UK alcohol deaths hit new high after record increase during pandemic

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File photo dated 01/12/06 of a man drinking a pint of beer. Pubs will serve an estimated six million fewer pints this bank holiday than the same period in 2019, an industry body has said. The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said its members expect to lose out on �25 million in revenue from pint sales, down 10% on revenue for the same bank holiday in 2019 before Covid arrived. Issue date: Thursday August 26, 2021.
There has been an 18.6% increase in deaths caused by alcohol in the UK. (PA)

Deaths caused by alcohol in the UK have hit the highest number ever recorded following a steep year-on-year increase during the pandemic.

There were 8,974 deaths from alcohol-specific causes in the UK in 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Tuesday.

This is an 18.6% increase on 2019, when there were 7,565 deaths caused by alcohol, the highest yearly rise since the data started being published in 2001.

Researchers indicated that changes in the consumption of alcohol during the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to the increase in deaths, although they cautioned there are “many complex factors” and that “it may be some time before we fully understand all of these”.

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The figures mean there were 14 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK from alcohol in 2020, compared to 11.8 per 100,000 in the previous year.

The ONS said that rates of alcohol-specific deaths had remained stable between 2012 and 2019. In 2001, there were 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people.

Separate data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities show that the number of people drinking very high amounts increased during lockdown.

(Yahoo News UK)
The UK's drinking habits before and since the COVID pandemic. (Yahoo News UK)

According to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities data, mortality rates for alcohol-specific conditions were higher for all months from May 2020 to August 2021 than in the same months in 2018 and 2019.

There was also an increase in the proportion of “increasing and higher risk” drinkers from April to June 2020.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities reported that before lockdown, 3% of people said they drank more than 50 units of alcohol a week.

But during the first national COVID-19 lockdown, this increased to 5%, and remained at that level for the second and third lockdowns.

According to the ONS data, the death rate from alcohol for males across the UK was more than double the rate for females (19.0 and 9.2 respectively) in 2020, as it has been in previous years.

All four UK nations saw a rise in deaths in 2020, though only England and Scotland recorded “significant” increases, according to the ONS.

Scotland had the highest rate of alcohol-specific deaths last year (21.5 per 100,000 people, up from 18.6), followed by Northern Ireland (19.6, up from 18.8).

In England, the North East had the highest death rate for alcohol for the seventh consecutive year, the ONS said, with 20 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.

 A barmaid prepares beer for a customer in a Pub.
It has been reported that the UK government is likely to make changes to two pub rules when the Prime Minster, Boris Johnson will announces the changes to Covid-19 lockdown restriction on June 21, by scrapping table service and the ' one meter plus' rules in pubs. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The UK's drinking habits have changed during the COVID pandemic. (PA)

The highest regional year-on-year increase in England was in the West Midlands, going from 12.1 to 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people, an increase of 33.1%.

Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where death is a direct consequence of alcohol misuse.

More than three-quarters of these deaths in 2020 were caused by alcoholic liver disease (77.8%).

A further 12.1% of deaths were caused by “mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol”, while “external causes”, such as accidental poisoning by alcohol, caused 6.2%.

If you are struggling with your drinking, please consider visiting the Get Help Now page on the Alcohol Change UK website.

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