Estimating the long-term health impacts of changes in alcohol consumption in England during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alcohol consumption patterns in England changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between one-fifth and one-third of adults increased their alcohol consumption, with a similar proportion drinking less. There was a 20% increase in alcohol-specific deaths in England in 2020 compared with 2019, and this trend persisted through 2021. Alcohol harm includes disease morbidity and mortality, healthcare costs, and wider social consequences. This study aimed to quantify future health, healthcare and economic impacts of changes in alcohol consumption observed during the COVID-19 pandemic using the well-validated HealthLumen microsimulation model.

Three alcohol consumption scenarios were looked at, and in all three the model projected a significant increase in the incident cases of disease, mortality, and healthcare costs. If consumption does not return to 2019 levels or lower, the modelling shows that England could see an additional 147,892 cases and 9,914 additional premature deaths from nine alcohol-related diseases, costing the NHS £1.2bn.

The report concludes that a comprehensive alcohol strategy is needed to harmonise policies across the UK, with a coherent set of evidence-based policies: increased resources for alcohol treatment and support; price interventions through the new alcohol duty system; the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England; adding public health as an objective of the licensing system for alcohol outlets; and improving alcohol marketing regulation, to reduce the reach and appeal of marketing to those vulnerable.

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View Policy Report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies
View editorial in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine