The biggest purchasers of cheap alcohol also tend to have cirrhosis, and according to new research, the answer lies in price control. UK researchers from the University of Southampton have found the cheapest alcohol is being purchased by the heaviest drinkers so they can afford to keep up their habit, and their solution is higher prices

"Setting a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected. Our research shows that an MUP set at 50p per unit would affect the liver patients killing themselves with cheap alcohol 200 times more than low risk drinkers,” Nick Sheron, a professor from the University of Southampton, said in a press release.

If the cheapest bottle of alcohol is all of a sudden a few dollars more expensive, researchers believe it could deter heavy drinkers, alcoholics, and those with alcohol-induced cirrhosis from drinking as much. Cirrhosis is a potentially fatal disease if not treated early enough, in which the liver is scared by chronic alcohol abuse or hepatitis.

Researchers studied the amount, type, and price of alcohol that 404 liver patients chose to fuel their addiction and found the patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis were drinking an average of four vodka bottles each week. They chose the cheapest alcohol they could find at the lowest minimum unit price (MUP).

"Alcohol sold to heavy drinkers provides three-quarters of the profits of the UK drinks industry, of which alcohol sold to very heavy drinkers provides one-third. When the government says it is concerned about the impact of MUP on moderate drinkers, they are simply repeating propaganda which has been put out by the drinks industry to try and preserve the huge profits they are making from people drinking at really dangerous levels,” Sheron said.  

UK is placing special research focus on the dangers of heaving drinking because in the last 30 years they’ve seen four times the amount of liver deaths. They believe it has to do with the decrease in alcohol pricing and the increase of alcohol accessibility, according to their study published in the journal of Clinical Medicine.

By increasing the MUP, bars, pubs, or moderate drinkers wouldn’t be affected because they aren’t the main purchasers of the cheapest alcohol. The impact on heavy-drinking liver patients, which make up 90 percent of the cheap alcohol purchases, would impact them 200 times more by burdening their wallets.

"The House of Commons Health Committee has stated in the past that they were concerned the policies were much closer to and influenced by the drinks industry and supermarkets than expert health professionals – and this is still the problem. Unless policy makers start listening to the evidence, liver deaths will rise even further," Sheron said.

The liver is integral to the body’s daily functions, as it detoxifies the system of harmful substances and cleans the blood. Alcohol was arguably never meant to be ingested, and the body recognizes it as a foreign harmful substance, so it constantly has to filter through the liver and the more it does, the more damage the liver undergoes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Once again another robust study has highlighted the possible benefits a Minimum Unit Price could have on those in society who drink most heavily,” Ian Gilmore, a professor and the special advisor on Alcohol and Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said in a press release.

By increasing the price floor, which means increasing the cheapest price alcohol manufacturers can sell their product at, it will be the most effective way to “tackle problem drinking in the UK,” according to the study’s researchers. Could this increased pricing trend catch on in places like America, where there are 88,000 deaths every year attributed to excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Time and time again it has been shown that those with alcoholic liver disease consume very large quantities of alcohol, and as a result, they purchase the cheapest alcohol, irrespective of their income. The evidence is clear from this study that a Minimum Unit Price would not have a significant effect on low risk drinkers but would target those for whom the impact of alcohol-related liver disease is most devastating,” Gilmore said.  

Source: Gilmore I, Sheron N. Clinical Medicine. 2014.