Alcohol deaths from pandemic drinking are predicted to rise


Heavy home drinking during the pandemic may have set habits that will lead to rises in alcohol-related deaths and illness in England, forecasters warn.

The work, commissioned for the NHS, suggests even under the best-case scenario of people cutting back to pre-pandemic boozing levels, there could be 1,830 extra deaths within two decades.

At worst it could be 25,000, along with a million extra hospital admissions.

Experts say the findings are a wake-up call.

The warnings come from two separate modelling studies - one by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and another by University of Sheffield.

Both agree there could be a high toll of alcohol-related disease, premature deaths and hospital admissions, costing the NHS billions.

Lockdown drinking

Not everyone drank more during the pandemic. Surveys suggest, on average, light and moderate drinkers decreased their consumption.

But heavy drinkers drank even more.

Colin Angus, who led the University of Sheffield study, said: "These figures highlight that the pandemic's impact on our drinking behaviour is likely to cast a long shadow on our health, and paint a worrying picture at a time when NHS services are already under huge pressure due to treatment backlogs."

The studies also highlight that the impacts are not evenly distributed across the population, with heavier drinkers and those in the most deprived areas - who already suffer the highest rates of alcohol harm - expected to be disproportionately affected.

Nicola Bates, from the Portman Group, the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator, said: "Total alcohol consumption has gone down consistently over the past 10 years, and Britons now drink around 15% less alcohol than they did 10 years ago.

"During the lockdowns the vast majority of people continued to drink moderately, and this research shows some lighter drinkers cut their consumption.

"However, there is a small minority who were already drinking at high harm levels when the lockdowns began, and evidence suggests some went on to drink more. The models presented in this research are stark, but they presume no interventions are made.

"This small minority of drinkers are the ones who need the most support with targeted action and a focused policy response."

Dr Sadie Boniface, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "This research should act as a 'wake-up call' to take alcohol harm seriously as part of recovery planning from the pandemic."

Source: Michelle Roberts, Digital Health Editor, BBC News

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