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Health service response

Health services are central to tackling harm at the individual level among those with alcohol-use disorders and other conditions caused by harmful use of alcohol.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “the harmful use of alcohol causes a large disease, social and economic burden in societies”; it in fact accounts for 5.1% of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD).[1]

Therefore, managing the health service response to the consequences of alcohol misuse is a priority for many countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), where, as the health impacts factsheet shows, thousands of lives are lost to liver disease, the most common cause of all alcohol-related mortality in the UK.[2]

Furthermore, alcohol misuse is the largest risk factor for ill-health, mobility and disability among 15-49 year olds. The damages to health include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancers
  • Cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pancreatitis

(A comprehensive list is available to view via this link)

In 1980, a WHO expert committee encouraged the need for efficient methods to identify people with harmful alcohol consumption levels.[3] Since then, the provision of early intervention and treatment services is a key part of any comprehensive policy framework to reduce alcohol harm. The WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol lists Health Services’ Response as one of its 10 priority policy areas of interventions for national action.

Early identification and brief advice provided by general practitioners, other health and social care professionals and even national charities can be effective in reducing alcohol consumption amongst heavy drinkers, thus preventing and tackling alcohol-related health problems in the future.

For people who suffer from problems with alcohol dependency, access to effective treatment services can play a vital role in both recovery from and management of alcohol-use disorders.

Public health professionals in the UK have expressed concerns that insufficient resources are currently allocated for training and delivery of early intervention and treatment and that the country’s National Health Service (NHS) does little to treat and rehabilitate people who have issues with their drinking; according to one blog, “waiting times for a place at an NHS Alcohol Rehab are lengthy due to a high demand and limited facilities and funding.”[4]

Click on links opposite to view individual factsheets, or on the image below to download the pdf (updated August 2017):



[1] WHO, ’Management substance abuse – Screening and brief interventions for alcohol problem in primary health care’ <>

[2] Addiction Helper, ‘NHS Alcohol Rehabs – Do You Have Time To Wait?’ <>

[3] World Health Organisation (WHO) (2015), ‘Alcohol factsheet’ <>

[4] The Institute of Alcohol Studies, Alcohol-related mortality rates, Figure 5 in ‘Health impacts factsheet’ <>