As the UK went into lockdown, the need to save lives from the coronavirus rightly took priority over longer-term health issues.
But experts writing in the BMJ warn that “if we don’t prepare for emerging from the pandemic, we will see the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation.”
In the week to 21 March 2020, alcohol sales were up 67 per cent as many people reacted to the closure of pubs and restaurants by stocking up to drink at home in isolation, write Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, and Baroness Ilora Finlay, Chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harms. In comparison, overall supermarket sales only increased by 43 per cent.
Just before the pandemic hit the UK, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK started a Commission on Alcohol Harm, aimed at highlighting the damage to individuals, families and communities.
Gilmore and Finlay also point out that alcohol is strongly associated with domestic violence, and an early feature in lockdown was a rise in calls to domestic violence charities.
While the relationship between alcohol and domestic violence is complex, they say, research finds that as many as 73 per cent of perpetrators of domestic abuse have been drinking at the time of the assault.
“As in so many aspects of the coronavirus epidemic, it will be only in hindsight that we will be able to measure the impact of social isolation, job losses, and financial meltdown on the alcohol balance sheet,” they say.
“We cannot claim to be a nation recovering from covid-19 if we do not adequately support the most vulnerable among us,” they argue. “Tackling alcohol harms is an integral part of the nation’s recovery.”