‘Pandemic drinking’ is still set to cause thousands of deaths – but what can be done to stop them?

·3-min read

Whether it feels a million light years away, or like it only happened yesterday, the peak of the pandemic (and its various lockdowns) is still having a major impact on our drinking habits, with new research suggesting - in the 'worst-case scenario' - that over the next 20 years, up to 25,192 additional alcohol-related deaths could occur, along with almost 1 million hospital admissions. All of which would costing the NHS around £5.2 billion.

It seems that as a nation, everyone's alcohol consumption changed, but in different ways. The stats suggest that many who were light to moderate drinkers in the first place (before all the awfulness of Covid-19 hit) largely cut back on their alcohol intake, whereas those who were heavier drinkers upped the amount they boozed – and may never be able to drop back to their original levels.

More specifically, the researchers from the University of Sheffield and Institute of Alcohol Studies/HealthLumen uncovered that 25 to 34-year-olds who drank at 'risky' levels pre-pandemic were the most likely to increase their drinking thereafter, and whilst alcohol-related deaths are more prevalent amongst men (something that was the case pre-pandemic too), women are now seeing a bigger percentage increase in hospital admissions.

As well as examining the 'worst-case scenario', the researchers theorised about other alternative outcomes and found that in the 'best-case scenario' (in which people resumed their 2019 levels of drinking this year) an extra 42,677 hospital admissions and 1,830 deaths would still occur over the next two decades.

So, what can we do to achieve a best-case scenario outcome?

Photo credit: opolja - Getty Images
Photo credit: opolja - Getty Images

IAS head of research Dr Sadie Boniface said: "The pandemic has been bad for alcohol harm: deaths from alcohol have reached record levels, and inequalities have widened.

"The increases in alcohol harm, lives lost, and costs to the NHS projected in our study are not inevitable. We lack an alcohol strategy and progress on alcohol harm has been limited in recent years in England. This research should act as a 'wake-up call' to take alcohol harm seriously as part of recovery planning from the pandemic."

If you're worried about the rate at which you're drinking, or are conscious that during the pandemic you upped your 5pm gin consumption and it hasn't dropped back down, it could be time to impose a booze-free break on yourself (perhaps start with 3 months and see how you go) and take a look at a Club Soda's 'Mindful Drinking' course.

Keeping a journal and taking real time out to examine a) why you drink b) how it impacts on your life, work and relationships and c) whether it still serves you in a positive way (and if not, what changes can you make?) is also an excellent and worthwhile thing to try.

You might also want to look into supportive sober groups, such as the Sober Girl Society, who run booze-free meet-ups – which are a great opportunity to connect with others who want to a pursue a life free of alcohol, or at the very least a life where alcohol isn't a problem or driving force.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that your journey with alcohol consumption is a personal one and it will rarely run in a straight line, but that the first step to changing how you drink is by doing exactly that: making some kind of change.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any concerns you may have regarding your alcohol consumption.

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