There were more than 9,600 alcohol-specific deaths registered in the UK last year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the highest number ever recorded. The total was 7 per cent up on 2020 and 27 per cent higher than 2019, says ONS. As in previous years the death rate among men was roughly double that for women.
The figures only relate to deaths that are the result of conditions wholly attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease – the cause of most of the deaths – and therefore does not include all the deaths that could be attributed to alcohol, ONS points out. Alcohol specific deaths are likely to account for just a third of the total number of deaths that could be considered alcohol-related.
While Scotland and Northern Ireland had the highest death rates, there were ‘statistically significant’ increases in England, Wales and Scotland compared to 2019, the last pre-COVID year, ONS states. This death rate had previously remained stable between 2012 and 2019. Alcohol-specific death rates have risen in every English region since 2019, with the highest rate in the North East for the eighth year running.
‘Alcohol-specific deaths have risen sharply since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with alcoholic liver disease the leading cause of these deaths,’ said James Tucker of ONS. ‘This rise is likely to be the result of increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Research has suggested that people who were already drinking at higher levels before the pandemic were the most likely to have increased their alcohol consumption during this period.’
‘It is a national tragedy that the number of deaths caused by alcohol has increased once again across the UK, with every life lost leaving behind a devastating impact on families, friends, and communities,’ stated Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘COVID-19 saw the number of alcohol deaths increase sharply across the UK, and the continuation of this upward trend in today’s figures should raise alarm bells in Westminster. Research modelling the impact of the changing consumption patterns during the pandemic predicts that there will be nearly 10,000 more premature deaths by 2035 if drinking does not return to pre-pandemic levels, as well as the untold harm caused to others. It is all too clear that we are amidst a public health crisis, and urgent action is needed to address these levels of harm. We desperately need the UK government to deliver on well-evidenced policies, such as an effective alcohol duty system, to reverse this tragic trend.’