Increase in alcohol misuse could overwhelm services

Increase in alcohol misuse could overwhelm services

 · 4 min read
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The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that addiction services may struggle to cope with the number of people who are misusing alcohol and seeking addiction help.

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The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that addiction services may struggle to cope with the number of people who are misusing alcohol and seeking addiction help.

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The college has estimated the number of people in the UK drinking at higher-risk levels had increased from 4.8 million in February of this year to 8.4 million in June.

Last year, there was great concern surrounding the high-risk levels of drinking in the over 50s age group. According to a national survey conducted in June 2019, over 4 million over 50s said they thought they should cut back on how much alcohol they drink.

The National Survey showed that the over 50s age group was the only group where the rate of alcohol consumption did not decline. The data also showed that the younger groups were drinking less.

However, lockdown has seen a significant increase across the board. There are many cases of people who have resorted to alcohol to suppress feelings of anxiety and loneliness, even sometimes boredom.

The College, referring to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System statistics, reported that 3,459 new adult cases in April - up 20% from 2,947 in the same month the previous year.

There are national guidelines for what constitutes low-risk drinking. The UK government and the NHS recommend people drink no more than 14 units of alcohol (equivalent to six large glasses of wine or six pints of beer) a week, spreading consumption over three days or more.

The NHS has also reported that people who suffer from alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop more severe health complications if they catch COVID-19.

As the rate in alcohol consumption has increased, more and more people are seeking addiction help. This is an issue as, over lockdown, addiction services had been stretched to beyond a capacity they can cope with.

Prof Julia Sinclair, chair of the college's addictions faculty, said, "Covid-19 has shown just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness.

"There are now only five NHS inpatient units in the country, and no resource anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with co-existing mental illness.

"Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before Covid-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially."

There have also been massive financial cuts to addiction services across the UK, meaning that facilities are insufficient for the new spike in substance addiction. Because of this, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is asking the government to invest millions more in addiction services.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care told the BBC that they "have increased their funding this year, providing over £3.2 billion to spend on public health services like addiction.”

We also spoke to Sally Benton, an Executive Director at addiction charity The Forward Trust, who told Health Times: “The last few years have been indescribably tough for people, and many have turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Forward’s specially commissioned YouGov polls over the course of the pandemic found that as many as 20% of UK adults may be drinking more after three lockdowns - a rise of nearly 30% from the results of a similar survey done in 2020.

"All this at a time when access to treatment is diminishing. But help is out there. That’s why it’s important for people affected by any form of addiction – either their own or someone else’s – to find someone to talk to. Our message to anyone who is suffering in silence is that you’re not alone: addiction is an illness, it can be treated and you and your family can and deserve to be supported.

"For anyone who wants to talk in confidence, our Reach Out live-chat service (at is one way to do this. It provides free, confidential advice on a range of issues, including drug or alcohol worries and mental health. And if we don’t have the answers to all of your questions, we will be able to signpost you to somebody who will.”

Zara Tunnicliffe
Zara Tunnicliffe
Zara joined Age Group in 2020 and is an expert in all things food and drink, travel and lifestyle.
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