Understanding the relationship between poverty and alcohol

CPH poverty and alcohol misuse 2016This rapid review examined evidence of the association between poverty and alcohol use. The research primarily focused on work undertaken in the UK and was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as part of their programme to develop Anti-Poverty Strategies for the UK. The purpose of the rapid review was to provide an evidence base that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could use in developing their strategies, and to inform how alcohol misuse was addressed.

What struck me about this review was the section on stigma and marginalisation:

How people respond to others’ alcohol use exacerbates harm (World Health Organization, 2007). Alcohol dependence is a highly stigmatized health condition and as Room (2005) argues, “the use of alcohol [and drugs] is strongly moralized, and those transgressing moral norms are subject to stigma and social marginalization”. The relationship between alcohol dependence and stigma particularly manifests itself through the perception that those affected have personal control over their illness (Livingston et al., 2011). The WHO Expert Committee on Problems Related to Alcohol Consumption noted that “there a clear tendency for many cultures to marginalize particularly those who are both poor and habitually intoxicated, and that there are many pathways by which poverty can enable or exacerbate the stigmatization of intoxication” (World Health Organization, 2007). People who are poor or living in poverty may be less able to avoid or  buffer the social consequences of their drinking unlike their more affluent counterparts. Police surveillance of ‘anti-social behaviour’ such as public drunkenness may also be heightened in poor communities. Thus in affluent societies, the WHO Expert Committee (World Health Organization, 2007) highlighted “that there is a very strong overlap between the most marginalized population and those defined as having serious alcohol problems”.

What is the extent of problem alcohol use among people living in poverty?
As there are no figures available to determine what proportion of the estimated 13 million adults who live in poverty overlap with the categories of problem drinkers the extent of the problem is unknown.
According to Public Health England (2014), around 9 million adults in England are hazardous drinkers with 2.2 million also harmful drinkers. An estimated 1.6 million adults in England may have some degree of alcohol dependence. Of these, around 250,000 may be moderately or severely dependent on alcohol.  According to the 2007 Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 8.5% of men and 3.0% of women in the lowest income quintile had experienced any symptoms of alcohol dependence in the last 6 months; 2.5% and 0.1%, respectively, had experienced moderate or severe symptoms of dependence that would indicate a need for assisted alcohol withdrawal.
You can read the full report here:

4 thoughts on “Understanding the relationship between poverty and alcohol

  1. Hello,

    Honestly, giving up alcohol has caused the scales to fall well and truly from my eyes! I had never considered this before but it’s completely true.

    It’s easy to view alcoholism as a working class poor problem because those are the pictures we see in the media. But we just don’t see pictures of middle class dinner parties where everyone is quietly pissed or balls (or whatever it is that the upper class do!) where everyone’s safely closeted away to drink as much as or more than those we point the fingers at and judge.

    It’s a whole new world isn’t it? [Looks around in wonder]

    1. Hey Be Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog 🙂 It really is a whole new world and welcome!

  2. Hi Lucy!
    I agree with this report!
    I see here in Minnesota, that people who have more money are able to “blunt” the effects of drinking too much, compared with poorer people.
    Rich people can buy good lawyers, pay for cabs, and people tend to let them off the hook…it was a social night, etc.
    Whereas the poorer people don’t get that.

    1. Thanks for researching and sharing the view from your side of the pond Wendy 🙂 xx

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