Christmas is a time for family, rest and reflection, when few people hit the web, read reports and look at what is happening around them.
This is why the timing of the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) “Alcohol-specific deaths in the U.K.: registered in 2021” probably meant little pick up from mainstream media. However, the report contains disturbing facts which should be highlighted to all – it makes for a sobering read.
First, the analysis of deaths related to alcohol is based on internationally assigned codes, so there is little wriggle room for what follows: “Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where each death is a direct consequence of alcohol.”
Second, as the report’s authors note repeatedly, the figures are likely to be underestimated as they are specifically and directly related to alcohol consumption and do not consider the broader spectrum of alcohol-related pathologies. For example, in which, excessive alcohol consumption did take place, but the cause of death was ischaemic heart disease. But here comes the bad news.
While alcoholic deaths were relatively stable in the decade before 2020 – in 2019 there were 7,565 deaths (11.8 per 100,000 inhabitants) – there has been a sudden increase in 2020, 8,974 deaths (14.0 per 100,000) and 2021, 9,641 deaths (or 14.8 per 100,000) making the 2021 tally 27.4% higher than in 2019.
The authors attribute the increase to the higher use of alcohol during the time restrictions were applied, and the timing is highly suggestive. However, what concerns us is the speed (two years) with which the incidence has picked up.
These are deaths wholly attributable to alcohol, which means that at least 27.4% more of our fellow citizens have drunk themselves to death thanks to the imposition of curtailment of individual freedom. Males die more frequently – twice that of females. Mental disorders and accidental poisoning events were present but played a small part in adding to the tally. Most of the deaths will have been habitual heavy drinkers who found refuge by increasing their daily intake.
No other explanation is possible for the speed of such an increase because alcoholic disease is the result of years of abuse and an abnormal lifestyle. Alcohol-related liver cirrhosis does not develop overnight – it typically develops after heavy drinking for 10 or more years.
The ONS statisticians also issue a stark warning: the consequences of increased exposure to alcohol and lifestyle changes will take some time to manifest themselves fully. This is what they report:
The survey “Wider Impacts of COVID-19 on Health” (WICH) monitoring tool… showed that, as of March 2022, “increasing and higher risk drinking” had remained at heightened levels. Research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research suggested that if these consumption patterns persist, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional cases of alcohol-related diseases and thousands of extra deaths as a result.
So here we have another documented consequence of the social and democratic catastrophe of lockdowns. There’s plenty of evidence indicating increased consumption of alcohol during lockdowns that were associated with a host of factors, including a deterioration in psychological well-being and one’s finances. Moreover, the problem is not limited to the UK: in an online survey of U.S. adults from May 2020, one-third reported binge drinking, and 7% extreme binge drinking. Similar increases in alcohol use are observed in France and Germany; however, a systematic review shows consumption varied depending on the country.
Any reader suspicious of the timing of the release of the ONS report can be reassured: December is the expected release date of the annual alcohol report on deaths.
Listen to Tom and Carl discuss this post on their podcast.
Dr. Carl Heneghan is the Oxford Professor of Evidence Based Medicine and Dr. Tom Jefferson is an epidemiologist based in Rome who works with Professor Heneghan on the Cochrane Collaboration. This article was first published on their Substack blog, Trust The Evidence, which you can subscribe to here.
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