Pandemic drinking: How many people are still struggling?

If you have a dependence – if the drink hasn’t loosened its grip since Covid waned – it’s worth considering your options

This question occurred to me when I read that in England the University of Sheffield has produced a worst-case scenario of 25,000 deaths over the next 20 years from increased pandemic drinking.

In June, Shauna Bowers reported in this newspaper that take-home alcohol sales were 11 per cent higher in Ireland than pre-pandemic levels despite the minimum pricing law coming into effect in January. The times are strange and perhaps we can’t make too much of this, but it is definitely a straw in the wind.

It might reflect a continuing reluctance to go out and sit in pubs that I suspect a good many people still feel or it might reflect something different.

That “something different” could be that increased drinking during the pandemic has stuck at least to some degree as the pandemic wanes.


That projection of 25,000 deaths for England assumes that those who increased their drinking in the pandemic will increase it again as society opens up.

A big assumption? Yes, though on the other hand people who become dependent on alcohol do tend to drink more as they go along.

On a more modest scenario, the university estimated that 7,153 extra people would die in the next 20 years if lower-risk drinkers returned to pre-pandemic levels while heavier drinkers stayed at pandemic levels.

The most optimistic estimate – 1,830 deaths – is based on an assumption that everyone returns to their pre-pandemic levels of consumption. The figures for Ireland of home drinking still higher than before the pandemic suggest that this is very optimistic indeed.

We’ll only know the accurate figures for Ireland and anywhere else when it’s too late for those affected.

Whatever those statistics might be, a lot of pain lies behind them for people whose lives are ended or wrecked by an alcohol dependency and for those around them.

The problem with what I’ve just written there, in the previous sentence, is that it casts heavy drinkers as a combination of victim and persecutor: victimised by drink and spreading pain around them.

A lot of hard-working, decent, loving people are in the grip of alcohol dependency too, just as a lot of hard-working, decent, loving people get cancer or Covid. And they’re not happy about it.

When we don’t recognise that, when we stigmatise the people with the problem, it becomes easier to fail to give a priority to treatment and support services.

Some people who drink too much just need to cop on and cut it down or out – most people who drink too much think they are in that category. But if your attempts to cut it down or out haven’t worked, then you’re not in that category.

If you have a dependence, if the drink has you in its grip and if it’s not loosening its grip since the pandemic waned, then it’s worth considering your options.

You could try controlled drinking – rationing your drink, really – but I’m not convinced it’s worth it. With cutting it out you eventually don’t have to think about drinking but with controlled drinking you have to think about it every day.

You could try to stop drinking with the help of blogs such as Belle Robertson’s Tired of Thinking About Drinking, which has helped people all over the world.

Or you join AA – many people are reluctant to take that step because of, for instance, the word “alcoholics” in its name – but it’s been helping people overcome a drinking dependence since 1935 and offers a level of support you can’t get anywhere else.

If you go to you’ll find information on a range of treatment services.

I mentioned earlier that many of those who have an alcohol dependence are decent, loving, hard-working people. I would also say that in tackling alcohol issues it’s important to see the goal as a better, happier life. It’s a demanding process and you need to know you’re heading for an attractive outcome, for brighter, better days.

Padraig O’Morain (Instagram,Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness – a guide to self compassion; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (

Pádraig O'Moráin

Pádraig O'Moráin

Pádraig O'Moráin is an Irish Times contributor specialising in men's health