Alcohol deaths highest for 20 years

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Deaths in England and Wales from alcohol-specific causes topped 7,400 last year, according to provisional data from ONS – almost 20 per cent higher than in 2019 and the highest since records began in 2001. 

Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore called the increase ‘devastating’.

The final quarter of 2020 alone saw 1,963 alcohol-specific deaths, which at 13.6 per 100,000 people is the highest recorded in any single quarter. While the death rate for quarter one in 2020 was roughly the same as in previous years, the following three quarters saw rates that were ‘all statistically significantly higher than in any other year back to 2001’, says ONS. As in previous years, the death rate was far higher in areas of deprivation, with a male death rate more than four times as high in the most deprived local areas than the least deprived. The male death rate was also twice the rate for females. 

Alcohol-specific deaths only refer to those the death can be wholly attributed to alcohol misuse – such as with alcoholic liver disease – which means the deaths are likely to be the result of a history of alcohol dependency or misuse. 

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Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore called the increase ‘devastating’. ‘Each of these numbers represents a life of an individual cut short by alcohol consumption and a family that has been left in mourning,’ he said. ‘The future impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on addiction and mental health makes action now all the more critical. If the UK government wants to demonstrate its commitment to turning this tragic trend around, it must urgently introduce an alcohol strategy which seeks to address health inequalities and stop the sale of cheap, strong alcohol that is so harmful to health. The government also needs to improve access to treatment for those who need it. We cannot afford to ignore the growing alcohol harm crisis – lives depend on action being taken now.’

Quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales: 2001 to 2019 registrations and quarter 1 to quarter 4 2020 provisional registrations at www.ons.gov.uk