A record number of people in Britain died from drinking alcohol last year — with experts saying that rise is most likely due to Covid lockdowns.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported earlier this month that a record number of people died from excessive alcohol consumption, with 9,641 deaths in the UK in 2021, up from 7,565 in 2019 — a 27 per cent increase.
In its report, the ONS says people who were heavy drinkers before Covid lockdowns drank more in the Covid years. The charity Drinkaware said the statistics were “devastating” and “unacceptable”.
The charity is now calling for a new co-ordinated UK-wide alcohol strategy to limit the damage from alcohol to society and public services across the U.K.
Men were twice as likely as women to die from alcohol — as was the case with previous years.
James Tucker, from the Office of National Statistics, commenting on the recent figures, said:
“Research has suggested that people who were already drinking at higher levels before the pandemic were the most likely to have increased their alcohol consumption during this period”.
In the seven years leading up to 2019, rates of death due to alcohol in the UK had remained relatively stable, before going up in 2010 and 2021.
Karen Tyrell,, from Drinkaware,said it was unacceptable to see such high rates of alcohol related deaths in a developed nation.
“These statistics are absolutely devastating, each number masking an individual family tragedy,” she said.
“It is unacceptable that in one of the richest countries in the world, the rate of alcohol-related deaths was four times higher among men in the poorest areas compared to the most affluent”.
She said that the pandemic meant warning signs of the heaviest drinkers consuming more alcohol were missed because people were less able to access support.
In July 2022, NHS funded findings predicted that up to 25,000 more people than usual could die over the next 20 years as a result of heavy drinking habits that began during the Covid lockdowns. The two studies indicated that such a situation could result in almost one million more hospital admissions, and end up dieting the NHS more than £5 billion.
The findings led to fresh calls from health experts for more determined action from the government to reduce alcohol related harm by tackling its price, availability and promotion.
Those who already drank moderately when the UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020, generally reduced their alcohol intake when restrictions went into force. However, many of those who were already heavy drinkers consumed even more alcohol at a time when pubs, restaurants and other places where alcohol was sold closed, leading to a sudden spike in deaths.
It comes as recent statistics showed alcohol deaths in Northern Ireland last year were at their joint highest on record.
Alcohol was used as a coping mechanism during lockdown, according to drug and alcohol charity ASCERT, who told the Irish News that the rise in alcohol deaths was “an indicator of the increasing levels of harm from alcohol use in the wider community”.
Deaths from alcohol have shot up by more than a third over the last decade and are now at their highest on record, 2022 figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) show.
The statistics show that 351 people died from alcohol in 2020 — representing almost one person per day. This sharply contrasts with figures from 2010’— which showed that only 260 deaths were caused by the drug. The rise represents a 54 per cent rise in alcohol deaths in the last decade.
The figures showed that the least deprived areas are four times more likely to be affected.
ASCERT said that the rise in alcohol deaths is “an indicator of the increasing levels of harm from alcohol use in the wider community”.