England and Wales saw 5,460 deaths related to alcohol abuse in the first three quarters of 2020, which is a 16.4% increase over the same period in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Alcohol-related deaths from January to March slightly increased over previous years, but they skyrocketed from April to September amid the spread of coronavirus and lockdowns meant to mitigate it.
"Data shows that in the first three quarters of 2020, alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales reached the highest level since the beginning of our data series, with April to September, during and after the first lockdown, seeing higher rates compared to the same period in previous years," Ben Humberstone, deputy director of Health Analysis and Life Events at the ONS, said this week.
"The reasons for this are complex and it will take time before the impact the pandemic has had on alcohol-specific deaths is fully understood."
In the United States, alcohol sales increased 54% at the beginning of the pandemic when lockdowns first went into effect, according to an April study in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
People not only appear to be drinking more to deal with the stress of lockdowns, but alcohol also suppresses people's immune systems, potentially leading to more severe COVID-19 cases.
"Alcohol misuse both activates the immune system, causing inflammation, and interferes with the body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections," the director of the National Insstitute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wrote.
"Ultimately, impaired immune system function and an increased susceptibility to respiratory illness could contribute to more severe COVID-19 and greater risk of mortality."