Alcohol consumption

Health impact of drinking alcohol during Covid among worst in North East

The North East could be among the regions most affected by premature deaths and illnesses due to higher alcohol consumption during the Covid pandemic, according to a new report.

New modeling research funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) shows that the pandemic has seen heavy drinkers consume more alcohol, with 47% of adults now drinking at increasing levels of risk and higher in the region.

If consumption does not return to 2019 levels or less, England could see 147,892 more cases of nine alcohol-related illnesses and 9,914 more premature deaths, costing the NHS £1.2billion.

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Three scenarios were modeled between 2022 and 2035 by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and chronic disease modeling specialists HealthLumen, to project how recent changes in alcohol consumption may impact harm to the health of nine alcohol-related diseases – high blood pressure, stroke, liver cirrhosis and six forms of cancer.

Projected increases in premature deaths were greatest among the less well-off in society, further widening the inequalities, which are already ravaging the North East.

The researchers warn that while the report provides insight into a small number of the 200 alcohol-related illnesses, the true impact is likely to be far greater.

They point out that the findings are consistent with the actual increases in alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-specific deaths that have already occurred since the start of the pandemic.

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Study co-lead Dr Sadie Boniface, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: ‘Much of the health damage caused by alcohol comes from chronic diseases that take years to develop. Our results shed light on the long-term impacts of recent changes in consumer habits.

“These increases in alcohol harm, lives lost and costs to the NHS projected in our study are not inevitable.

“Alcohol-related deaths are at record highs, and this research should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to take alcohol-related harm seriously in post-pandemic recovery planning.”

Sue Taylor, Alcohol Policy Manager for Balance, the North East Alcohol Bureau

Sue Taylor, head of alcohol policy for Balance, the North East Alcohol Bureau, said: “The findings from these reports paint an extremely disturbing picture of drinking patterns during the pandemic and highlight demonstrates an urgent need for action.

“The UK was already at a crisis point with alcohol before Covid, but it is clear that the pandemic has amplified the harm from alcohol, with millions more drinking at risky levels, accumulating enormous problems in terms of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths in the future.

“We know the North East is suffering disproportionately and with almost half the population drinking at increasing and higher levels of risk and higher deaths from alcoholic liver disease than ever before, we don’t we can no longer afford to ignore this problem.

“Alcohol is too cheap, too available and too heavily promoted. We need the government to take evidence-based action now, before millions more suffer.”

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