The statistics on alcohol-specific deaths in the UK in 2020 show a shocking 19% increase in mortality from 2019, the biggest year-on-year rise since 2001. Almost 9,000 people died from alcohol-related causes last year – a terrible loss of life and a tragedy for the thousands of friends and families left behind.
The ONS has stated there will be a range of complex factors behind the increase and it will take time to understand. However, Public Health England did publish figures in July showing a demonstrable increase in alcohol consumption since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. PHE noted at the time:
“Before the pandemic, there were already increased alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths. The pandemic seems to have accelerated these trends.”
This record increase, combined with the record levels of drug-related deaths in 2020, show just how deep the crisis is for people experiencing substance misuse. Years of disinvestment have stripped away vital support services and the corrosive effect of austerity has seriously damaged communities across the country. For many people, the isolation and trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic will only have deepened the complexities of their situation.
There is now the opportunity at least to rebuild our treatment and recovery system. While Monday’s Drug Strategy and the announcement of new funding for treatment and recovery did focus on drugs, this is the first step in a direction that should also help many people facing alcohol addiction.
But as this week’s figures show, the harms associated with alcohol use will require specific attention from this government, and we will continue to push for a renewed focus.