According to a new report published by Public Health England (PHE), the number of deaths in England from diseases caused by drinking increased by 20% in 2020, compared to 2019.

The report states: “Before the pandemic, there were already increased alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths. The pandemic seems to have accelerated these trends.”

England saw a rise of almost 11% in deaths from mental and behavioural disorders caused by alcohol, an increase of 15% in deaths from alcohol poisoning, and almost a 21% rise in deaths from alcoholic liver disease, which accounted for more than 80% of the alcohol-specific deaths.

The report shows that alcohol-specific deaths were at their highest in more deprived communities. There were also some regional differences, with an increase of almost 80% in the north-east in 2020, compared with the average for the two preceding years.

The research team highlighted: “The proportion of respondents drinking at increasing or higher-risk levels was higher than previous years throughout much of the year of the pandemic, and into 2021.”

However, this rise in drinking does appear to have been concentrated in certain groups, suggesting that alcohol-related illnesses may persist or worsen amongst those who are already at risk.

The research team wrote: “Where surveys measured a respondent’s drinking before the pandemic, they suggest that people who reported drinking more during the pandemic than before tended to be heavier drinkers.”

As many of the country’s bars, pubs and restaurants remained closed throughout the pandemic, it’s no surprise that supermarket sales of alcohol increased. The report reveals that sales of alcohol by volume in settings such as supermarkets rose by 25% in England between 2019 and 2020 – that’s equal to an extra 686 million litres – according to barcode scanning data.

Rosanna O’Connor, PHE’s director of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and justice, claimed that tackling harmful levels of drinking must play a crucial part of the country’s Covid recovery plan.

“Liver disease is currently the second leading cause of premature death in people of working age and this is only set to get worse if the Covid pandemic results in a long-term increase in drinking,” she said.

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