Deaths from Alcohol in England and Wales: Provisional Results Indicate an Increase During the First Lockdown
A few weeks ago, in February 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published quarterly data on deaths attributable to alcohol in England and Wales. Commenting on the release, Ben Humberstone, deputy director of Health Analysis and Life Events at the ONS said,
“Today’s data shows that in the first three quarters of 2020, alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales reached the highest level since the beginning of our data series, with April to September, during and after the first lockdown, seeing higher rates compared to the same period in previous years.”ONS
In summary, the main points in the release were the following:
- Provisional data for England and Wales show there were 5,460 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes registered in the first three quarters of 2020 (Jan to Sept), a 16.4% increase compared with the same nine-month period in 2019.
- The alcohol-specific death rate reached its highest peak since the data time series began in 2001, of 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people (1,810 deaths registered) in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020 and it remained at this level in both Quarter 2 (Apr to June; 1,811 deaths registered) and Quarter 3 (July to Sept; 1,839 deaths registered).
- When comparing the same quarter across the years, the rate in Quarter 1 2020 was statistically similar to rates in previous years, however, rates in Quarter 2 and Quarter 3 2020 were statistically significantly higher than in any other year back to 2001.
- Consistent with previous years, rates of male alcohol-specific deaths were twice those of females; with rates ranging between 17.3 and 17.8 deaths per 100,000 males in 2020 compared with rates ranging between 8.0 and 8.6 deaths per 100,000 females.
- Compared with the same period in 2019, rates were statistically significantly higher for persons aged 30 to 49 years in Quarter 2 2020 and for persons aged 40 to 69 years in Quarter 3 2020.
- Compared with the same period in 2019, rates were statistically significantly higher in the North East and London in Quarter 2 2020 and in the South West in Quarter 3 2020.
- The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had little impact on how long it has taken to register alcohol-specific deaths, the median delay continued to be six days in 2020, similar to previous years.
This is represented in the charts below:
It is expected that it will take time for definite conclusions to be reached about the impact of the lockdown on alcohol consumptions levels. Current complicating factors leading to apparent contradictions are the following:
- Data from Public Health England collected during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic show there have been higher levels of abstinence from alcohol since the first national lockdown in England, compared with drinking habits beforehand. Despite this, data for the same time period show an increase in those reporting higher levels of drinking (greater than 35 units per week).
- Other small studies have also found that lockdown may have resulted in increased alcohol consumption in people with alcohol use disorders and relapse for those who were previously abstinent.
- Data on the purchasing of alcohol from food retailers have also seen an increase during the pandemic. However, it is possible that these figures reflect the reduction in alcohol purchased and consumed outside of the home. Further, more detailed work is required to understand whether this increase represents a full shift from sales in pubs, bars and restaurants, to sales purchased from supermarkets and shops to be consumed at home as opposed to more drink being purchased overall.
What is known is that alcohol consumption in higher-risk drinkers has actually increased during the pandemic. If you or someone you know are affected by increased alcohol consumption, find your local alcohol support network or visit Get help now on the Alcohol Change UK website.