 8.8% of people aged 65 and over.
3. Single people
36.5% of single people reported at least one alcohol-related harm from another person, as compared to 18.9% of people in the family stage of their life and 15% in the post-family stage.
4. People renting from a private landlord
Three in ten private renters (29.9%) had experienced alcohol-related harm from another person in the past year. This compares to 14% of people who owned their property outright and 20.9% of people with a mortgage.
One limitation of the study, however, is that people who are homeless, in prison, in a care home or in a hospital are systemically missing from surveys such as these.
5. People with a disability
24% of disabled people reported alcohol-related harm from others, as compared to 19.7% of non-disabled people.
6. White British people
Of the 2975 White British people surveyed, 830 (21.8%) said another person’s drinking had caused them harm. Asian people were half as likely to experience harm – 46 people out of 376 surveyed (10.9%).