Drinkaware calls for alcohol harm to be a public health priority

Date Published

3rd June 2021




Almost half of UK adults (49%) who have either been made redundant or are in the process of redundancy are drinking more than they usually would have prior to the pandemic, latest research from Drinkaware reveals. This is more than twice the national average (20%). This group, although a small sample of the overall research[1], may well grow as furlough ends.

The proportion of this group now drinking more has increased from 38% to 49% since December 2020.

The poll also found two thirds (66%) currently drinking at high-risk levels – more than 34 units of alcohol a week for women and more than 50 for men - are drinking more than they usually would have prior to the pandemic. More than three in 10 high-risk drinkers (31%) report drinking “much more”, compared to 5% among all UK adults.

 As UK lockdown restrictions continue to be relaxed Drinkaware, the alcohol education charity which has tracked the Nation’s drinking habits since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, is calling for alcohol harm to be recognised as a public health priority. There should be particular focus given to certain groups, including those affected by redundancy and furlough, because of the ongoing drinking patterns that has been seen in Drinkaware’s previous data[2][3].

Additionally, four-in-ten (39%) of UK adults who have been furloughed are drinking more than they usually would have prior to the pandemic – almost twice the national average (20%). This has remained fairly consistent with December 2020.

Overall, we have seen an increased polarisation in drinking habits from December 2020 to April 2021, with a higher proportion of UK adults reporting either drinking more (20% in April compared to 16% in December) or less (22% in April, compared to 19% in December) than they would have usually prior to the pandemic. And one in ten parents with under 18s (10%) report drinking much more than they usually would have - twice the national average (5%) - and this is consistent with December (9%), suggesting habits are becoming ingrained.

Drinkaware’s Evidence and Impact Director Annabelle Bonus said: “Our survey shows that there are clear differences in the drinking habits across certain groups of the UK population, signalling a clear need for targeted action and appropriate support.

“It is concerning that the proportion of adults drinking more since the start of the pandemic has increased from December to April and we must ensure that people drinking more since lockdown began get the help and support that they need if we are to reverse this trend, preventing further harm being caused by alcohol.

“As well as the need for greater priority within public health strategies, employers have a crucial role to play in continuing to support those who struggled to balance work and family responsibilities in the pandemic. There is also a need for appropriate alcohol advice and support to be available to those out of work.”

Family circumstances were also revealed as another important factor in drinking patterns. Research revealed that almost one third (33%) of UK parents with a child under 18 years are drinking more that they usually would have prior to the pandemic, compared to 13% of parents with adult children, 17% of non-parents and significantly higher than the national average (20%). The proportion of this group drinking more (33%) has increased from 24% since December 2020.

Other findings include:

  • Those who reported that the Coronavirus pandemic had a larger negative impact on mental health and work-related stress were also significantly more likely to report drinking more than prior to the pandemic
  • The pulse survey reiterates the findings of the Drinkaware Monitor 2020 that we are likely to see a cluster of unhealthy behaviours continue, with a similar proportion of UK adults reporting larger negative impacts on different areas of life due to the pandemic also drinking more. 31% of those with larger negative impacts on mental health are drinking more, 34% of those with larger negative impacts on work related stress are doing this. The figure is 33% of those with larger negative effects on eating habits and 35% of those with larger negative impacts on weight
  • 15% expect their mental health to get worse as restrictions ease, with the figure rising to 24% of 18–34-year-olds and 27% of people made redundant or facing redundancy

Annabelle Bonus adds: “The polarisation in drinking habits emphasises that a focused approach must be taken to support those who are identified as at a high level of risk of alcohol harm. With figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)[4] earlier this month showing that 7,423 deaths from alcohol specific causes were registered in 2020, an increase of 19.6% compared to the previous year, we cannot delay making alcohol harm a public health priority and introducing targeted action and assistance.”

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



Notes to editor

For further information or comment please contact the Drinkaware media team on 020 7766 9910 / mediateam@drinkaware.co.uk


About the research:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Opinium. Total sample size was 4,000 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th and 30th April 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)

About Drinkaware

Drinkaware is an independent charity which aims to reduce alcohol-related harm by helping people make better choices about their drinking. We achieve this by providing impartial, evidence-based information, advice and practical resources, raising awareness of alcohol and its harms, and working collaboratively with partners. www.drinkaware.co.uk / @drinkaware

[1] This group account for 4% of the overall number of respondents to the survey.

[2] Drinkaware Monitor 2020

[3] Drinkaware Pulse survey December 2020

[4] Quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)