LONDON (Reuters) - The United Kingdom saw a record rise in the number of deaths caused by alcohol misuse last year, which public health officials said was linked to the wider social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some 8,974 people died of alcohol-specific causes in 2020, 18.6% more than in 2019 and the largest increase since records began in 2001, Britain's Office for National Statistics said.
Previous data from health authorities in England had shown a 21% rise in deaths from alcoholic liver disease last year, when COVID-19 lockdowns closed pubs but led to many heavy drinkers consuming more alcohol at home.
Between 2012 and 2019, alcohol death rates in the United Kingdom had been stable, the ONS said.
"The fact that mortality rates from key causes of death related to alcohol increased in 2020 suggests that an increase in alcohol harm was a wider impact of the pandemic," a public-sector body, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, said.
Pinpointing the exact factors which drove the increase in deaths would take time, the ONS said.
The total volume of alcohol sold in Britain in 2020 fell slightly. But a survey in March 2021 showed a rise in the number of people who admitted drinking what health officials consider dangerous amounts - equivalent to five bottles of wine a week for men, or three and a half for women.
In line with previous years, men were more than twice as likely as women to die of alcohol-specific causes.
Liver disease was the biggest cause of alcohol-specific deaths, accounting for 78% of fatalities, followed by mental and behavioural disorders at 12% and 'external causes' such as accidental poisoning at 6%.
Death rates in both Scotland and Northern Ireland were around 50% higher than in England or Wales.
(Reporting by David Milliken, Editing by Paul Sandle)