National Institute of Health Research

Improving public health: tackling alcohol misuse

24 January 2014

For many people in the UK, January is a time to detox, get healthy, and have an alcohol-free month. National campaigns such as Alcohol Concern’s ‘Dry January’ campaign and the British Liver Trust’s ‘Love Your Liver’ - a national awareness initiative about liver health - can help people do this and raise general awareness about the effects of alcohol misuse.

Love your liverAlcohol misuse has become a serious and worsening public health problem in the UK and represents a major burden to the NHS and the wider health and social care systems. Heavy drinking, binge-drinking or even moderate drinking not only poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of the drinker, but also to family, friends, communities and wider society through such problems as crime, anti-social behaviour and loss of productivity. It is also directly linked to a range of health issues such as high blood pressure, mental ill-health, accidental injury, violence, liver disease and sexually transmitted infection.

A number of NIHR Evaluations, Trials and Studies programmes have funded independent research to add to the evidence base to help tackle the rise in alcohol misuse. Projects aim to produce high-quality research providing information of immediate value to healthcare decision- and policy-making

The NIHR Public Health Research Programme has a broad portfolio of projects underway in the area of alcohol misuse and alcohol-related issues, aimed at both adults and children.

A project recently underway is looking at a novel approach to help disadvantaged men to reduce the frequency of their drinking through sending informative text messages.

Disadvantaged men binge drink frequently and are at an increased risk of experiencing alcohol-related harm. The challenge for tackling harmful drinking is that the uptake of public health interventions among socially disadvantaged men is low. This study will test the effectiveness of an intervention delivered through a series of interactive text messages aimed at reducing the frequency of binge drinking among young to middle-aged disadvantaged men.

This multi-centre randomised controlled trial, led by Professor Iain Crombie of the University of Dundee, follows a successful feasibility study - also funded by the PHR Programme - and published its results in Public Health Research last summer. For more about the full study, please visit the project page.

Below gives a flavour of some other PHR-funded projects currently in progress in this area:

  • Change in alcohol outlet density and alcohol-related harm to population health, led by Professor David Fone of Cardiff University. For further information visit the project page.  
  • Preventing alcohol misuse in young people: An exploratory trial of the Kids, Adults Together (KAT) Programme interventions, led by Dr Jeremy Segrott of Cardiff University. For further information visit the project page.
  • Community pharmacy interventions for public health priorities: a systematic review of community pharmacy delivered smoking, alcohol and weight management, led by Professor Carolyn Summerbell of the University of Durham. For further information visit the project page
  • Randomised Controlled Trial of All-Wales Licensed Premises Intervention to Reduce Alcohol-Related Violence, led by Professor Simon Moore of Cardiff University. For further information visit the project page.

A project funded through the NIHR HTA Programme due to publish in summer 2016 is carrying out a small-scale trial to test a family-based intervention adapted to support young substance misusers.

Research has shown that the family has a considerable impact on young people’s drinking and drug use. Interventions involving the family and wider social networks have proven successful in helping young people to deal with substance abuse problems. The study, led by Professor Alex Copello of the University of Birmingham, will adapt and further develop the Social Behaviour and Network Therapy (SBNT) approach. To find out more about this study, visit the project page.

Studies also funded by the HTA Programme in this area include:  

  • Non-invasive diagnostic assessment tools for the detection of liver fibrosis in patients with suspected alcohol-related liver disease, led by Professor Matt Stevenson of the University of Sheffield. You can read the published report in Health Technology Assessment.
  • STeroids or Pentoxifyline for Alcoholic Hepatitis (STOPAH) Trial, led by Profressor Mark Thursz from from Imperial College London. For further information visit the project page.
  • Alcohol misuse and sexual health: a randomised trial of brief intervention among people attending sexual health clinics, led by Professor Mike Crawford of Imperial College London. For further information visit the project page.
  • AESOPS: a randomised controlled trial of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of opportunistic screening and stepped care interventions for older hazardous alcohol users in primary care, led by Professor Simon Coulton of the University of York. You can read the published report in Health Technology Assessment.

To further add to the portfolio of NETS programme-funded work in this area, the NIHR SR Programme has funded a Cochrane Review looking into primary prevention for alcohol misuse in young people. For further information visit the project page.  

Alcohol is the second biggest lifestyle health risk factor after tobacco use. Regularly drinking more than the recommended limits increases the risk of a range of chronic diseases including liver disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers of the breast and gastrointestinal tract. It’s important that rigorous research is carried out to help prevent and treat illnesses attributed to alcohol misuse.

To read about other NETS-funded research please browse our project portfolio at


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