Provisional figures released by the Office for National Statistics show deaths caused by alcohol in England and Wales hit a new high during the first nine months of 2020. Between January and September, there was a 16% increase in deaths related to alcohol, compared to the same period in 2019. The alcohol-specific death rate reached its highest peak since the records began in 2001.
The figures cover the period during and after first Covid lockdown. Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren, of the Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital in Kent, confirmed that he was “seeing an increasing number of referrals to the Priory of people really struggling with their relationship with alcohol.”
He says the lockdown was likely to be a factor in the increasing number of people struggling with their drinking; “For many who are vulnerable, lockdown has generated a ‘perfect storm’, with the increase in stress of work – or redundancy – and family life being forced together, as well as a loss of usual ‘stress buffering’ activities, including the loss of face-to-face meetings, all playing their role.”
Priory’s Dr Niall Campbell, an addiction expert at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, said the provisional figures “absolutely reflect our experience at the Priory”.
He added; “We have seen an increase in patients being referred who are drinking far more, as well as others seeking help for depression and anxiety who are admitting they are drinking more just to cope.”
Dr Campbell also believes that lockdown produced a unique set of circumstances, which could lead to people developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol; “Patients working from home are telling me that the time of day of their first drink is getting earlier and earlier. The consequences to their physical and mental health, and their work, are huge.”
With the third national lockdown likely to last for several weeks yet, Dr McLaren said we all need to take extra care we don’t allow the stress to tip us into dangerous habits; “It is really important that we are wary of alcohol at this time. If you want to keep your relationship with alcohol healthy, then plan alcohol free days – at least three per week.”