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The research, based on Office of National Statistics data, shows the number of people who died directly due to the effects of alcohol, including liver disease, soared to 9,641 in 2021 from 7,565 in 2019.
Oxford University scientists Professor Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson, who carried out the analysis, linked the rise to lockdowns and a reduction in health servives for non-Covid illnesses.
They fear the upward trend will continue, Professor Heneghan said: “Sometimes it is hard to disentangle the effects of Covid from the effects of lockdown measures.”
“In this case it is clear. These are deaths wholly attributable to alcohol, which means that at least 27.4 percent more of our fellow citizens drank themselves to death thanks to the imposition of curtailment of individual freedom.”
“Males die more frequently – twice that of females. Mental disorders and accidental poisoning events were present but played a small part in adding to the tally. Most of the deaths will have been habitual heavy drinkers who found refuge by increasing their daily intake.”
Dr Tom Jefferson, senior associate tutor at the University of Oxford added: “No other explanation is possible for the speed of such an increase because alcoholic disease is the result of years of abuse and an abnormal lifestyle.”
“Alcohol-related liver cirrhosis does not develop overnight – it typically develops after heavy drinking for ten or more years. Many of these people were on the tipping point of alcohol-related illness and with alcohol dependency services being shut and GP services being cut it meant people didn’t get the help they needed. Many were also vulnerable and living alone and it is likely their drinking habit was exacerbated by the loneliness of lockdowns. The figures reflect a change in drinking behaviours with many people drinking more. This is just the beginning. The party is over, the hangover will last a very long time. This is another documented consequence of the social and democratic catastrophe of lockdowns.”
He added: “We now need to ensure all those with alcohol dependency are supported. We also need to ensure we do not introduce restrictions and lockdowns that only focus on one disease as was the case with covid because it means devastating consequences for other major healthcare problems as we are now seeing.”
The scientists say the figures are likely to underestimate the problem as they do not include deaths where alcohol may have contributed to the cause, such as long term conditions including cancer or heart disease because the ONS data refers to only deaths which were “a direct consequence of alcohol.”
The ONS report shows as of March 2022, “increasing and higher risk drinking” remained at heightened levels and issued a stark warning that the consequences of increased exposure to alcohol and lifestyle changes during lockdowns will take time to manifest themselves fully.
It states: “Alcohol-specific deaths have risen sharply since the onset of the covid pandemic, with alcoholic liver disease the leading cause of these deaths. Research has suggested people who were already drinking at higher levels before the pandemic were the most likely to have increased their alcohol consumption during this period.
“If these consumption patterns persist there could be hundreds of thousands of additional cases of alcohol-related diseases and thousands of extra deaths as a result.”
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