Almost a third of drinkers in the UK are drinking at increasing or high risk levels

DATE PUBLISHED

30th December 2020

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Almost a third (31%) of drinkers in the UK are drinking at increasing or high risk levels – meaning they drink more than the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) recommended guidelines of 14 units a week – new research from alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, reveals.

More than half (56%) of people who already drink at higher risk levels (more than 35 units a week for women and more than 50 for men) reported drinking more than they would usually. And 39% of those who drink at increasing risk levels (between 14 and 35 units a week for women, 14 and 50 for men) report drinking more.

Overall, 16% of UK adults report drinking more alcohol than usual since March, with 19% drinking less.

A quarter (26%) of the 4,003 UK adults surveyed at the start of December believe they should cut down on how much they drink.

Drinkaware is concerned that many people are putting their health at risk, with some risking serious and long-term damage to their health, if increased pandemic drinking trends are not reversed. It is urging all drinkers stick to the CMO’s low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week to keep their risk of alcohol harm low.

Regionally, London has the highest proportion of people who report drinking more (27%, compared with 16% nationally) while the East and West Midlands are least likely to report drinking more (12%). (See table in notes for a full regional breakdown).

More than a third (38%) of furloughed workers and those facing redundancy report drinking more since the onset of lockdown restrictions in March. This is two-and-a-half times more than the national average of 16%.

Since the tiered restrictions were introduced in October, furloughed workers and those either made redundant or are in the process of redundancy are also twice as likely to be drinking on more days a week than usual (23% compared with a national average of 13%). People within this group are more likely to have felt the need to drink to cope with the day (16% compared with 8%) and are three times as likely to have been drinking alone when they wouldn’t usually (31% compared with 11%).

Other findings include:

  • Those with caring responsibilities were more likely to report drinking more (26% compared with a national average of 16%, and 14% of those with no caring responsibilities).
  • Parents with children under 18 were more likely to report drinking more (24% compared with a national average of 16%, and 14% of non-parents).

Drinkaware is calling on the government to recognise the impact of increased alcohol consumption as a public health priority. The charity adds that alcohol consumption should be considered as an important factor in both obesity and mental health strategies*.

Drinkaware’s Evidence and Impact Director Annabelle Bonus said: “There is a clear and very worrying picture emerging here. Certain groups are more vulnerable to the risks from alcohol harm than others, and the pandemic is having a direct impact on many people’s drinking across the country.

“After a year of uncertainty, with more sadly to come, the effects of drinking to excess cannot be swept under the carpet. As a nation we must act now.”

As the New Year approaches, the study revealed a fifth of UK adults (20%) say they plan to take part in Dry January, and 21% intend to take drink-free days during the week. Other popular ways people will moderate in January are:

  • Drink within the guidelines (of no more than 14 units a week) – 25%
  • Set a drinking limit – 24%
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks – 22%

Drinkaware has an online self-assessment that can help identify whether someone should be concerned about how much they drink.

* Drinkaware’s Monitor 2020 revealed links between alcohol consumption and negative mental health as well as poor diet habits.

ENDS

About the research:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Opinium. Total sample size was 4,003 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9 and 10 December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Summary of regional data:

 

 

Drinking more

(%)

Drinking less

(%)

Increasing/higher risk

(%)

Should cut down

(%)

Will do Dry Jan

(%)

Will take drink-free days

(%)

North East

19

13

37

26

13

22

North West

18

18

30

20

17

18

Yorkshire & Humber

16

20

26

22

16

17

East Midlands

12

16

35

29

26

29

West Midlands

12

19

26

19

20

22

East of England

13

19

28

26

18

22

London

27

24

43

39

31

30

South East

16

17

33

29

22

23

South West

13

18

23

21

11

12

Wales

14

18

30

22

16

10

Scotland

13

24

24

18

14

14

Northern Ireland

20

17

28

26

24

21

Further regional data is available.