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Drinking and Excess Deaths in lockdown


Christmas is a time for family, rest and reflection: when few people hit the web, read reports, and look at what is happening around them. This is why the timing of the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2021 probably meant little pick-up from mainstream media. However, the report contains disturbing facts which should be highlighted to all – it makes for a sobering read. 

First, the analysis of deaths related to alcohol is based on internationally assigned codes, so there is little wriggle room for what follows: “Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where each death is a direct consequence of alcohol.”

Second, as the report’s authors note repeatedly, the figures are likely to be underestimated as they are specifically and directly related to alcohol consumption and do not consider the broader spectrum of alcohol-related pathologies. For example, in which, excessive alcohol consumption did take place, but the cause of death was ischaemic heart disease. But here comes the bad news.

While alcoholic deaths were relatively stable in the decade before 2020; in 2019, there were 7,565 deaths (11.8 per 100,000 inhabitants), there has been a sudden increase in 2020; 8,974 deaths (14.0 per 100,000) and 2021; 9,641 deaths (or 14.8 per 100,000) making the 2021 tally 27.4 percent higher than in 2019. 

The authors attribute the increase to the higher use of alcohol during the time restrictions that were applied, and the timing is highly suggestive. However, what concerns us is the speed (two years) with which the incidence has picked up. 

These are deaths wholly attributable to alcohol, which means that at least 27.4 percent more of our fellow citizens have drunk themselves to death thanks to the imposition of curtailment of individual freedom. Males die more frequently – twice that of females. Mental disorders and accidental poisoning events were present but played a small part in adding to the tally. Most of the deaths will have been habitual heavy drinkers who found refuge by increasing their daily intake. 

No other explanation is possible for the speed of such an increase because alcoholic disease is the result of years of abuse and an abnormal lifestyle. Alcohol-related liver cirrhosis does not develop overnight – it typically develops after heavy drinking for ten or more years.

The ONS statisticians also issue a stark warning: the consequences of increased exposure to alcohol and lifestyle changes will take some time to manifest themselves fully. This is what they report:

The survey ‘Wider Impacts of COVID-19 on Health (WICH) monitoring tool…showed that, as of March 2022, “increasing and higher risk drinking” had remained at heightened levels. Research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research suggested that if these consumption patterns persist, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional cases of alcohol-related diseases and thousands of extra deaths as a result.’

So here we have another documented consequence of the social and democratic catastrophe of lockdowns. There’s plenty of evidence indicating increased consumption of alcohol during lockdowns that were associated with a host of factors, including a deterioration in psychological well-being and one’s finances.

Moreover, the problem is not limited to the UK: in an online survey of US adults from May 2020, one-third reported binge drinking, and 7 percent extreme binge drinking. Similar increases in alcohol use are observed in France and Germany; however, a systematic review shows consumption varied depending on the country. 

Any reader suspicious of the timing of the release of the ONS report can be reassured: December is the expected release date of the annual alcohol report on deaths.

Reposted from Substack

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  • Tom Jefferson

    Tom Jefferson is a Senior Associate Tutor at the University of Oxford, a former researcher at the Nordic Cochrane Centre and a former scientific coordinator for the production of HTA reports on non-pharmaceuticals for Agenas, the Italian National Agency for Regional Healthcare. Here is his website.

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  • Carl Heneghan

    Carl Heneghan is Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and a practising GP. A clinical epidemiologist, he studies patients receiving care from clinicians, especially those with common problems, with the aim of improving the evidence base used in clinical practice.

    View all posts

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