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Alcohol consumption in Great Britain has risen per head of the adult population during the post-war years, more than doubling between the mid-1950s and late 1990s, when it hit double figures for the first time. It has fallen slightly from a peak of 11.6 litres in 2004; periods of slow economic activity in recent years may have contributed to this relative decline. Men consume on average more than twice as much alcohol – mainly beer – on a weekly basis as women, although in terms of amounts drunk, women now purchase more units of wine than men in total. According to research company Nielsen, roughly 7 in every 10 wine bottles sold in Britain’s supermarkets are bought by women.[1]

This fact is also representative of a long-term increase in the proportion of alcohol purchased from off-licenced outlets and consumed at home rather than in pubs and bars; British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) figures estimate that twice as much alcohol is now bought from off-licenced premises as from pubs and other on-licenced premises. This is thought to be due to the increased affordability of alcoholic beverages from off-licence vendors, relative to the cost of purchasing drinks in pubs and bars.

This factsheet provides a recent history of UK drinking patterns and trends, and explains how the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption came to be.

Click on links opposite to view individual factsheets, or on the image below to download the pdf (updated February 2018):


[1] Financial Times (December 2014) ‘The other glass ceiling: women winemakers’ <>