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Alcohol Misuse Hit Record Highs During Lockdowns

Alcohol misuse hit record highs last year in the United Kingdom. Deaths from alcohol-specific causes climbed 18.6 percent in 2020 over the previous year, and it was the largest increase since records began in 2001, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics. More than 8,970 people died from alcohol misuse last year.

Health officials said the change was linked to social impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Closures of pubs and other social spaces led more people to drink heavily at home. According to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, “The fact that mortality rates from key causes of death related to alcohol increased in 2020 suggests that an increase in alcohol harm was a wider impact of the pandemic.”

A survey in March 2021 shows a rise in the number of people who admitted drinking dangerous amounts—five bottles of wine a week for men, or three and a half for women, Reuters reported.

Liver disease was the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths (78 percent), followed by mental and behavioral disorders (12 percent), and external causes such as accidental poisoning (6 percent). The death rate from alcohol in Scotland was the highest in the UK, according to The Independent.

The United Kingdom is not the only place affected by increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic. In the United States, 60 percent of people increased alcohol consumption during lockdowns, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS). Only 12.8 percent decreased their alcohol consumption.

Year over year, liquor store sales increased 54 percent in the first three weeks of March 2020, coinciding with statewide lockdowns. Among Americans, 45 percent reported increased stress as a reason for increased drinking, followed by increased alcohol availability (34 percent) and boredom (30 percent). According to a study from researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health, drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic grew most among younger people, while older adults with anxiety and depression had a sharp increase in their risk for harmful alcohol use. People with depression were 64 percent more likely than those without to increase their alcohol intake. People with anxiety were 41 percent more likely to do so.

Nearly 100,000 annual deaths in the United States are attributable to alcohol abuse, according to NCDAS. Worldwide, up to 3.3 million people die as a result of alcohol abuse every year.