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Alcohol Health Alliance responds to ONS figures on alcohol-specific deaths in 2020 Alcohol Health Alliance

It will take some time to fully understand why there’s been such a significant rise in deaths from alcohol in 2020. But these statistics are worrying, especially considering what we currently know about how the pandemic has changed our relationship with alcohol. “This comes with potentially serious consequences for individual health outcomes, as well as having significant impacts on health services including primary care, mental health services, addiction support services, acute care and more.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance – a coalition of charities and campaign groups – said the increase in deaths linked to alcohol was “devastating”. In England, men living in the most deprived areas were four times more likely to die from alcohol than men living in the wealthiest areas. ICS are new partnerships between the organisations that meet health and care needs across an area, to coordinate services and to plan in a way that improves population health and reduces inequalities between different groups.

Further information about the methods and quality of these statistics can be found in the Mortality statistics in England and Wales Quality and Methodology Information report and the User guide to mortality statistics. However, when compared with the 2019 registrations, the largest year-on-year increases in rates were seen in Wales and England, 17.8% and 19.3% respectively. This substantial increase in the death rates in 2020 was indicated in our quarterly report for England and Wales. There were 8,974 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK in 2020, equivalent to 14.0 deaths per 100,000 people. That was 1,409 more deaths (a 18.6% increase) than in 2019 when there were 7,565 registered deaths, equivalent to 11.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

As a result, 85% of all pure alcohol sold in Scotland was through supermarkets and other off-licences; while this was lower than in 2020 (90%) it remains higher than prior to the pandemic (72% in 2019). The volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland was 4% higher than in England and Wales, the smallest difference seen between the two areas and a reduction from last year. Of the adult patients hospitalised due to alcohol in 2015, more than one in four (27%) were admitted for an unintentional injury. The new Office for Health Promotion will spearhead our efforts to improve treatment and level up outcomes.

In the UK in 2019, 77% of alcohol-specific deaths were caused by alcoholic liver disease . Over the same time period, the proportion of adults aged who drank heavily in the week prior to interview fluctuated around 16%. For those aged 65-74, heavy drinking increased from 6% in 2006 to 10% in 2018, and for those aged 75 and over it increased from 1.8% to 3.2%. Between 2006 and 2019, the proportion of adults who drank more than 8 units or 6 units on any day in the past week fell for all age groups between 16 and 54 years old. The largest decrease occurred in people aged 16-24, from 29% drinking heavily in 2006 to 15% in 2019.

For those that are worried about their drinking, their GP should be the first port of call. They will be able to provide confidential advice and refer on to the local treatment service as appropriate. Data from a consumer purchasing panel show that in shops and supermarkets just over 12.6 million extra litres of alcohol were sold in the financial year 2020 to 2021 compared to 2019 to 2020 (a 24.4% increase). Find out more about the impact of alcohol on your health by reading our factsheets on everything from alcohol and mental health to parenting.

how many deaths from alcohol in 2020

Those that typically bought the most alcohol pre-pandemic bought a lot more once the first lockdown happened. 82% of Northern Irish year olds reported drinking compared to 58% of year olds, but year olds were more likely to drink everyday (16% versus 1.5%) . The more money people earn, the more likely they are to drink alcohol, with around 90% of people living in the least deprived areas drinking, and only 71% of those in the most deprived areas doing so .

Factors that could be associated with the 2020 increase in alcohol-specific deaths

Although year olds are less likely to have drunk alcohol in the past week, when they do drink, they are more likely to drink at high levels . Since 2005, teetotalism has increased among those aged 16-44, but has fallen by 5% for those aged 65 and over . Since 2005, the overall amount of alcohol consumed in the UK, the proportion of people reporting drinking, and the amount drinkers report consuming have all fallen.

It is based onNational Statistics definitionof alcohol-specific deaths, which includes only wholly attributable conditions. The Health Survey for England provides children aged 8 to 15 with a self-completion booklet which asks if they have ever had a whole alcoholic drink. Between 2006 and 2019, there has been a large decrease for all age groups in the percentage of respondents who say that they have had an alcoholic drink. The proportion of 13- to 15-year-olds who say that they have drunk alcohol decreased from 67% in 2006 to 35% in 2019.

Data Sets

This annual report provides the latest available information and key statistics on alcohol consumption, price, related harms and inequalities. There were an estimated 3,705 deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2015 among adults aged 16 years and over in Scotland. Almost two-thirds (66.4%) of the 351 deaths were male, and just over one third (33.6%) were female. Similarly, the age standardised mortality rate per 100,000 population of alcohol-specific deaths for males was twice that of the rate for females (24.9 and 12.3 respectively).

how many deaths from alcohol in 2020

Consistent with previous years, the rate of alcohol-specific deaths for males in 2020 remained more than double the rate for females (19.0 and 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people respectively, registered in 2020). “Since the start of the pandemic, millions more people have been drinking at levels that are putting them at risk of addiction and serious physical conditions that could be life-threatening,” she said. In addition to changes in alcohol consumption, other causes that could explain the differences in the rates and trends of mortality due to alcohol-related cirrhosis in Mexico are not clear; therefore, more studies are needed. In Mexico, more health policies are necessary, particularly those related to obesity and alcohol consumption, to avoid the most important causes of liver disease . Also, studies that analyze the magnitude of the effect that these policies could have on alcohol consumption are needed. It’s also important that specialist help is provided to those that have a problem with alcohol, and that strategies also seek to prevent problems from developing.

