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Aims. To determine whether social class is a major influence on alcohol-related mortality in the general, economically active population of Great Britain. Design and participants. Poisson regression of rates of mortality known to be directly caused by alcohol consumption by age, sex and social class in England, Wales and Scotland. Measurements. The measure of alcohol-related mortality is total deaths from ICD-9 categories 291; 303; 357.5; 425.5; 535.3; 305; 790.3; and 571.0-571.3 over the 7-year period 1988-94. (It excludes deaths for which alcohol-attributable fractions would need to be calculated.) The measure of social class is the British Registrar General's six-fold occupational classification, used to code census and death certification data. Findings. Alcohol-related mortality rates are higher for men in the manual occupations than in the non-manual occupations, but the relative magnitude depends on age. Men aged 25-39 in the unskilled manual class are 10-20 times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes than those in the professional class, whereas men aged between 55 and 64 in the unskilled manual class are only about 2.5-4 times more likely to die. For women in paid employment there is no consistent class gradient; younger women in the manual classes are more likely to die from alcohol-related causes, but for older women it is those in the professional class who suffer elevated mortality . Conclusions. Social class is a risk factor for alcohol-related mortality in Britain, although it is mediated by age and sex. Alcohol appears to be similar to other psychoactive substances, therefore, in that problem use is linked to social structural factors such as poverty, disadvantage and social class. This suggests that social interventions aimed at reducing poverty and inequality have the potential to reduce current levels of alcohol-related harm among the poorest groups in the community.