UK Policy

In 2017, there were 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths in the UK, that's 21 per day (Scotland: 22). There were 1.2 million estimated hospital admissions primarily linked to alcohol = 7.2% of all admissions and 3% higher than in 2016/17. (ONS, Dec 2018) Over 10 million people are drinking at levels which increase their risk of health harm.

In England in 2017, there were 5,843 alcohol-specific deaths. The number of deaths is 6% higher than 2016 and an increase of 16% on 2007. Alcoholic liver disease accounted for 80% of these deaths with a further 9% from mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol (NHS Digital, February 2019). Among those aged 15 to 49 in England, alcohol is now the leading risk factor for death, and the average age of an alcohol-specific death is 54.3 years (compared to average age of death from all factors of 77.6). It is estimated that over 220,000 children live with an alcohol-dependent parent.  (Public Health England report on the Public Health Burden of Alcohol, 2016)

In the UK, devolved political authorities, as well as local authorities, have responsibility for various aspects of alcohol policy. However, the UK government retains control over levels of alcohol taxation and alcohol advertising. 


Rates of alcohol duty are set by the UK Treasury and are levied on all alcoholic drinks sold in the UK. Beer and spirits are taxed in relation to their alcohol strength, with the duty on spirits applied per litre of pure alcohol and the duty on beer applied per hectolitre per cent of alcohol. For wine, cider and perry, rates of duty are fixed by volume, per hectolitre of the product. See HM Revenues and Customs for current rates of alcohol duty.

In March 2008, the UK Chancellor raised excise duty on alcohol by 6% above inflation with a commitment to increase duties by 2% above inflation for each of the following four years, the so-called duty escalator. This was abolished in 2013 and since then UK governments have either frozen or reduced alcohol duties even further.  A new report from Sheffield University's Alcohol Research Group (SARG), 'Modelling the impact of alcohol duty policies since 2012 in England and Scotland' published in October 2019, shows that removing the escalator has led to 2,000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012. This policy led to lower prices and made alcohol bought in shops more affordable than at any time in the last 30 years.

Increasing alcohol price is known to be the single most effective policy measure for reducing alcohol consumption and harm.

Drink drive limits

At present the legal alcohol limit for driving in the UK is 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which equates to 35 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per 100ml of breath. For most other countries in the EU, including Scotland since December 2014, the legal limit is 50mg.

Alcohol advertising

Control over telecommunications and broadcasting – the main media through which the alcohol industry promotes and markets its products – is reserved to the UK Parliament. At present, alcohol advertising in the UK is regulated by a mix of statutory codes and self-regulatory standards, through Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority. 

Advertising rules currently ban alcohol adverts that particularly appeal to young people under 18 years, and that link alcohol with sexual success or irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. There is however no restriction on the volume of adverts.