Almost 10,000 people a year are dying from alcohol-related causes, in the wake of lockdown.
New figures show such deaths have risen by 28 per cent since 2019, reaching a new high.
Experts said the figures should ring “alarm bells” showing that trends which began when people were told to stay home showed no sign of changing.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show 9,641 alcohol-specific deaths in the UK last year.
Almost four in five were caused by liver disease, with the remainder attributed to mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol, and accidental poisoning.
‘A national tragedy’
Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “It is a national tragedy that the number of deaths caused by alcohol has increased once again across the UK, with every life lost leaving behind a devastating impact on families, friends, and communities.
“Covid-19 saw the number of alcohol deaths increase sharply across the UK, and the continuation of this upward trend in today’s figures should raise alarm bells in Westminster.”
The North East saw the highest rate of any English region (20.4 deaths per 100,000) for the eighth consecutive year.
Research suggests that changes in drinking patterns during the pandemic could mean nearly 10,000 more premature deaths by 2035 if drinking does not return to pre-pandemic levels.
Prof Gilmore said: “It is all too clear that we are amidst a public health crisis, and urgent action is needed to address these levels of harm.”
Duties on alcohol
The AHA, a coalition of more than 60 medical royal colleges, charities and other organisations, is calling for changes, including extra duties on alcohol.
Dr Katherine Severi, chief executive, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said the trends were “extremely concerning”.
She said: “Action must be taken to curb this intolerable trend, which disproportionately affects the less well-off in society.
“Evidence from home and abroad shows fiscal measures are the most effective tools to tackle alcohol harm and reduce inequalities. The UK Government has committed to reforming alcohol duty to better protect public health and today’s data add urgency to these plans.
“Despite opposition from commercial interests, we can’t afford to delay or dilute policies that help save lives.”
‘Warning signs were missed during lockdown’
Karen Tyrell, chief executive of Drinkaware, a charity funded by the drinks industry, said: “These statistics are absolutely devastating, each number masking an individual family tragedy.
“It is unacceptable that in one of the richest countries in the world, the rate of alcohol-related deaths was four times higher among men in the poorest areas compared to the most affluent.
“We also know that the heaviest drinkers drank more during the pandemic, and warning signs were missed as people saw each other less and were less able to access support. This created a perfect storm and we are now seeing the consequences.”
The charity is calling for a new UK wide alcohol strategy.