The latest official statistics show that alcohol-related deaths rose to a record high in Wales and England during 2020. Some experts say more research needs to be carried out into the causes of this, while others state is it due to increased alcohol consumption during lockdown and a “pause” in vital services during the pandemic.
According to the ONS – Office for National Statistics – there was a “statistically significant” correlation between alcohol-related deaths and the first lockdown in March 2020. With the number of deaths increasing after the lockdown was imposed.
From January to September, there were 5,460 alcohol-related deaths, defined by “alcohol-specific causes”. This indicates a 16% increase when compared against the same period of nine months in 2019.
Ben Humberstone, the deputy director of health analysis and life events at ONS, said how today’s data indicates that the first three quarters of 2020 saw the highest rates of alcohol-specific deaths since their data series began.
This is shown in the data, where the rate peaked at 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people by April and stayed at this level until September. This rate is higher than any other time since 2001, which is when the records began. These months come after strict stay-at-home measures, in an attempt to control the spread of the pandemic.
While these results are statistically significant, Mr Humberstone said that it was too early to know exactly why this could be. He says that the reasons are “complex” and that time must be taken to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on “alcohol-specific deaths”.
However, some experts have said the rise in deaths is probably linked to greater alcohol consumption during the lockdown, as well as a “pause” in many vital treatment services throughout 2020.
Professor Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said these figures were “deeply worrying but sadly not unexpected”. She indicated that heavier drinking over several weeks or months and the pause in services will have lead to, “fatal consequences for some.”
The rates of male alcohol-specific deaths were twice that of females, which is also reflected in previous years. Experts found that the pandemic had little impact on the recording and registering of alcohol-related deaths.
A difference was found between areas of the UK, with alcohol-related deaths significantly (statistically) higher than in 2019 in southwest England between July and September, and in northeast England and London between April and June.
Julie Breslin, a representative of the charity, We Are With You, has explained that since 2013-14 the number of people in treatment for alcohol issues has fallen by almost one fifth. Research has also indicated that four in five dependent drinkers aren’t currently accessing support of any kind. Julie says that the ONS figures show what happens when most people aren’t accessing treatment, especially in the UK, with its heavy drinking culture.
This is a clear message on how important it is to reach out for help and use the support services available when dealing with dependency or addiction in difficult times.