A new study has indicated that changes in people’s drinking patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to lead to thousands of additional cases of diseases, including cancer.
The research, which was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and carried out by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, shows that if alcohol consumption levels do not return to pre-pandemic levels, England could see an extra 147,892 cases of disease as well as an additional 9,914 premature deaths by 2035.
The predicted increases in premature deaths were larger among the less affluent areas of society, further exacerbating health inequalities.
The study modelled three different scenarios – it investigated health outcomes if the nation’s drinking habits reverted to 2019 levels either immediately, after a delay, or if the current rate of consumption became permanent.
Future harm from nine alcohol-related diseases were predicted by the models, including liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure, stroke, and six forms of cancer (breast, bowel, liver, mouth, oesophageal and throat cancer).
Joint lead on the study, Dr Sadie Boniface, said: “Much of the health harm from alcohol is from chronic diseases which take years to develop. Our results shed light on the long-term impacts of recent changes in drinking patterns.
“These increases in alcohol harm, lives lost, and costs to the NHS projected in our study are not inevitable. Deaths from alcohol are at record levels, and this research should act as a ‘wake-up call’ to take alcohol harm seriously as part of recovery planning from the pandemic.”
If the nation continues to drink at the same rate, the report estimated that the aforementioned cases of diseases would lead to £1.2bn of additional costs to the NHS.
The researchers warn that, given the study only focuses on a small number of the 200 alcohol-related diseases, the true scale of the changes are likely to be far worse. The report’s results are consistent with actual increases in alcohol liver disease and alcohol-related deaths that have occurred since the start of the pandemic.
The report recommends that England implements minimum unit pricing, increases funding and resources for alcohol treatment, as well as capitalising on the alcohol duty reform by increasing it with inflation every year.
More information on the study is available here.