In February 10.8 per cent of the English population engaged in what is classified by the standard alcohol use survey as higher risk drinking. By April this figure had rocketed up to 19.4 per cent and remained at 19 per cent in June.
This equates to about 8.4m people, up from about 4.8m people before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The Royal College said the government must increase the money available to pay for alcoholism treatment given the dramatic surge in problem drinking.
“Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk,” said Adrian James, the president of the College.
"More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the spending review.”
The NHS recommends people do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a single week, equivalent to seven pints of beer or nine small glasses of wine.
On top of the rise in drinking during coronavirus, there has also been a spike in people seeking help for addiction to opiates.
Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System shows new cases logged in April were a fifth higher than at the same time last year, and at their highest rate since 2015.
“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,” said Julia Sinclair, chair of the college’s addictions faculty.
"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."
This call was echoed by Andrew Molodynski, who leads the British Medical Association’s work on mental health.
He said the figures on addiction were “alarming [but] unfortunately not surprising” given the impact the lockdown had had on isolation and unemployment. He urged the government to restore funding for local mental health care which had been cut.
“Specific funding must be allocated to local authorities who have sustained years of cuts, to enable them to substantially increase spending on public mental health.
"Now more than ever, it is crucial that some of this is directed towards substance abuse services as the impact of isolation along with the potential impact of job losses and economic downturn gives rise to higher dependence on substances."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want everyone to have access to the right health services and local authorities know their communities best, which is why we have increased their funding this year, providing over £3.2 billion to spend on public health services like addiction.
"We support evidence-based approaches to reduce the health-related harms of drug misuse and, as part of our NHS Long Term Plan, alcohol care teams will be introduced in hospitals where alcohol-related admissions are high, intervening in 50,000 cases over five years to reduce harm."
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