Dangerous drinking levels may have reached the point of no return among boozers who upped their intake during the pandemic.
Research commissioned by the NHS predicts that heavy lockdown drinking could mean an extra 25,000 alcohol related deaths and as many as one million more hospital admissions over the next 20 years.
According to researchers, heavier drinkers in the 25 to 34 age bracket, were amongst the most likely to have hit the bottle and may never return to pre-covid consumption rates.
The research by the University of Sheffield and the Institute for Alcohol Studies indicated that failing to stem the tide will lead to a surge in liver, heart, digestive diseases and cancer costing the NHS an extra £5.2bn.
Although those who enjoy a moderate tipple did cut back, habitual drinkers downed more, the studies show.
Even if consumption dropped back to 2019 proportions, researchers say there would be 1,830 more deaths from alcohol and an extra 42,677 hospital admissions in two decades.
Colin Angus, a senior research fellow who led the University of Sheffield study, told the media: “These figures highlight that the pandemic’s impact on our drinking behaviour is likely to cast a long shadow on our health, and paint a worrying picture at a time when NHS services are already under huge pressure due to treatment backlogs.”
Academics pointed out the highest casualties would be the hardest drinkers in the most deprived areas and say that, while men were more likely to suffer and die, there was a proportionally bigger increase in women at high risk.
Dr Sadie Boniface, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, told reporters that the figures show that tackling alcohol-related harm should be taken seriously in recovery planning from the pandemic.