Alcohol dependency drugs: 60 per cent rise in prescription items in eight years

Report also shows rise in hospital admissions attributable to alcohol

*Regional information to SHA level available from this report*

The number of prescription items dispensed annually to treat alcohol dependency in England has risen by more than 60 per cent in eight years, a new report shows today.

Nearly 167,800 items were dispensed in the community in 2011 according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

This is a rise of nearly five per cent on the previous year (160,200) and of 63 per cent on 2003 (102,700); the first year of time series data included in the annual report: Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2012.

The total net ingredient cost of these items to the NHS was £2.49million in 2011; a rise of just over three per cent on the previous year (£2.41 million) and of 45 per cent on 2003 (£1.72 million).

Newly-published information in the report, a compendium of statistics from a variety of different sources, also shows there were an estimated 198,900 alcohol related hospital admissions in 2010-11 based on the primary diagnosis. This is an increase of just over two per cent on the previous year (194,800) and 40 per cent on 2002-03 (142,000).

The report also includes a broad measure of alcohol-related hospital admissions, where either the primary or one of the secondary diagnoses for the patient was a condition related to alcohol consumption.

Under this measure, an estimated 1,168,300 alcohol related admissions were recorded in 2010-11 - a rise of 11 per cent on 2009-10 when 1,056,900 such admissions were recorded and a rise of nearly 130 per cent on 2002-03 (510,700).

In more recent years, hospitals have improved their recording of secondary diagnoses and this change needs to be considered when looking at trends in the broad measure of alcohol-related admissions. Because of this, today’s report also includes further analysis that gauges the impact of improvements in recording practices on alcohol related admissions figures for earlier years.

Today the North West Public Health Observatory, working with the HSCIC and Department of Health, launched a public consultation on the best method for calculating alcohol related admissions to hospital.

Newly published data in report also shows that in 2011:

  • 302 prescription items per 100,000 of the population in England were dispensed to treat alcohol dependency. The North West had the highest number of prescription items per 100,000 of the population at 517 per 100,000; while London has the lowest at 138 per 100,000.
  • The North East recorded the highest number of hospital admissions per 100,000 of the population (using the broad measure) at 2,597 per 100,000 of the population. South Central recorded the lowest number at 1,335 per 100,000.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: “This report shows how drinking in England has impacted upon admissions to our hospitals and on prescriptions dispensed in our communities. There are thousands more cases of both hospitalisation and of prescribed drugs being dispensed to tackle the effects of alcohol compared to eight years ago.

Today’s report also includes a great deal of work around hospital data and how the scale of admissions due to drinking alcohol, which is a very complex area, can be most accurately viewed. The consultation will help develop this work further.”

The report is at:

The consultation is at:


  1. HSCIC was previously known as the NHS Information Centre. It is England’s authoritative, independent source of health and social care information. It works with a wide range of health and social care providers nationwide to provide the facts and figures that help the NHS and social services run effectively. Its role is to collect data, analyse it and convert it into useful information which helps providers improve their services and supports academics, researchers, regulators and policymakers in their work. The HSCIC also produces a wide range of statistical publications each year across a number of areas including: primary care, health and lifestyles, screening, hospital care, population and geography, social care and workforce and pay statistics.
  2. This statistical report presents a range of information on alcohol use and misuse which are drawn together from a variety of published sources and includes additional analysis undertaken by the HSCIC which is presented in a user friendly format. The report presents a broad picture of health issues relating to alcohol in England and covers topics such as drinking habits and behaviours among adults (aged 16 and over) and school children (aged 11 to 15), drinking-related mortality, affordability of alcohol and alcohol-related costs. Most of the data contained in the report have been published previously including information from obtained from the following sources: General Lifestyle Survey, Living Costs and Food Survey (Family Food module), Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England, Infant Feeding Survey, Health Survey for England, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey and ONS Mortality statistics.
  3. The eight year period between 2003 and 2011 is the timeframe over which the trend in the annual number of prescription items dispensed to treat alcohol dependency has been examined. This has been done so that the key findings that emerge when looking at trends in various data all relate, as far as possible, to the same timeframe. For example, alcohol related admission estimates are available between 2002/03 to 2010/11 only, and so selection of the period from 2003 to 2011 for prescriptions data achieves the best possible compatibility.
  4. The number of prescription items is not the same as the number of prescriptions. Prescriptions are written on a prescription form. Each single item written on the form is counted as a prescription item. Prescription data in this report relates to items prescribed in primary care settings or NHS hospitals in England and dispensed in the community within the United Kingdom.
  5. Table 1 within Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community: England, Statistics for 2000 to 2010 available at shows the overall number of prescription items dispensed annually in England between 2003 and 2010 increased by 43%. This is broadly the same period (2003 to 2011) over which a 63% increase was recorded in the number of prescription items dispensed annually to treat alcohol dependency in England, shown in Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2012. The overall number of prescription items dispensed in 2011 will be available in Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community: England, Statistics for 2000 to 2011, expected to be published in July 2012.
  6. The cost to the NHS of alcohol dependency referred to in this press release is based solely on the total Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of prescription items dispensed for the treatment of alcohol dependency. NIC is the basic cost of a drug and does not take account of discounts, dispensing costs, fees or prescription charges income.
  7. Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) are compiled from data sent by more than 300 NHS trusts and primary care trusts (PCTs) in England and from some independent sector organisations for activity commissioned by the English NHS. The HSCIC liaises closely with these organisations to encourage submission of complete and valid data and seeks to minimise inaccuracies. While this brings about improvement over time, some shortcomings remain. Figures refer to recorded admissions and are reliant upon the accurate and complete recording of cause of hospital admission.
  8. Estimates of the number of alcohol-related admissions to hospital are calculated using a methodology developed by the North West Public Health Observatory (NWPHO) ( which takes information on patients’ characteristics and diagnoses from HES, together with estimates for the proportion of cases of a particular disease or injury that are caused by alcohol consumption (known as alcohol-attributable fractions (AAFs)). The attributable fractions represent the likelihood that the condition is the result of alcohol consumption, rather than the likelihood that the admission is the result of alcohol consumption
  9. A description of the methodology used to account for increased recording of secondary diagnoses by hospitals in recent years is included in Annex G of the publication.
  10. All figures have been rounded to the nearest 100, apart from those that relate to per 100,000 of the population.
  11. For media enquiries please contact or 0845 257 6990.