The alcohol harm paradox explained

People in deprived communities have higher levels of alcohol-related ill health than people in non-deprived communities, despite drinking the same amounts of alcohol.

This – known as the alcohol harm paradox – was revealed by new research from Bangor University, Liverpool John Moores University and Alcohol Research UK published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

The study found that people living in deprived areas who drank at levels consistent with increased risks to health (i.e. more than the recommended weekly guidelines) were nearly 11 times more likely than people living in non-deprived areas to combine drinking with other health-damaging behaviours, such as smoking, excess weight, poor diet and little exercise. In combination, these behaviours multiply the risk of alcohol-related conditions.

Mark Bellis, a researcher from Bangor University, said: “About nine per cent of increased risk drinkers surveyed in poorer communities also smoked, were overweight and had unhealthy lifestyles. Together these combinations can create enormous stresses on people’s bodies, overwhelming their ability to limit the health harms caused by alcohol. In affluent areas less than one per cent of people drinking at increased risk levels also reported all three other health risks.”

James Nicholls, from Alcohol Research UK, added: “This research highlights the importance of wider social, economic and behavioural factors in understanding alcohol-related harm. It suggests that health risks from alcohol are much greater when combined with smoking, poor diet and low levels of physical activity."

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