The Royal College of Physicians has a long history of raising awareness of the health damage caused by alcohol and has played a crucial role in the debate surrounding government alcohol policy since its first comments on the gin epidemic in 1725.

There is clear evidence that excessive alcohol consumption has a significant impact on individuals' long-term health. Alcohol is a factor in more than 40 serious medical conditions, including liver disease and cancer, and one of the major preventable causes of death in the UK. Alcohol misuse also places a huge burden on the NHS, with the number of hospital admissions due to alcohol consumption rising rapidly in the last ten years. The consequences to health of this level of alcohol misuse in the UK include around 8,750 alcohol-related deaths per year, 1.2million alcohol-related hospital admissions (in England and Wales) and nearly 10,000 casualties of drink driving road traffic crashes.

To tackle this rise in alcohol misuse, the RCP advocates for a coordinated, comprehensive and evidence-based approach to alcohol policy to:

  • reduce alcohol consumption across the population by addressing the price, availability and marketing of alcohol products, especially to young people
  • support high quality health services to ensure the early identification and effective treatment of patients with alcohol-related health problems.

The RCP coordinates and is a member the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), a network of organisations working to reduce alcohol-related harm which is chaired by Sir Ian Gilmore, the RCP's special adviser on alcohol.

We are committed to the principles of Health First: An evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK, which sets out the AHA's call for a range of measures to reduce the health harms caused by alcohol misuse. These measures include a minimum unit price for alcohol in the UK, as well as other measures covering labelling, licensing, taxation and advertising.

Our work on alcohol includes providing expert input and advice on key alcohol strategies and inquiries. Recently this has included submitting evidence to:

  • the Home Office consultation on key initiatives from the 2012 Alcohol Strategy
  • the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry on alcohol guidelines
  • the House of Commons Health Committee inquiry on the alcohol strategy.

We have also conducted our own studies highlighting the evidence of alcohol-related health harms and effective prevention and treatment strategies. Our 2011 working party report Alcohol and sex: a cocktail for poor sexual health highlights the link between alcohol and poor sexual health, particularly in the young.