NEW figures which suggest soaring numbers of people are drinking more alcohol during the Covid-19 pandemic have been described as alarming by the North-East's alcohol office.

Balance was responding to The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new analysis of Public Health England’s latest data on the indirect effects of Covid-19 tht found that over 8.4 million people are now drinking at higher risk, up from 4.8 million in February.

The college warns that addiction services in England are not equipped to treat the soaring numbers of people drinking at high risk during the pandemic and must receive a multi-million-pound funding boost in the upcoming spending review.

It comes as individuals and organisations this week highlighted the harms of alcohol in the separate Harms Commission report and called on the Government for a new alcohol strategy.

A major survey in the region published in April found 26 per cent of drinkers were consuming more since lockdown. While 37 per cent had cut down or stopped, it was the heaviest drinkers who were drinking more, risking their health.

Balance director Colin Shevills said: “This is incredibly worrying and suggests our nation’s drinking problem could be getting worse.

"We have seen reports of people stockpiling alcohol and while some people are cutting down, for others their long term habits may be turning into addictions which will harm their health and affect the people around them,.

“Times are tough and many of us are anxious but using alcohol to cope is not the answer. In the short term alcohol can harm our immune system, cause weight gain and can make us feel more tired and depressed, and in the longer term it can raise our risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.

“As a nation, and as a region, alcohol is not just harming individuals but the families and communities around them. Alcohol is too cheap, too available and too heavily advertised and we urgently need a new Government strategy to tackle this.”

Psychiatrists are calling for the Government to use the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to work towards investing £374 million into adult services so they can cope with the increased need for treatment.