One in five people in England have been harmed by others drinking alcohol over the past year, a survey has found.
The most commonly reported harms related to less serious issues, such as being kept awake (8%) or feeling anxious or uncomfortable about another person’s behaviour at a social occasion (7%). But nearly one in 20 people reported experiencing aggression – being physically threatened or hurt – or being pressurised into something sexual.
The survey of 5,000 over-16s across England looked at the extent, type and frequency of the harms associated with other people’s drinking and who was most likely to be affected.
The authors of the paper said: “It is clear that [alcohol-related harm] is relatively prevalent and that some individuals experience harm frequently. The most prevalent harms could be considered insignificant, but even apparently minor harms such as sleep disruption can have an impact on health and quality of life, particularly if experienced persistently.”
Those who said they had been in any of these situations in the past 12 months were asked to say who had been responsible, how often it had happened and whether they drank themselves.
Men (5%) were slightly more likely than women (4%) to experience violence or aggression while women were about twice as likely as men to say they had experienced emotional harm (5% v 2%).
Fewer than 1% said they had been pressured or forced into something sexual, with the most commonly cited perpetrator being a partner sharing the same home (23%).
Joy Leahy of the Royal Statistical Society said that caution was needed in interpreting the responses of subgroups within the survey. For instance, only 27 respondents said they had been forced or pressurised into something sexual and, of these, five said the perpetrator was a stranger and six said it was their co-habiting partner. “With such limited data on this type of harm, it would not be appropriate to draw conclusions on the most frequent perpetrator of this type of harm from this specific study,” Leahy said.
In 2012, alcohol was responsible for about 6% of all deaths and 5% of illness globally.
Bob Patton, a clinical psychologist at the University of Surrey, said: “We know that alcohol is associated with a range of physical and psychological harms to the drinker themselves, but this survey shows that such harm is not just limited to the individual. The finding that one in five over-16s in England have experienced harm as a consequence of others’ drinking should encourage policy makers to consider ways to raise the bar further when developing strategies to reduce consumption.”