Alcohol-related deaths could rise significantly in the next 20 years due to lockdown drinking

Alcohol-related deaths could rise significantly in the next 20 years due to lockdown drinking

Alcohol-related mortality rates in England could rise by as many as 25,000 people over the next 20 years because of heavy drinking habits formed during the pandemic, two new studies have found.

The studies, conducted by academics at the University of Sheffield, and the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) in conjunction with non-communicable disease modelling specialists, HealthLumen, looked at the shift in drinking patterns during the pandemic, and the long-term health impacts.

The findings highlight the effect that the Covid lockdowns have had on drinking behaviours, with heavy drinkers reportedly drinking even more.

However, surveys also suggest that light and moderate drinkers reduced their consumption during the lockdowns.

As a leading laboratory, providing alcohol testing services for members of the public, the workplace, and the legal sector, AlphaBiolabs knows all too well the impact of chronic and excessive drinking, and the knock-on effects for individuals struggling with alcohol misuse.

In this blog, we look at what the studies tell us about alcohol consumption post-pandemic, the effects of alcohol on the body, and how alcohol testing and monitoring can aid a person’s recovery from alcohol misuse.  

What did the studies find?

The first of the studies, conducted at the University of Sheffield and commissioned by the NHS, looked at how alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths might increase over the next 20 years.

The report concluded that the worst-case scenario will be 25,192 additional alcohol-related deaths during the next two decades, and an additional 972,382 hospital admissions, at a cost of £5.2bn to the NHS.

The second study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), and conducted by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and HealthLumen, looked at other alcohol-related diseases, deaths, and NHS costs.

It found that if drinking does not return to pre-pandemic levels, there will be a further 147,892 cases of alcohol-related diseases by 2035, such as liver cirrhosis and breast cancer.

It could also lead to almost 10,000 additional premature deaths at a cost of £1.2bn to the NHS.

Colin Angus, Senior Research Fellow 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.”

All parties involved in the research stressed that the studies only provide a snapshot of the impact of around 200 alcohol-related diseases, with the true figures likely to be far greater.

What does alcohol do to your body?

With many years’ experience providing alcohol testing solutions including breath, blood, hair, and nail alcohol testing, we are well-versed in the effects of alcohol consumption on the body, and the short and long-term impact on a person’s health.

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is consumed around the world and is generally regarded as a more socially acceptable drug than other substances.

However, when consumed in excess, the adverse effects on health are well-documented. In fact, alcohol consumption is thought to be a contributor to more than 200 diseases, and many health conditions.

The potential short-term effects of drinking alcohol include intoxication, increased risk-taking, lowered inhibitions, and alcohol poisoning.

Long-term, excess alcohol consumption can lead to brain shrinkage, liver damage including cirrhosis, lowered immunity, and an increased likelihood of developing certain cancers.

The NHS recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across three or more days. That’s the equivalent of six medium glasses of wine (175ml) or six pints of 4% beer.

For people who drink alcohol regularly, there are many short and long-term health benefits to reducing alcohol intake, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, more effective weight management, increased energy levels and clearer skin.  

How does alcohol testing work?

Thanks to advances in modern toxicology, it’s possible to analyse a range of samples – including blood, hair, breath, sweat and nails – to gain an insight into an individual’s drinking behaviour.

When a person consumes alcohol, it is broken down by the liver and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.

A proportion of these metabolites is then released from the body in a variety of ways, including via sebum (oil glands on the scalp), sweat, breath, and the blood vessels in the nail bed, with alcohol biomarkers becoming embedded in the nails as they grow.

Certain alcohol tests such as hair alcohol tests (also known as hair strand tests or hair follicle tests), nail alcohol tests, and blood alcohol tests, can provide a historic insight into a person’s alcohol consumption also known as a ‘wide window’.

Blood tests, such as Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) testing, provide a four-week overview of consumption, with head hair offering a 3- or- 6-month overview, and nail alcohol tests providing a 6-month (fingernails) or 12-month overview (toenails).

Other testing methods such as breath alcohol testing (e.g. breathalysers) and alcohol sobriety tags or ankle monitors provide an instant or real-time result for alcohol use, by measuring alcohol content in breath and sweat respectively.

When would someone need an alcohol test?

Whatever your reasons for ordering an alcohol test, it’s important to choose a testing laboratory with the right credentials, and a range of testing options to suit your needs.

There are several reasons why you might want to order an alcohol test, including:

  • You have concerns about a friend or family member misusing alcohol  
  • You have been struggling with alcohol misuse yourself and want a test to aid your recovery and improve family relationships
  • You’re a legal professional whose client has been court-ordered to take an alcohol test
  • You’re an employer implementing an existing substance misuse policy or looking to introduce a policy
  • You’re a social worker who has concerns about the safeguarding of a vulnerable child or adult

It’s important to remember that alcohol testing is not just about monitoring a person’s alcohol consumption but supporting their recovery.

For example, if you suspected your teen of misusing alcohol and wanted to start an open and honest conversation about your concerns, a peace of mind Home Drug and Alcohol Nail Test could help you find answers and seek the correct support as needed.

Another example could be that you are an individual with a history of alcohol misuse, and you want to prove to a partner – with whom you share custody for a child – that you have been abstaining from alcohol.

In this instance, you might decide to have a SCRAM CAM® device, also known as an alcohol sobriety tag or ankle monitor, fitted to continuously monitor your alcohol use. The device is discreetly worn around the ankle and can detect traces of alcohol in sweat.

Alcohol testing you can trust

We offer fast, accurate and reliable alcohol testing for members of the public, the workplace sector, and the legal sector, direct from our award-winning UK laboratory.

We employ some of Europe’s foremost toxicologists, who are expertly trained to analyse a range of samples to provide a historic overview of an individual’s alcohol consumption, including blood, hair, and nails.

We also offer real-time monitoring and results, with SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

From nail alcohol testing for peace of mind, to alcohol testing for court, and alcohol testing for employers implementing substance misuse policies, AlphaBiolabs has a solution to suit your needs.

Call our friendly and knowledgeable Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email

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