The latest nonsense about booze

Figures last year suggested that binge-drinking injuries cost the NHS more than £2.7?billion a year. They showed that almost a million people a year were taken to hospital after drinking – a rise of 47 per cent since 2004.

This isn\’t actually what the figures show at all:

The big (old) news is that there were more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year in the UK despite (and this is rarely mentioned) alcohol consumption having been in decline for the last eight years, and despite (this is never mentioned) Britain having the third highest alcohol taxes in the world. This is a doubling in admissions in less than a decade. A truly remarkable phenomenon, if true.

In my naïvité, I always imagined that it was doctors and nurses who decided whether a hospital admission was alcohol-related, but then I read this post at the always informative Straight Statistics, which explains that hospital admissions data are divided up according to various assumptions. For example, it is assumed that 20% of all stomach cancer admissions are alcohol-related, half of epilepsy admissions are alcohol-related and a quarter of admissions for extreme cold are alcohol-related.

These assumptions are based on individual epidemiological studies which may or may not reflect the true risks. Whether true or not, if a man goes to hospital complaining of hypertension, he will make up a quarter of an alcohol-related admission, even if he is a teetotaler. If he goes to hospital 8 times, he will have added two alcohol-related admissions to the statistics—remember, these are admissions, not different individuals. The system is called \’alcohol-attributable fractions\’ and you can read all about it here should you wish.

It\’s a bit like those lovely models the Obama Administration uses to show how effective the stimulus has been. If we assume that spending money creates jobs then we can show that having spent money we\’ve created jobs.

If we assume that x fraction of hospital visits are from booze then we can show that x fraction of hospital visits are from booze.

In neither case is anyone actually counting the cases.

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