Background: Many causes of death are directly attributable to the toxic effects of alcohol and deaths from these causes are increasing in the United Kingdom. The aim of this study was to investigate variation in alcohol-related mortality in relation to socioeconomic deprivation, urban-rural location and age within a national context.
Methods: An ecological study design was used with data from 8797 standard table wards in England and Wales. The methodology included using the Carstairs Index as a measure of socioeconomic deprivation at the small-area level and the national harmonised classification system for urban and rural areas in England and Wales. Alcohol-related mortality was defined using the National Statistics definition, devised for tracking national trends in alcohol-related deaths. Deaths from liver cirrhosis accounted for 85% of all deaths included in this definition. Deaths from 1999-2003 were examined and 2001 census ward population estimates were used as the denominators.
Results: The analysis was based on 28,839 deaths. Alcohol-related mortality rates were higher in men and increased with increasing age, generally reaching peak levels in middle-aged adults. The 45-64 year age group contained a quarter of the total population but accounted for half of all alcohol-related deaths. There was a clear association between alcohol-related mortality and socioeconomic deprivation, with progressively higher rates in more deprived areas. The strength of the association varied with age. Greatest relative inequalities were seen amongst people aged 25-44 years, with relative risks of 4.73 (95% CI 4.00 to 5.59) and 4.24 (95% CI 3.50 to 5.13) for men and women respectively in the most relative to the least deprived quintiles. People living in urban areas experienced higher alcohol-related mortality relative to those living in rural areas, with differences remaining after adjustment for socioeconomic deprivation. Adjusted relative risks for urban relative to rural areas were 1.35 (95% CI 1.20 to 1.52) and 1.13 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.25) for men and women respectively.
Conclusions: Large inequalities in alcohol-related mortality exist between sub-groups of the population in England and Wales. These should be considered when designing public health policies to reduce alcohol-related harm.