Changes in drinking habits sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic have seen alcohol-related hospitalisations hit a five-year low in Norfolk.

As lockdown saw pubs and clubs close for long spells of time, experts say people have grown more accustomed to drinking at home - and in moderation.

And as a result, between 2016 and 2021, Norfolk's hospitals saw a 10pc decrease in the number of alcohol-related admissions.

But public health bosses are not resting on their laurels over the figures, with fears the impact of the pandemic may have created a false picture.

In the 2016/17 financial year, 15,343 were admitted to hospital for reasons relating to alcohol consumption - either as the main or a contributing factor.

By the end of the 2020/21 financial year - the most recent figures available - this number had dropped to 13,816, a decrease of 10pc.

The Norfolk-wide reduction is more considerable than the national trend, which saw a 3pc drop, and the East of England region, which saw a drop of 8pc.

However, experts say these figures may have been skewed by the Covid pandemic, which saw mass closures of pubs, clubs and bars and changes to the way people consume alcohol.

The pandemic also saw changes in the reasons people were attending hospital, with many people making sure they avoided going.

With the latest figures including the height of the pandemic and lockdowns, there is a feeling among experts that the next few sets of figures will provide a fuller picture.

It is thought to be too soon to say safely whether fewer people are struggling with alcohol, or whether the pandemic produced anomalies in the statistics.

Beth Williams, development manager of Norwich's SOS Bus, said that the figures may be connected to changing drinking habits, particularly among young people.

For the past 21 years the service has provided emergency care for people enjoying the night time economies of Norwich and King's Lynn, giving Ms Williams an insight into the way alcohol is often consumed in the region.

She added that the pandemic could potentially have "skewed" the figures.

Eastern Daily Press: SOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich on a Saturday night.SOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich on a Saturday night. (Image: Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011)

She said: "The first thing that springs to mind is the pandemic. We have just had two years with fewer people being able to go out and drink, so more people have been staying in and drinking at home.

"When you are drinking at home you are often less likely to get yourself into a situation where you need to go to hospital."

However, she added that the service did see a very brief spike in the number of 18 and 19-year-olds that required its support in the early days of restrictions lifting.

She said: "What we saw was a generation of youngsters who had not been able to learn how to drink because they have not been able to go anywhere.

"During lockdowns there would have been no sneaking a beer at home while mum and dad were out or going down the park and passing around a three-litre bottle of cider - they were going through that rite of passage.

"This meant that for a short while, around Freedom Day, we did see quite a few 18 and 19-year-olds who hadn't had the chance to go out at all, so didn't know their limits. It brought the average age of our patients down by two years, but it has crept back up now to 26."

The latest figures for the region are as follows, for the financial year 2020/21 (2016/17 in brackets)

  • Breckland: 1,951 admissions (2,249)
  • Broadland: 1,702 admissions (1,896)
  • Great Yarmouth: 1,714 admissions (1,750)
  • King's Lynn: 2,851 admissions (3,373)
  • North Norfolk: 1,839 admissions (2,016)
  • Norwich: 2,051 admissions (2,155)
  • South Norfolk: 1,708 admissions (1,901)
  • East Suffolk: 3,625 admissions (3,664)

Anybody struggling with problems involving alcohol should contact Change Grow Live, the organisation responsible for support and advice around the issue via

Eastern Daily Press: Alcohol-related hospitalisations have hit a five-year low in NorfolkAlcohol-related hospitalisations have hit a five-year low in Norfolk (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

A student's perspective

University of East Anglia student Alice Pritchard provides her perspective...

Stereotypically, university is a place where young people spend their time drinking, partying - and studying, of course.

And there is no doubt that the majority of socials, like pub crawls and sports nights, still revolve around alcohol.

But there seems to have been a shift in students’ attitudes towards drinking.

As a Norwich student, I have noticed quite a few of my peers cutting out alcohol or dramatically reducing the units. Many clubs at UEA have introduced ‘sober socials’ which involve meeting up for brunch or a coffee. But why?

With rent and food prices rising, students can no longer afford to spend money on nights out. Fees to get into clubs, taxis and booze all add up.

As well as the cost, health plays a role in young people drinking less. Research has shown alcohol to be damaging to both physical and mental health - and everyone is more aware of this now than a few decades ago.

It’s safe to say drinking culture won’t be dying out any time soon but it is a less important aspect of university life.