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Shift in drinking patterns could lead to 150,000 more cases of disease in England

Published on 26/07/22 at 09:42am

New modelling research carried out by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and Health Lumen, has found that if alcohol consumption does not return to the levels of 2019 or lower, England could see an extra 147,892 cases of disease, and an additional 9,914 premature deaths by 2035.

The research was funded by the NIHR’s Policy Research Programme, and found that changes in people’s drinking patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to lead to thousands of extra cases of disease, including cancer and stroke.

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.”

During the pandemic there has been an increase in the number of higher risk drinkers in England. The heaviest drinkers have increased their alcohol consumption the most, the NIHR reported, bringing a risk of more alcohol-related health problems.

The research modelled three different scenarios, looking at health outcomes if changes in drinking habits returned to pre-pandemic levels either imminently, after a delay, or if these new patterns became permanent. The models predicted future harm from nine alcohol-related diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, liver cirrhosis, and six forms of cancer associated with high alcohol consumption.

In the most extreme scenario, the harms could lead to £1.2 billion in additional costs to the NHS. The projected increases in premature deaths were larger among those less well-off, further widening health inequalities.

Ana Ovey

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