Covid-19 UK: Nearly one million people in England became addicted to alcohol during the pandemic

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Nearly one million people in England became addicted to alcohol as a result of Covid lockdowns, official data suggests.

Government polling before the pandemic estimated 1.5million adults drank at least 50 units every week — the equivalent of three pints or nearly a bottle of wine every night.

But this jumped to just shy of 2.5million this summer, which experts have blamed on the endless cycle of virus-controlling restrictions.

Dr Tony Rao, a world-renowned expert on alcohol misuse in older people at King’s College London, warned the impact of lockdowns had been ‘devastating’.

Alcohol charities said the data showed drinking in older people has reached a level of crisis ‘that is happening now’.

NHS guidelines recommend men and women do not drink more than 14 units a week.

Regularly drinking over the guideline amount can lead to dependence and health problems, including liver disease, heart disease and cancer.

It comes after Public Health England (PHE) figures last month revealed deaths directly caused by alcohol soared by 20 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.

Dr Rao, a clinical research fellow, told MailOnline: ‘The impact of the Covid pandemic on alcohol use has been devastating.

‘The latest data, taken together with the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths on record, is a stark warning for the Government.’

Nearly one million people in England became addicted to alcohol as a result of lockdowns, official data suggests

Nearly one million people in England became addicted to alcohol as a result of lockdowns, official data suggests

Government polling before the Covid pandemic estimated 1.5million adults drank more than 50 units every week — the equivalent of three pints or nearly a bottle of wine per day

Public Health England (PHE) has kept tabs on the population’s health throughout the pandemic, monitoring smoking, gambling and exercise rates.

The Government-funded agency has also tracked alcohol intake, repeatedly quizzing thousands of participants about how much they consume.

Data from the study, which quizzed 4,061 in several different waves, showed the largest uptick in alcohol dependence was among over-65s.

Before the start of the pandemic, just over 190,000 (3.4 per cent) of people in the age group drank that much.

Covid lockdowns helped to fuel a 20% spike in alcohol-related deaths in 2020 

Deaths directly caused by alcohol soared by 20 per cent during the first year of the Covid pandemic, Government figures revealed.

Public Health England chiefs say the endless cycle of lockdowns swayed people into binge-drinking at home.

Data shows there were 6,893 deaths blamed on alcohol in 2020, compared to 5,819 in 2019 before the virus reached Britain.  

The North East was hit hardest, with fatalities spiking by almost 80 per cent. 

Drinking too much alcohol can kill by causing liver damage, as well as cancer. 

Deaths caused by alcohol have been increasing for a decade but ministers called the jump during the pandemic ‘deeply concerning’.

They pledged to increase treatment options for alcohol dependence, with £3.3billion in place for public health services over the next year.

But Labour hit out at No10 for slashing addiction services and ‘doing nothing to give people who need help with addiction the support they need’.  

Charities urged No10 to address mounting alcohol abuse following the pandemic to prevent a ‘liver disease epidemic’ after ‘Freedom Day’ last month.

By the end of June, this jumped to more than 453,000 (8.1 per cent) — an increase of around 260,000 people (138 per cent). 

Proportionally, the second biggest increase was seen among 18- to 24-year-olds, who jumped from 71,000 to 170,000 (140 per cent).

The huge spike in boozing comes despite the Government having slashed funding for addiction services. Eight out of England’s nine regions have seen a real-term reduction in cash since 2014.

Some £162million has been cut in spending on drug and alcohol addiction services since then, falling from £877million in 2013-14 to £716million in 2017-18. 

Dr Rao said: ‘Ministers need to address the balance, not just in funding local authority budgets but in levelling up the “Cinderella service” of alcohol addiction.

‘An increase of nearly 1million people drinking at levels suggestive of alcohol dependence is a huge cause of concern, particularly in older people.

‘The NHS is not equipped to deal with older people’s alcohol problems. Their focus has largely been on young people in pubs, as they are more likely to commit public order offences.’

He said the rise among over-65s could be down to them socialising less during lockdowns, leading to longer periods of loneliness.

Dr Rao said: ‘Many people in this age group were separated from loved ones for prolonged periods of time and may now be drinking more at home.

‘Home-drinking allows people to consume levels that are unchecked, compared to when they are with their loved ones and friends at the pub, for example.’

And Dr Niall Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, said he has seen an increase in over-65s in his practice for problem drinking since lockdowns began.

He said over 65’s were particularly vulnerable because they were often more isolated from friends and family. 

He told MailOnline: ‘Many turned to alcohol and one or two drinks in the evening became three or four, or five or six. 

‘In addition, often because of boredom and isolation, people are drinking earlier and earlier in the day.

‘I have seen a steady increase in my clinic of over 65’s who have become alcohol dependent, with significant consequences to their physical health, mental health and relationship health with their partners and families. 

‘Over 65’s are more vulnerable to the dangers of too much alcohol especially liver disease, stomach ulcers, pancreatitis, heart disease and brain damage.’

Lucy Holmes, director of research and policy at Alcohol Change UK, called on the Government to improve specialised addiction treatment services for older people.

Increasing alcohol duty and following Scotland and Wales in introducing a minimum price for a unit of alcohol are ‘common sense’ measures, she said. 

The proportion of people drinking more than 50 units of alcohol a week (shaded grey) was 5.4 per cent of the adult population during June this year. It was up from 3.4 per cent before the pandemic started and was the second highest seen since (after Christmas in December), suggesting problem drinking in lockdowns has fuelled new dependence

The proportion of people drinking more than 50 units of alcohol a week (shaded grey) was 5.4 per cent of the adult population during June this year. It was up from 3.4 per cent before the pandemic started and was the second highest seen since (after Christmas in December), suggesting problem drinking in lockdowns has fuelled new dependence

Men drink significantly more than women with 7.7 per cent drinking more than 50 units per week (shaded grey) at the end of the pandemic compared to 3.2 per cent of women. Both saw increases in problem drinking

Men drink significantly more than women with 7.7 per cent drinking more than 50 units per week (shaded grey) at the end of the pandemic compared to 3.2 per cent of women. Both saw increases in problem drinking

She told MailOnline: ‘Even before the pandemic far too many people were suffering and dying as a result of alcohol harm, with only one in six alcohol dependent people receiving treatment.

‘But this data suggests that, since the pandemic, a huge number of people are now drinking at high risk levels, with the biggest increases among older age groups.

‘This isn’t an approaching crisis — it’s happening now, with the alcohol-related death rate increasing by 20 per cent in 2020 to the highest level since records began.’

It comes after PHE data showed there were 6,893 deaths blamed on alcohol in 2020, compared to 5,819 in 2019 before the virus reached Britain.

The North East was hit hardest, with fatalities spiking by almost 80 per cent. Drinking too much alcohol can kill by causing liver damage, as well as cancer.

Deaths caused by alcohol have been increasing for a decade but ministers called the jump during the pandemic ‘deeply concerning’.

They pledged to increase treatment options for alcohol dependence, with £3.3billion in place for public health services over the next year

Do you or someone you know need help with cutting down on drinking? Find free support near you or online with Alcohol Change

DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK

One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.

YOUR SCORE:

0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

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