alcohol misuse

Lockdown Caused Higher Number of Alcohol-Specific Deaths in Scotland in More Than a Decade in 2020

New figures from Scotland show that an increase in issues relating to alcohol caused by lockdowns hasn’t been unique to England, with the most alcohol-specific deaths recorded north of the border in more than a decade in 2020. The Guardian has the story.

There were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 17% from 2019 and the highest number registered since 2008 when 1,316 people died, according to figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The tally of alcohol-specific, rather than alcohol-related, deaths excludes those only partially attributed to alcohol.

After annual increases between 2012 and 2018, the number of alcohol-specific deaths fell by 10% in 2019, which experts took as early evidence of the success of minimum unit-pricing for alcohol, which was introduced in May 2018 in order to tackle Scotland’s chronically unhealthy relationship with alcohol and is currently fixed at 50p a unit.

More than two-thirds of last year’s deaths were of men, and almost one in three were of people in their 50s and 60s. Inverclyde and Glasgow City had the highest rates over the past five years, and the NRS calculated that the death rate in the most deprived areas was 4.3 times the rate in the least deprived areas in 2020.

Responding to the figures, Alison Douglas, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said…

“Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit-pricing which is showing promising results. Yet the impact of the pandemic [that is, lockdown] threatens to undermine this progress. Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months. The effects are felt most by those living in our poorest communities, who are eight times more likely to die due to alcohol.” …

The NRS data also revealed a decrease of 3% in probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2020, to 805, but showed that between June and September there were 28% more suicides than usual for those four months. Last year 71% of suicides were of men, with deprived areas of the country experiencing the highest rates.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Has Tipped Many Into the Category of “Problem Drinker” – the Impacts Could Take Years to Repair

The Telegraph has published a harrowing report on the increase in the number of dependent drinkers as a result of lockdowns which highlights the fact that, while the amount of alcohol consumed in the U.K. decreased during the shutting down of regular life, the number of deaths from alcohol abuse reached a 20-year high. “The physical and psychological impacts,” it says, “could take years to remedy”.

It was two months into the first lockdown when James Roberts, 45, received an ultimatum from his partner. Ever since he set up a travel firm aged 29, Roberts had used alcohol to “self-medicate… to control the stress that comes with running a business”. His career took him to most countries in the world; almost all of the trips involved heavy drinking. But his boozing worsened considerably after Covid hit last March. Cooped up inside his home in the Scottish Highlands and panicked about the economic climate, he turned to the bottle as a source of emotional pain relief.

“I just drank to drown out everything that was happening in the world,” Roberts remembers now. “It was almost like a numbing effect.”

Eventually, his partner told him to seek help – or their relationship was under threat. Roberts was driven to Cheshire to start a four-week residential rehabilitation programme at Delamere Health Ltd at a cost of £15,000. He hasn’t touched alcohol since. Roberts now counts himself lucky: with the steadfast support of his partner, as well as the funds to pay for professional help, he is firmly on the road to recovery.

But not everybody is so fortunate. Doctors are becoming increasingly worried that 14 months of pandemic life have created a dark legacy of alcohol abuse. Whilst overall alcohol intake decreased in the U.K. during each lockdown (probably because of the closure of pubs and restaurants), at the extreme end of alcohol abuse the numbers of deaths shot up.  

More than 7,400 people died from alcohol misuse in England and Wales over 2020, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics published earlier this month. It was the highest figure for 20 years, even once adjusted to population. About four in five of those deaths were caused by alcohol liver disease, with a smaller number killed by accidental alcohol poisoning, and mental and behavioural disorders linked to alcohol abuse.

Even among those not diagnosed with alcoholism, alcohol intake seems to have shot up, way beyond the 14 units per week recommended by Public Health England, according to mostly anecdotal reports from doctors and alcohol specialists, who stress that systematic research is needed. 

These “Covid drinkers” seem to be concentrated among the middle-aged, including many in stressful high-level jobs.

Just as the cancellation of routine medical appointments has created a worrying backlog in cancer diagnoses, experts worry that successive lockdowns might have created a new generation of dependent drinkers still mostly hidden from the NHS’s view. For some lockdown proved a catalyst, tipping them into the category of “problem drinker”. Others had already been diagnosed with alcoholism long before 2020 but saw their recoveries swing into reverse.

The physical and psychological impacts could take years to remedy – as could the burden on the NHS, which already spends £3.5 billion each year on treating alcohol-related illness in England.

Worth reading in full.

Alcohol Deaths Rise to Highest Level Since Records Began in England and Wales

Alcohol killed more people in England and Wales last year than in any other year since records began, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), as many Brits turned to drink to cope with the isolation – and other forms of suffering – caused by the lockdowns. MailOnline has the story.

An ONS report published today revealed there were 7,423 fatalities linked to drinking last year, which was a fifth more than in 2019 and the highest number since records began in 2001.

People living in the poorest parts of the countries were four times more likely to have died from alcohol abuse compared to those in the wealthiest areas.

Alcohol-related deaths have been rising for decades. But they rose quickest from March 2020 onwards, after the first national lockdown came into force, and got progressively worse as the year went on.  

Most deaths were related to long-term drinking problems and dependency – with alcoholic liver disease making up 80% of cases. 

But experts told MailOnline that a year of social restrictions likely exacerbated Britain’s drinking problem. Dozens of surveys found people drank more than usual during lockdowns to cope with isolation, boredom and anxiety about the pandemic.

One in 10 of the alcohol-related deaths were from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol misuse and 6% were from accidental alcohol poisoning…

Professor Paul Hunter, an Epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, previously told MailOnline it was possible some of the increase was caused by excessive drinking during lockdown speeding up the deaths. 

“If people with liver disease start drinking again, especially binge drinking, that would certainly be very bad for their liver and could lead to liver failure and subsequent death,” he added. 

He added the spike in liver disease deaths could be down to patients struggling to access healthcare. Waiting lists have soared to record levels as a result of the NHS focusing on Covid patients. 

The number of people dying because of alcohol got worse as lockdowns progressed through 2020.

Compared to 2019, there were just 8% more fatalities by March last year, compared to 30% more between October and December.

But between 2019 and 2020 the rise was 19.6%. 

The spike highlights the “devastating impact” of the pandemic on problem drinking, according to the Portman Group – a regulator for alcohol labelling, packaging and promotions.

The increase in people dying from drink may partly explain last year’s drop in registered suicides – along with delays to coroner inquests – since they would be recorded as unintended injury deaths rather than as suicides.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.