Intended for healthcare professionals


Alcohol deaths rise sharply in England and Wales

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 05 March 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n607
  1. John Holmes, professor of alcohol policy,
  2. Colin Angus, senior research fellow
  1. School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  1. Correspondence to: J Holmes john.holmes{at}

A spike is concerning but we mustn’t lose sight of longer term trends across the UK

Provisional data for England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a sharp increase in deaths from alcohol specific causes between April and September 2020.1 The figures add to concerns that the wider health and wellbeing consequences of the covid-19 pandemic include an increase in alcohol related harm, although the reasons behind this rise are unclear.

News media have highlighted large increases in alcohol sales in the UK during the pandemic, but these typically relate only to shop bought alcohol and do not account for similarly large reductions in drinking in pubs and restaurants.2 Analyses that include all alcohol sales suggest smaller changes. For example, an analysis of alcohol sales data for Great Britain estimated alcohol consumption fell by 6% both in Scotland and in England and Wales between March and July 2020.3

Small changes in consumption at the population level may, however, mask large increases in higher risk groups. Surveys consistently find that 15-30% …

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