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The BIG Drive Home

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Alcohol deaths highest for 20 years in England and Wales, new data shows

Written by on 7 May 2021

Alcohol misuse killed more people last year in England and Wales than in any of the previous 20 years, according to official data.

In 2020, there were 7,423 deaths related to alcohol misuse – up from 19.6% in the previous year, according to data from the Office of National Statistics.

Deaths increased from March 2020, when the first national COVID-19 lockdown was put in place.

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The increase in the number of alcohol-specific deaths increased by 2.1% between 2001 and 2019.

The majority of deaths were due to problems caused by long-term drinking such as liver disease.

Around 80% of deaths were from alcoholic liver disease, 10% from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use and 6% from accidental poisoning by exposure to alcohol.

Men living in deprived areas in England were four times more likely to die from alcohol use than men from wealthy areas.

And twice as many men died from alcohol abuse as women in 2020 – the same rate as previous years.

Death rates between January and March were similar to previous years, but the rate increased between April and December.

Between 1 October and 31 December, there were 1,963 alcohol-specific deaths – the highest rate for any quarter in the last two decades.

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A study undertaken by the University of East Anglia found that Britons drank more alcohol, ate fewer fruit and vegetables and exercised less during the first national lockdown.

The study of more than 1,000 people found that women drank alcohol more frequently, but men consumed greater quantities of it in one sitting.

On average, those surveyed ate one less portion of fruit and vegetables per day during the lockdown and there was a 20% reduction in days of 30 minutes of exercise or more.

Experts warned in May 2020 that the effects of Britons drinking more alcohol during a pandemic could be seen for a generation.

According to Baroness Ilora Finley, chairwoman of the Commission on Alcohol Harms, and Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, tackling harm caused by alcohol is “integral”.

Alcohol sales were up by 67% before the UK went into lockdown, with many drinking at home in isolation, according to their joint editorial published in the British Medical Journal.

“Now, as signs emerge of some control over new cases of COVID-19, it is increasingly clear that if we don’t prepare for emerging from the pandemic, we will see the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation,” they said last year.

They said the pandemic “has the potential to be an exemplar of our ambivalent relationship with alcohol and its consequences”.

The ONS defines alcohol-specific deaths as those conditions where each death is a direct consequence of misuse.

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