The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching and unprecedented impacts on people’s lives and well-being worldwide. One area that has seen significant consequences is alcohol-related harm. In the UK, alcohol-related deaths reached record levels during the pandemic, with many experts pointing to the stress and uncertainty caused by the virus as crucial contributing factors.
This article will explore how the pandemic has led to this increase in alcohol-related deaths and what can be done to address this problem. We will also look at the various social and economic factors that may have exacerbated the impact of the pandemic on alcohol-related harm.
The Providence Project also observed an increase in the number of people who contacted us for alcohol addiction treatment directly after the lockdowns and safety measures were lifted.
Alcohol Use in the UK during the Pandemic
Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down brain activity and the passage of time. While this can make you feel relaxed and better in the short term, drinking too much can cause problems in your life—including making it harder for you to make good decisions.
In a crisis like an outbreak or pandemic, alcohol may seem like a quick way to relieve stress and anxiety. However, research shows that people who drink heavily during stressful times are more likely to develop substance use disorders, such as alcoholism, over time.
In the UK, as in many other countries across Europe, alcohol use increased during the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, many people turned to alcohol to cope with their stress. While some drank in moderation, others binged, contributing to an increase in alcohol-related deaths.
Alcoholic liver disease was the leading cause of total death at 77%. Following that were mental and behavioural disorders at 12% and alcohol poisoning at 6.2%. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the figures on alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales in 2020, revealing that they reached the highest level since records began. According to ONS data, In 2020, there were 8,974 alcohol-related deaths (14.0 per 100,000 people). This was an 18.6% increase compared with 2019 (7,565 deaths; 11.8 per 100,000 people), and it was also the highest yearly increase since 2001. This was when the pandemic was at its highest.
The value did not get better the following year. There were 9,641 (14.8 per 100,000 people) alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2021, compared to 8,974 in 2020 – a 7.4% increase. The figure broke the record of record deaths by alcohol in a year, which was previously held by 2020 by being 27% higher than in 2019.
The stats also showed that men had the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths at 19 per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, women had a rate of 9 per 100,000. Also, most alcohol-specific deaths were of people in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 59.9 for men and 57.4 for women. Now that most restrictions have been lifted and activities are back to normal, we hope these numbers will decrease again as time goes on.
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How to Solve the Problem
Several steps can be taken to address the problem of alcohol-related deaths:
- Education and awareness: Increasing public awareness about the risks and dangers of alcohol abuse can help to reduce alcohol-related deaths. The UK Government and other stakeholders can do this through educational campaigns, community programs, and other initiatives.
- Regulation of alcohol: The UK Government and other organisations can implement policies and regulations to reduce the availability and accessibility of alcohol, particularly to underage individuals.
- Treatment and Support: Access to treatment and support programs can help people struggling with alcohol abuse overcome their addiction and reduce the risk of alcohol-related death. This may include counselling, support groups, and rehabilitation programs.
- Research and innovation: Investment in research and innovation can help better understand the factors contributing to alcohol-related deaths and identify new and effective ways to prevent and treat alcohol abuse. This could include research on the effectiveness of different treatment approaches or the development of new technologies to monitor and intervene in cases of alcohol abuse.
Addressing the problem of alcohol-related deaths will likely require a combination of these approaches. It may involve the collaboration of different sectors and stakeholders, including governments, healthcare providers, community organisations, and others.
Individually, there are also better ways to channel our emotions and avoid stress. For example, exercise can reduce anxiety and improve mood by releasing endorphins into your bloodstream. You could also listen to music or read a book, so you don’t drink.
Undoubtedly, people turn to alcohol to help them cope with stress during difficult times. Alcohol abuse is notoriously pervasive, and many struggle with it every day. With this in mind, we can consciously cut alcohol from our diets–especially when there is a possibility for addiction.
By understanding the root causes of this trend, we can work towards preventing future spikes in alcohol-related deaths and ensure that those struggling with alcohol-related problems receive the support and treatment they need.