Two new studies from the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Alcohol Studies/HealthLumen show the impact of pandemic-related changes in alcohol consumption on health outcomes
- Two new studies from the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Alcohol Studies/HealthLumen show the impact of pandemic-related changes in alcohol consumption on health outcomes
- Light drinkers have decreased their consumption on average during the pandemic, but heavy drinkers have increased their alcohol consumption
- Both studies estimate a substantial increase in alcohol-related harm and strain on the NHS, even if drinking patterns were to revert to pre-pandemic patterns from 2022
- If the increase in drinking by heavy drinkers persists over the longer term, the situation is considerably worse, with both studies estimating hundreds of thousands more cases of alcohol-related disease and thousands more deaths as a result.
- Both studies find that rising alcohol harm disproportionately affects the less affluent in society, further widening inequalities
Changes in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to lead to thousands more cases of illness, premature deaths and hospital admissions, costing the NHS billions.
Moderate drinkers consumed less alcohol during the pandemic, while heavy drinkers consumed more.
Two separate modeling studies, both published today (July 26, 2022), examined these changes in alcohol consumption during the pandemic and modeled the long-term health impacts of several different scenarios on how these changes may develop in the future.
The report commissioned by the NHS from the University of Sheffield looked at how alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths are likely to rise over a longer period of 20 years. The study found that with their worst-case scenario there would be 972,382 additional hospital admissions and 25,192 additional deaths, at a cost of £5.2billion.
In their NIHR-funded research, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and non-communicable disease modeling specialists HealthLumen looked at alcohol-related illnesses, deaths and additional NHS costs. If alcohol consumption doesn’t return to pre-pandemic patterns, they projected that by 2035 there will be 147,892 more cases of nine alcohol-related diseases – such as cirrhosis of the liver and cancer of the breast – and 9,914 additional premature deaths, costing the NHS £1.2billion. .
Colin Angus, lead researcher who led the study from the University of Sheffield, said: “Even in our best-case scenario, where drinking behavior returns to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, we estimate 42,677 additional alcohol-attributable hospitalizations and 1,830 deaths over 20 years.
“These figures underscore that the impact of the pandemic on our drinking behavior is likely to cast a shadow over our health and paint a worrying picture at a time when NHS services are already under enormous pressure due to backlogs. treatment.”
IAS Director of Research Dr Sadie Boniface said“The pandemic has been bad for alcohol: alcohol-related deaths have reached record levels and inequalities have widened. Our results anticipate the longer-term health impacts of recent changes in drinking habits.
“The increase in alcohol harms, lives lost and costs to the NHS projected in our study are not inevitable. We do not have an alcohol strategy and the progress on alcohol harms alcohol have been restricted in recent years in England.This research should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to take alcohol-related harm seriously in post-pandemic recovery planning.
The researchers warn that, as the two reports provide insight into a small number of the 200 alcohol-related diseases, the true impact is likely to be much greater. They point out that the findings are consistent with the actual increases in alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-specific deaths that have occurred since the start of the pandemic.
The studies also point out that the impacts are not evenly distributed across the population, with heavy drinkers and those in the most deprived areas – who already suffer the highest rates of alcohol harm – expected to be disproportionately affected. With the government’s impending white paper on health disparities, the IAS says it must include policies to reduce the harms of alcohol if it is to hope to tackle growing health inequalities that are exacerbated by the pandemic.