A leading charity has described new figures showing a record number of deaths caused by alcohol in the UK last year as "absolutely devastating".
There were 9,641 deaths in the UK in 2021, compared to 7,565 in 2019 - a 27% increase, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Experts say the rise is partly due to people turning to drink due to the stress and isolation of Covid lockdowns, with those who were concerned about their consumption often finding it difficult to access support services.
The 2021 figures are alcohol-specific deaths, which are those as a a direct result of alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease, and make up around a third of all deaths linked to alcohol.
Between 2012 and 2019, rates of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK had remained stable, so charities have reacted with alarm to the recent increase in deaths from excessive drinking.
"These statistics are absolutely devastating, each number masking an individual family tragedy," Karen Tyrell, CEO of Drinkaware, which is urging for a co-ordinated UK-wide alcohol strategy, said on Thursday.
“It is unacceptable that in one of the richest countries in the world, the rate of alcohol related deaths were four times higher among men in the poorest areas compared to the most affluent. “We also know that the heaviest drinkers drank more during the pandemic, and warning signs were missed as people saw each other less and were less able to access support. This created a perfect storm and we are now seeing the consequences."
In 2021, UK rates of alcohol-specific deaths per 100,000 people by nation:
22.4 in Scotland
19.3 in Northern Ireland
15 in Wales
13.9 in England
Data has suggested periods of lockdown coincided with a slight rise in the proportion of people drinking a high number of units of alcohol each week.
The ONS says people who were already drinking a lot of alcohol before the pandemic drank more during the Covid years.
The rate of alcohol-specific deaths for males in 2021 remained around double the rate for females - 20.1 and 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively.
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GPs have described seeing the age at which people in the UK present with long-term complications from excessive drinking decreasing over recent years.
"I have seen the average age of long-term complications from unhealthy alcohol consumption decrease so much that we are seeing cases of end-stage liver failure and cirrhosis in people in their 40s rather than 70s," Dr Suhail Hussain, a GP in Hertfordshire and the Greater London area, said.
"This problem has been exacerbated in the past two years by enforced lockdowns, isolation and loss of regular routines. When people are not required to go into the office, their routine is disrupted."
"I have encountered patients who used to drink a glass or two of wine after work starting their drinking earlier in the day and consuming more. Also, the closure of schools and the need for parents to home-school exacerbated the problem."
GPs have also warned how the recession and rising cost of living pressures are also now contributing to a rise in deaths from alcohol.
Here are some links to charities for those struggling with their drinking habits
Drinkaware offers independent alcohol advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking. Their website can be found here and can be reached on 0300 123 1110.
Alcoholics Anonymous connects people struggling with their drinking behaviour and facilitates meetings where people share stories and find ways to stop. Their email helpline is email@example.com and can be reached on 0800 9177 650.
Alcohol Change UK offers information and support options for people worried about how much alcohol they are drinking, in both English and Welsh. Their website can be found here.