expert reaction to ONS figures for quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales

expert reaction to ONS figures for quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released data on quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales: 2001 to 2019 registrations and Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020 provisional registrations.


Dr Sadie Boniface, Head of Research, Institute of Alcohol Studies and Visiting Researcher, King’s College London, said:

“ONS has today released provisional alcohol-specific deaths data for England and Wales for all of 2020. This is an update to data released in February this year, which covered Jan to Sept 2020. These are official figures that are published routinely by the Office for National Statistics.

“It is alarming to see a 19.6% increase in alcohol specific deaths in a single year, on the back of two decades of no progress on this measure of alcohol harm.

“ONS report the increase coincides with the beginning of the pandemic.

“Because of the way alcohol-specific deaths are defined, most of these deaths were as a result of chronic health conditions caused by longer term higher risk or dependent drinking. Around 4 in every 5 alcohol-specific deaths is from alcoholic liver disease.

“This means the increase is not explained by people who previously drank at lower risk levels increasing their consumption during the pandemic. There have been substantial changes to drinking patterns during the pandemic, but the health consequences of these for individuals and at a population level largely remain to be seen.

“Reasons behind the increase in 2020 urgently need to be better understood. They are likely to include further increases in consumption among people who were already drinking at higher risk or dependent levels for some time, but also around access to health care. For example, liver disease often presents as an emergency, but people may have been frightened to go to A&E because of the virus. Last year there was a reduction in emergency presentations and admissions across the board, and addiction treatment data also showed fewer new clients starting treatment last summer. 

“These deaths were not inevitable, but sadly one of many indirect consequences of the pandemic, which need to be considered carefully in recovery planning.

“Last week in parliament the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said ‘nothing is off the table’ regarding a strategy to address alcohol harm. Now more than ever, effective policies are needed across the whole of the UK to increase prices, reduce availability, and control marketing, such as those called for by the Alcohol Health Alliance and recommended by the World Health Organization.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Dr Sadie Boniface:  I work at the Institute of Alcohol Studies which receives funding from the Alliance House Foundation.

None others received.