3 min read15 July
An increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic has led to a significant rise in alcohol-specific deaths, new figures from Public Health England (PHE) have shown.
Alcohol-specific deaths increased by 20.0% in 2020. It is the second year that alcoholic liver deaths have risen so significantly with a rise of 20.8% between 2019 and 2020, compared to a rise of 2.9% between 2018 and 2019.
“The findings show an increase in total alcohol-specific deaths, driven by an unprecedented annual increase in alcoholic liver disease deaths above levels seen pre-pandemic,” a PHE spokesperson said.
Since March 2020 there have been 31 weeks of national lockdowns. While this has seen pubs, clubs and restaurants closed, consumers have purchased just over 12.6 million extra litres of alcohol from shops and supermarkets, a 24.4% increase compared to 2019 to 2020.
While the government’s ‘stay home and save lives’ message has helped to control Covid-19 cases, during the pandemic, it has overlooked the effect lockdown has on people’s mental health and its influence on unhealthy habits.
Deprived areas in the UK have seen the highest increase in alcohol related deaths, with the North East seeing the biggest increase in death rates out of all the regions.
Pamela Healy, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said today’s PHE figures were concerning, but reflected an increase in demand they’d seen for their helpline.
“Stress, loneliness and the lack of access to alcohol support services have resulted in many people drinking more alcohol and putting their livers at risk,” she said. “Alarmingly, these new statistics show that those who come from the most deprived areas of the country are also disproportionately affected.”
Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and justice at PHE, called for tackling harmful drinking to be part of the government’s long term Covid recovery plan.
“Liver disease is currently the second leading cause of premature death in people of working age and this is only set to get worse if the Covid-19 pandemic results in a long-term increase in drinking,” she added.
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK also believed action was needed now to prevent a deepening crisis. Piper called for higher alcohol pricing and labeling as well as “a rapid cash injection for alcohol treatment services to help people with drinking problems to recover and stay out of hospital, saving as many lives as possible as well as reducing pressure on our hard-pressed NHS”.
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, an addiction expert at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, south-west London, said the figures “absolutely reflect our experience at the Priory”.
He said: “We have seen an increase in patients being referred who are drinking more than ever, as well as others seeking help for depression and anxiety who are admitting they are drinking more heavily just to ‘cope’.”
Richard McVey, Head of Service for Aquarius – an alcohol specialist organisation, and part of the Recovery Focus Group of charities said it was “tragic” that the pandemic had caused such an acceleration in alcoholic liver death.
He added: “We believe that there is a real need for specialist support services for alcoholic related liver disease – because with the correct support alcoholic liver disease is preventable.”
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