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Drinkers' harm to others revealed

The majority of people in Britain are harmed by others' drinking, according to a new report.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) said its research had found that one in five adults has been harassed or insulted in the street by someone who had been drinking, while even more had felt unsafe or threatened in a public place.

Many also reported receiving unwanted sexual attention or experiencing family or marriage problems because of alcohol abuse.

The report found a link between age and rates of harm, with younger age groups reporting greater rates of harm than older ones.

Harm caused by alcohol can vary from a traffic accident caused by a drink-driver, to a child missing school because their parent is drunk, or a family suffering financial problems because too much money is spent on alcohol, the IAS said.

The report, based on the experiences of more than 2,000 people from Scotland and north-west England, asked participants about the harms experienced from others' alcohol consumption in the past year.

It also reviewed prior evidence on the issue, finding few studies which quantify the costs of harm to people other than the drinker, suggesting that the cost of alcohol consumption is likely under-estimated.

It said that in the UK, the cost of alcohol's harm to others was estimated in 2004 to be up to £15.4 billion, including £1.4 billion to £1.7 billion to the health service, up to £7.3 billion on crime and public disorder costs, and up to £6.4 billion in workplace-related costs.

It added that there are many other costs to family and social networks which cannot be quantified using available data, for example the cost to children affected by parental alcohol problems.

The IAS report found that one in seven (15%) people in north-west England said someone who had been drinking gave them unwanted sexual attention or behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards them, while one in 20 (6%) in Scotland said drinking had caused family or marriage problems.

Nearly a third (30%) in Scotland and almost half of those in the north-west England (49%) reported being kept awake at night because of drunken noise.

In total, 51% of people in Scotland and 78% of people in north-west England had experienced harm from another person's drinking, most of them reporting multiple types of harm.

The report, which was produced in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, called for a range of measures including stricter rules on how many licensed premises can be allowed in one area and increasing the price of the cheapest alcohol.

IAS director Katherine Brown said: "This report is important because it shows that the harms caused by alcohol extend far beyond individual drinkers, often affecting many people through no choice of their own.

"Alcohol harm is everybody's business - as taxpayers we are all paying the price. We hope this Government will look to the evidence of what works and take action, both to ease the heavy financial burden on our health, social care and police services, and to make our communities safer."

Lead author Dr Lucy Gell, from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield, said: "We need to better record alcohol's harm to others across the health and social services and provide support services for those experiencing harm from other people's drinking.

"Our team are now working to provide evidence to national and local governments about which mix of policies could best help to reduce the social harms associated with alcohol use."

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