The extension of licensing hours in England and Wales has triggered a rise in binge drinking and an associated increase in mental and physical health problems, according to new research.
A study conducted by economists at Lancaster University confirms that, while the relaxation of drinking hours has had little impact on the habits of normal drinkers, it has resulted in an increase in the number of people drinking heavily.
The findings, which will be presented at the Royal Economics Society annual conference this week, offer a partial corrective to the hope that extended hours – ushered in by the Licensing Act of 2003 – would result in a more “continental” style of drinking culture.
The act, which allowed some venues to stay open to 5am, saw a steep rise in the number of pubs and clubs extending their hours. By 1 April 2006, 50,000 venues had been granted new licences. Four years later this had increased to nearly 79,000 – more than 60% of the 130,000 total premises licensed to sell alcohol in England and Wales.
Politicians claimed that the reforms would help alleviate problems around closing time.
“At the heart of the push for longer hours was a view that the previous standard closing hours, typically 11pm, were themselves a source of social problems,” the economists note. “These early closing hours were thought to cause excessive, concentrated drinking as individuals drank to the clock. Unified closing times also have the potential to lead to problems outside venues, such as crime and traffic fatalities.”
But instead the reforms have seen a rise in heavy drinking, which has taken its toll on the physical and mental health of drinkers. Professor Colin Green, of the university’s economics department, who led the research, said: “We demonstrate that more availability, in terms of the number of extended hours licences in an area, is associated with markedly higher levels of heavy drinking. This doesn’t necessarily need to ‘map in’ to greater alcohol-related harm if this drinking is spread out over a greater time. In subsequent analysis, however, we find that this greater drinking leads to deterioration in physical and mental health.”
The team examined data from the annual Health Survey of England and reports provided by the Health and Social Care Information Centre which enabled them to track the number of extended hours licences granted for each region.
In the survey, drinkers were questioned about the number of units they consumed on their heaviest day.
The results show that, in an average region, for every 1,000 extended licensing hours there was a very small increase in consumption – less than half a pint per person. But this figure masks the impact extended hours had on heavy drinkers.
The team found that the extended hours resulted in a 36% increase in the number of drinkers consuming 12 or more units of alcohol – about five pints of beer or five glasses of wine – on their heaviest night of drinking. And there was a 29% increase in consumption among those drinking 16 or more units.
“Given that higher levels of consumption are where alcohol harm may be concentrated, this suggests that the extension of availability led to negative health outcomes,” Green and his team note.
The economists then studied the effect of increased alcohol consumption on the health of drinkers who submitted to questionnaires asking them to detail its effects. “Again, we find that one additional unit of consumption on the heaviest night is associated with a small increase in the likelihood of reporting a physical health problem on average for the population,” the team claims.
“This again masks an increasingly large impact for heavy drinkers. For instance, the increase in the likelihood of drinking more than 12 units in a single sitting is associated with a 16-percentage point increase in the likelihood of reporting a physical health problem. We find effects of similar magnitude on the probability of reporting a mental health problem.”
Green said the findings had implications for government. “The extension of hours has the potential for acute health issues with certain subgroups. This is not to say on average everyone’s health is going to be worse, but there are definitely individuals out there who, as a result of the extension of hours, are more likely to binge drink, and this is likely to have negative health outcomes.”
by Jamie Doward
March 19, 2016
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.