Official data suggests that almost one million people across England became addicted to alcohol as a result of Covid lockdowns.
Before the pandemic, government polling estimated that 1.5 million adults drank at least 50 units every week – equivalent to three pints or nearly a bottle of wine every night.
In summer 2021, this figure jumped to almost 2.5 million people. Experts have blamed the rise in drinking on continual lockdowns and restrictions.
PHE has tracked the population’s health throughout the pandemic, monitoring smoking, exercise, and gambling rates. The agency has also measured alcohol intake by repeatedly quizzing thousands of participants about how much they consume.
Data from the latest PHE study shows that the largest uptick in alcohol dependence was among over-65s.
Before the pandemic, just over 190,000 (3.4%) of people in the over 65 age group drank at least 50 units a week. By the end of June 2021, this rose to more than 453,000 (8.1%) – an alarming increase of 138%.
NHS guidelines recommend that men and women drink no more than 14 units per week. Regularly drinking more than this can lead to alcohol dependence and health problems, such as liver disease, heart disease, and cancer.
Dr Tony Rao, an expert on alcohol misuse in older people at King’s College London, said: “The impact of the Covid pandemic on alcohol use has been devastating. The latest data, taken together with the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths on record, is a stark warning for the government.”
Lucy Holmes, director of research and policy at Alcohol Change UK, urged the government to improve addiction treatment services for older people.
She said: “Even before the pandemic far too many people were suffering and dying as a result of alcohol harm, with only one in six alcohol dependent people receiving treatment.”
Deaths caused by alcohol have been steadily increasing for the past decade, but ministers described the jump during the pandemic as ‘deeply concerning’.
They have pledged to increase treatment options for alcohol dependence, with £3.3 billion in funding available for public health services over the next year.
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