The World Health Organization estimated in 2018 that 48% of all cirrhosis-related deaths worldwide were attributable to chronic alcohol consumption. The same publication reported that alcohol-related liver cirrhosis deaths were higher than diabetes, AIDS, and tuberculosis . NISRA has today, at 9.30am, released the annual Alcohol-specific deaths statistics for deaths registered in 2020 on alcohol-specific mortality across Northern Ireland. Alcohol specific deaths are deaths resulting from health conditions that are a direct consequence of alcohol misuse. If the recent increase in alcohol consumption in Mexico is not reversed, an increase in the alcohol-related cirrhosis mortality trend will probably be consolidated in the short or medium term. In addition to this concern, the increase in alcohol consumption could have other serious implications in several sectors, such as public health (consultations, medicines, transplants, and pre-mature deaths) and the economy, .

Figure 1: The alcohol-specific death rate for 2020 was 18.6% higher than the previous year

Between 2012 and 2019, rates of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK have remained stable, with no statistically significant differences in the year-on-year rates. However, the rates seen in 2020 are statistically significantly higher than 2019 and any other year since 2001, when there were 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people. Scotland and Northern Ireland had the highest rates of alcohol-specific deaths in 2020 (21.5 and 19.6 deaths per 100,000 people respectively). Between 2012 and 2019, rates of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK have remained stable, but a statistically significant increase was seen in 2020.

We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner – locally and globally. Research by Newcastle University shows that adults already at risk of harm from heavy drinking bought significantly more alcohol during Covid-19 lockdowns – with households in the North buying more. New study reveals those already at risk of harm from heavy drinking bought significantly more alcohol during Covid-19 lockdowns. The UK low risk drinking guidelines also advise you to limit how much you consume each week – it’s safest for both men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days. This statistical report presents a range of information on alcohol use and misuse by adults and children, including alcohol-specific deaths, drawn together from a variety of sources for England unless otherwise stated. Although the rate of alcohol-specific deaths in the least deprived areas has remained reasonably static since 1997, there has been considerable change in the rate in the most deprived areas.

  • Since 2013, the alcohol-specific mortality rate has increased overall and the rate in 2020 was 45.4 per 100,000, the highest rate since 2010 and higher than at the start of the time series.
  • Globally, drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease in 2016, accounting for 2.2% of deaths in women and 6.8% of deaths in men.
  • There were a total of 8,820 alcohol-specific hospital admissions recorded across Lancashire-12, giving the area a DSR of 729, significantly above the England rate of 587 (2020/21).

In 2020 in Scotland, the alcohol-specific death rate was 21.5 per 100,000 population . Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency statistics on the most recent official death registration data available on alcohol-specific mortality across Northern Ireland. National Records of Scotland statistics on the most recent official death registration data available on alcohol-specific mortality across Scotland. The precision of the alcohol-specific definition reduces the uncertainty that arises when estimating the total number of alcohol-attributable deaths. Mortality rates are calculated using the number of deaths and mid-year population estimates provided by the ONS Population Estimates Unit. Population estimates are based on the decennial UK census estimates and use information on births, deaths and migration to estimate the mid-year population in non-census years.


Alcohol-specific death rates increased between 2019 and 2020, an increase that was largely driven by deaths amongst men aged 45 years and over. Both rates of alcohol-specific death and alcohol-related hospital stays continue to be at least twice as high for men as women and were highest in the 55–64 year age group. The ONS data also showed that those living in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to suffer alcohol harm compared to those living in the most affluent areas. Tackling wider issues of inequality – such as poverty, education, housing and unemployment – are critical in reducing both the uptake in risky levels of alcohol consumption as well as the fatal outcomes this yields.

  • In 2018 in Great Britain, there were 8,700 drink-drive casualties and 5,900 drink-drive accidents.
  • Alcohol-specific death rates increased between 2019 and 2020, an increase that was largely driven by deaths amongst men aged 45 years and over.
  • Between 2012 and 2019, rates of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK have remained stable, with no statistically significant differences in the year-on-year rates.
  • The rate of mortality for alcohol-specific deaths fell between 2006 and 2012, from 28.5 to 18.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

The complications of cirrhosis include the development of ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, bleeding from gastroesophageal varices, cancer, and, in general terms, a reduction in life expectancy. When decompensation develops, a liver transplant is the only treatment that can save a life. The main mechanisms by which alcohol intake causes hepatocellular damage are oxidative stress, production of endotoxins, eco sober house cost and abnormal methionine metabolism . However, many public surveys had suggested an increase in alcohol-related problems, and ONS data showed a sharp rise in deaths that were directly linked to alcohol misuse, indicating that some people were drinking a lot more. COVID-19 restrictions may have eased but now we’re starting to see the long-term effects of the pandemic in other areas of public health.

Increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic, particularly amongst heavy drinkers, is likely driving an unprecedented acceleration in alcoholic liver disease deaths. The authors found that there was only a protective effect between alcohol and ischemic heart disease, and there were possible protective effects for diabetes and ischemic stroke but these were not statistically significant. The risk of developing all other health problems increased with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed each day.

In 2018 in England, 44% of pupils aged in England reported having ever drunk alcohol. Of these, 14% of 11 year-olds reporting ever having drunk an alcoholic drink, compared to 70% of 15 year-olds . 60% of people in alcohol treatment also need mental health treatment, with 20% of them not receiving any mental health treatment . Young people who start drinking alcohol at an early age tend to drink more often than those who start drinking later, and are more likely to develop alcohol problems in adolescence and adulthood.

December 2, 2022

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