New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that alcohol killed more people in 2020 in England and Wales than in any of the previous 20 years.
The ONS defines alcohol deaths as those directly caused by misuse of alcohol. In total, there were 7,423 deaths from alcohol misuse last year, a 20% rise from 2019.
Around 80% of those deaths were from alcoholic liver disease, 10% from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use, and 6% from accidental poisoning caused by alcohol exposure.
The data shows that deaths increased from March 2020 onwards, as the pandemic forced the nation into lockdown. The last few months of 2020 saw the highest numbers of alcohol deaths.
The alcohol death rate for men in 2020 was twice the rate for women. The study also shows that in England, men living in the most deprived areas were four times more likely to die from alcohol consumption than men living in wealthier areas.
Over the past year, various charities and health experts have warned that changing drinking habits could lead to a sharp rise in people misusing alcohol, and an increased demand for services. NHS figures already indicate that last year, those over the age of 50 were more likely to be admitted to hospital due to alcohol-related reasons than any other age group.
Even before the pandemic began, the UK had some of the highest levels of alcohol-related harms in Europe.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance told the BBC that the increase in deaths is “devastating”. He also suggested that the government urgently needs to introduce an alcohol strategy that addresses health inequalities and improves access to treatment.
Government guidelines advise people to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which is equivalent to six large glasses of wine, or six pints of beer. It is also advises to spread drinking over three days or more, rather than binging.
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