Death rates from alcohol reached a new high in the first nine months of 2020, new figures show.
And an addiction charity has predicted that death rates could rise further still as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were 5,460 deaths related to “alcohol-specific causes” between January and September last year.
This is a 16.4% increase compared with the same nine-month period in 2019.
The ONS said the alcohol-specific death rate in England and Wales reached its highest peak since 2001 in the first three months of the year.
The rate reached 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people between January and March and remained at this level between April and September, the ONS said.
Death rates in the second and third quarters of the year – April to June and July to September respectively – were statistically significantly higher than in any other year back to 2001, the ONS added.
The ONS also published annual death figures for 2019 across the whole of the UK.
The figures show that in 2019, there were 7,565 deaths registered in the UK that related to alcohol-specific causes, the second highest since the data time series began in 2001.
Alcohol-specific death rates were highest among those aged 55 to 64 years for both men and women in 2019.
Commenting on the figures, Julie Breslin, from the drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, said: “The number of people in treatment for an alcohol issue has fallen by nearly one fifth since 2013/14.
“At the same time we know that around four out of five dependent drinkers aren’t accessing any kind of support.
“Sadly, these statistics show the impact of what happens when the majority of people with an issue with alcohol aren’t accessing treatment or support, especially in a country with such a heavy drinking culture as the UK.”
She added: “While these statistics don’t include the impact of the pandemic, we’ve seen this picture become exacerbated in the past year.
“Many older adults are unable to see their loved ones or friends, and are drinking more as a way to cope with increased loneliness, isolation and anxiety.
“Our research showed that at the end of last year more than one in two over-50s were drinking at a level that could cause health problems now or in the future, with nearly one in four classed as high risk or possibly dependent.”
Nuno Albuquerque, head of treatment at the UK Addiction Treatment Group, added: “We must remember that what we’re talking about here aren’t just figures; they’re people. They’re mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues and neighbours who have lost their lives to alcohol; a substance so widely accepted and almost encouraged in this country but one so controlling, addictive and, ultimately, life-threatening.
“Unfortunately, we expect these figures to rise even further after the difficulties we all faced in 2020.
“We know first-hand how many people have struggled with their relationship with alcohol since the Covid-19 crisis. Our treatment facilities across the country admit more clients for alcohol addiction than any other substance and all our beds are almost full.”
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “There’s more work to be done to understand why deaths have increased so starkly.
“One factor may be that since the pandemic began those already drinking heavily are most likely to have been drinking more. It might also be that some who need help with their drinking, and with alcohol-related conditions, are not seeking it as a result of Covid-19.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “Harmful alcohol use is killing people across the UK at an alarming rate, and the continued rise in numbers show that much more needs to be done to address this ongoing crisis.”
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