Published: 18th August 2021
In a recent national poll, of which findings were published in July, the Forward Trust revealed that there was not only an increase in the levels of problem drinking during the pandemic but also an increase in those relapsing from addiction recovery.  In this blog, we look at the effect increased alcohol consumption and drug use has had during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this is also affecting those in recovery.
Problems Associated with Increased Drinking
Based on data from a survey conducted by YouGov, the Forward Trust report reiterates concerns made by medical professionals around the number of those seeking addiction support services, which has increased as national lockdowns ended. The increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely reported in recent months; this latest data exposes the wider problems associated with increased drinking. Of the respondents who said they were drinking more, 17% indicated that they were experiencing problems as a result of their increased drinking, relating to work, sleep, money, relationships and also physical withdrawal symptoms. Of this group, over a third experiencing these problems said they would find it difficult to resolve. This statistic represents a 30% increase from the year earlier. 
Increase in Addiction Recovery Relapses
The results of this poll also indicate that 37% of people surveyed, who identified as being in recovery from addiction prior to the national lockdowns have experienced a relapse or a re-occurrence of their addictive behaviour since lockdowns began.  The poll also acknowledges the impact on families of those with an addiction, with 39% of family members completing the poll with a family member in recovery prior to lockdown reporting that their loved ones have experienced a relapse or a re-occurrence of their addictive behaviour since lockdowns began – up 26% on the previous year. 
Surge in Drug and Alcohol-related Deaths
Data from Public Health England (PHE) suggests that consumption of alcohol at home during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a 20% increase in deaths from diseases caused by drinking in 2020.  In England, sales of alcohol by volume, such as those bought at supermarkets increased by 25% between 2019 and 2020. Deaths from alcohol poisoning increased by 15.4% compared to a decrease of 4.5% between 2018 and 2019. 
The PHE report ‘Monitoring Alcohol Consumption and Harm During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ states the increase in alcohol specific deaths was attributed to an increase in deaths from alcoholic liver disease. Deaths from alcoholic liver disease made up 80.3% of total alcohol specific deaths in 2020, an increase of 20.8% between 2019 and 2020. Data within the report also revealed that, when compared against previous years, there was a clear acceleration in deaths from alcohol liver disease during the year of the pandemic.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, there was a 58.6% increase in the proportion of those surveyed drinking at increasing risk and higher risk levels.  This data demonstrates a change in alcohol consumption from when the COVID-19 pandemic began, where prevalence of increasing risk and higher risk drinking not only increased, but then continued to be higher than in previous years throughout the year of the pandemic.
Deaths from drug poisoning in England and Wales have also reached a record high, with the number of people dying in relation to cocaine and opiates use on the rise, recent data has shown. This latest data revealed that 4,561 people died of drug poisoning in 2020, an increase of 3.8% on the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1993. 
When restrictions were in place, and the availability of alcohol moved from predominantly on-trade premises such as public houses, bars and restaurants to a home setting, the dynamic of alcohol consumption changed. Add to this, reduced access to addiction and recovery support services due to lockdown restrictions and you have an alarming recipe.
In a recent survey of 8,000 people, looking into chronic health problems within the UK population, conducted by University College London (UCL) and published in the journal BMC Public Health; it was revealed that the most commonly recorded health problem was high-risk drinking at 26%.  With an increase in both drug and alcohol-related deaths linked in part to the impact of the pandemic, as we re-emerge and transition to a more normal existence, problems relating to drug and alcohol misuse will take further time to assess.
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