Addiction services in England may have difficulty coping with “dizzying” numbers of people who abuse alcohol, warns the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Many adults have been drinking more since the coronavirus pandemic began, the data show.
The college estimates that more than 8.4 million people in England were drinking at higher risk levels in June, compared to 4.8 million in February.
He says deep cuts in addiction services could mean patients will lose life-saving care.
- “Fights the harmful use of alcohol”
Rising high-risk alcohol use comes at a time when more opioid addicts seek help from addiction services, the college says, referring to statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System showing 3,459 new adult cases in April – up 20% from 2,947 in the same month of the previous year.
- Check how much you are drinking
The guidelines advise people to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol (equivalent to six large glasses of wine or six pints of beer) per week, spreading consumption over three days or more.
Drinking too much can damage the liver and increase the risk of other health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
People with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop serious complications if they catch Covid-19.
The college is asking the government to invest millions more in addiction services.
Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the college’s addiction faculty, said: “Covid-19 has shown how under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to deal with the growing number of vulnerable people living with this complex disease.
“There are now only five NHS hospital wards in the country and no resources anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol addicted with coexisting mental illness.
“Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at an all-time high before Covid-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly, we will see these numbers increase exponentially.”
Laura Bunt of the We Are With You Drug, Alcohol and Mental Health Charity said, “Social isolation and a lack of human connection are a major factor behind why some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, so clearly the pandemic continues to be really difficult for many people.
“When you consider that the UK had some of the highest levels of alcohol-related harm in Europe even before the March blockade, the need for government action is now clear.”
If you are worried about addiction, BBC Action Line has help and support.