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Spike in alcohol deaths during pandemic in Yorkshire and rest of UK, ONS figures show

by Ella Bicknell

More people died from alcohol-specific causes in 2020 than any other year since records began, a new report from the Office for National Statistics shows.

The ONS data showed an 18.6% increase in alcohol deaths, the highest year-on-year increase since records began.

8,974 died from alcohol-specific causes in 2020 making deaths from alcohol 86% higher than they were in 2001.

800 people died from Yorkshire, a 10% rise in the yearly rate from 2019, making the region the 4th most affected, behind the North East, North West and the West Midlands.

Over three-quarters of alcohol-related deaths resulted from liver disease, with men making up two-thirds of victims.

Forward Leeds is a free and confidential alcohol support service that operates across the city.

Emma May, focus intervention lead practitioner at Forward Leeds, told Yorkshire Voice: “The pandemic had a massive impact on why people were drinking more.”

May said that demand for the service increased because many key workers turned to alcohol to deal with stress whereas many furlough workers increased their drinking consumption out of boredom.

A 2021 House of Commons study showed that 22% of people in Yorkshire drank over the recommended limit of 14 units a week and 64,056 people in the region are alcohol dependent.

“We will see anyone who feels they have an issue with drinking and it doesn’t have to be dependent users. We’ll see people who are occasional binge drinkers or anyone who might feel it’s getting a bit out of hand,” she said.

The service offers one-to-one counselling, medical detoxes, rehabilitation support after hospital and weekly support groups.

“It’s powerful to be sat with people to know what it’s like and what it is like to stop so we offer lots of groups and those groups seem to really work well for people,” said May.

The NHS dealt with 347,761 individual alcohol-related cases in 2019, making up 2% of pre-pandemic hospital admissions.

Rachel Jenkinson, landlady at the Bridge Inn in Horsforth, said: “The news is not necessarily surprising” in the year when pubs were shut, and patrons were drinking at home instead.

She said: “People are left to their own devices when they drink at home, so they don’t police what they are doing.

“As a pub, you have a duty to care for people so if people are too drunk or getting that way, it’s our responsibility to stop them from having another drink and get friends or a taxi to get them home.”

Lyndsey Acaster, owner of the Old King’s Arms in Horsforth thought that the atmosphere of the pub can help prevent overconsumption.

“We are definitely not just a boozer, but we run all sorts of things from fundraising events, life drawing classes, children’s days to family quizzes,” Acaster said.

“We are not the kind of venue that encourages people to get merry but one that tries to get people to socialise with the local community and get involved,” she said.

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